Last night at Helium saw the return of The Bird Text Comedy Show, which featured a brand new Bird Text sketch as well as stand-up performances by Mary Radzinski, John McKeever, Doogie Horner, Tommy Pope and headliner Mike Lawrence. After the show I sat down with John McKeever and Tommy Pope of Bird Text for an enlightening conversation about comedy, the future of Bird Text and a big exciting new break for Tommy. Oh, and Doogie Horner showed up about halfway through and delivered a strong endorsement of Bird Text’s approach to comedy.
Dave Metter: What are some things that go into choosing what sketches you want to produce and whether or not you release them?
Tommy Pope: We’re not the kind of people who just rush shit out so you can see it. We want it to be good. If it’s not good we don’t put it out.
John McKeever: We won’t just rush to film something just so you can see something.
TP: Yeah, we don’t want to put a weekly video out but it’s also detrimental to our progress. Like, I also think we overthink things sometimes.
JM: We’re both busy and Luke [Cunningham, fellow member of Bird Text] is extremely busy now so production is not that easy, and we have ideas but unless they’re really good and we think it’ll make our name look better I don’t think it’s worth filming them and putting them out. A lot of people, especially sketch groups, have this idea that, “Throw enough shit to the wall, see what sticks.” We throw a lot of shit to our own wall and we’re like, “Just get rid of all the shit.” We’ve got a lot of shit that nobody’s ever seen because it’s not good enough.
DM: That you’ve shot or are only written?
JM: That we’ve shot but are not good enough.
TP: We also have stuff that’s written that we know is good enough but production…takes money. But we see other sketch groups and other people in Philly and, it’s a catch-22 because, if you don’t consistently put out people won’t seek you, they won’t subscribe, but they also won’t want to find you and what you’re doing next if you’re not consistent with quality. The next thing has to be better than the last.
DM: With most of the people coming to a show like this they’re probably expecting just stand-up, though some attending know you from your videos. I’m curious about your thoughts on how the audience adjusts between going from stand-up to a film sketch during a show.
TP: This thing we showed tonight we were looking at each other going, “That killed.”
JM: I think you’re right, it’s a curveball, and when you throw it into the middle of a show: stand-up, stand-up, stand-up, video, everyone’s like, “What the fuck?” ya know? But you get to see how an audience receives it before you release it on the internet. The first time we showed “The Real Househusbands of Philadelphia” it was here during a show and we were all in the green room and we thought, “If this doesn’t go well here then this isn’t seeing the light of day,” and that was our first real sketch and…it killed. We put it out a day or so later and it got like fifty-thousand views. So, it can be a good barometer.
TP: We were like, “What are we gonna do with all the money?! Let’s go to Wildwood and get weird!”
JM: We got Tommy and John airbrushed on a couple T-shirts.
TP: We have a lot in the pipeline always but we are very hesitant to release because we are always fearful that it’s not good enough, and to that point, it kind of hinders us and our progress. So I think we could be bigger but ya know, I think we’re a little too under the microscope.
DM: When you have an idea or premise, what’s the process of how you decide whether it’ll best fit as a stand-up bit or as a sketch?
JM: I think it’s so differentiated in my head that I know the difference between a bit, what would be good on stage, and what would be better in a sketch, and a lot of times when we think of a sketch we have 100% confidence in each other and we text each other, “Sketch idea, high-end premise” and it’ll be just the premise and if everyone’s like “haha” then we start. As far as stand-up goes, the way I’ve always written bits is I write about stuff that interests me and attaches to my other bits. But I think sketch has to be more quickly palatable.
TP: Sketches are popular because they’re popular to masses. With stand-up it’s like, it’s something popular but the intricate way of going about it makes it just yours. So for sketch, in order to break out to the masses you have to find something that people are interested in and it can’t be about some goofy fucking story about your wife or your girlfriend. You need something that people will immediately click with. There are so many [YouTube] channels doing like hacky Ke$ha parodies. We could easily find advertising dollars by being a hack-ass sketch group but we don’t want to do that, and we’re cutting our nose off despite our face, but at the same time it’s like I refuse to be that group who does Britney Spears and how it relates to the Super Bowl or whatever.
DM: How did you link up with Mike Lawrence?
JM: Mike knows Luke from stand-up in New York. Luke lived in New York for a while doing stand-up and did well there.
DM: How does Luke being back on the east coast, now that he is writing for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, affect Bird Text?
TP: Luke’s always been like the foundation of the structure of the sketches we write. He was in LA for a year but we’re excited he’s here and, it’s weird, no one recognizes his face or name from Bird Text which is unfortunate but he does a shit load of the creation of many of our sketches.
[Doogie Horner enters.]
Doogie Horner: Bird Text courts controversy wherever they go; they’re not going to apologize for being outspoken.
[Doogie Horner exits.]
DM: So you guys are thinking of doing a monthly Bird Text show at Helium?
TP: Yeah. We did a monthly thing here for four months during a summer on Tuesdays, but we hit all of the summer holidays that year which was rough.
DM: And when you’re doing monthlies you’ll be incorporating sketches?
TP: Yeah, we’d like to do three but this show date was short notice.
DM: Why was that?
JM: I don’t know, I think it’s because they always had an interest in bringing us back plus another comic cancelled the date and, I don’t know, I think they probably contacted a few headliners before they contacted us.
DM: Oh don’t say that.
JM: Oh no, in reality we were probably like sixth or seventh on the list.
TP: I love how optimistic you are, like, “Oh don’t say that.”
And the big announcement…
JM: So Luke got this thing with Fallon which is huge for us but also, Tommy is flying to LA soon to do voiceover work for Disney. He flew out for an audition, this woman saw him perform in Montreal and thought “that guy can crush voices,” brought him in, they asked him to do this mobster voice and he crushed it and they’re bringing him back.
TP: This is why everyone needs a best friend. That couldn’t have been delivered any more smoothly.
Dave Metter is a comedy writer from the Philly burbs. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.