Friday Night Dinner stars Bird as a man who goes home every weekend for a meal with his folks. After he presented the show to the Television Critics Association, I got to sit down with Bird by the Beverly Hilton pool for a chat.
CraveOnline: In the first episode of Friday Night Dinner, how do you have to coordinate the actual lifting of a sofa with comic timing involved?
Simon Bird: Oh, well, it’s all smoke and mirrors so the sofa was actually made out of polystyrene. It was really light. I could carry it on one finger. It was actually more difficult doing the acting of the heavy breathing and panting because it was actually really light. So that was just down to the props department.
CraveOnline: So if it was a fake sofa, no one could actually sit on it.
Simon Bird: Exactly, so we never do I don’t think. If we do, they’ve swapped in a real one. It’s TV magic.
CraveOnline: How difficult was the comic timing of that scene with people upstairs, downstairs and all those different elements?
Simon Bird: The thing with TV and filming is the timing is all faked anyway. You do it so many times, from so many different angles. You never really do it all in one go anyway so they just fix it all in the edit.
CraveOnline: What is this salt prank?
Simon Bird: That’s something that Robert [Popper] who writes the show does to his brother and his brother does it to him. When the other one isn’t looking, put as much salt as possible in the water. Obviously when you taste it, it doesn’t taste so good. Tom [Rosnethal], who plays Jonny in the show, started doing it to me, to my drinks to sort of get into character. So I had to stamp that out quickly.
CraveOnline: Do you do it in every episode?
Simon Bird: I’m not sure it does come up in every episode. It’s in at least a couple definitely. They play a variety of different pranks on each other.
CraveOnline: I love the running gag of the salt. What do you think is the value of a running gag like that?
Simon Bird: Well, I guess in a sitcom like this which is about how families behave to each other, one of the running gags is our dad has stock phrases that he uses all the time, which I think is quite a classic dad thing. Dads do have jokes that they love that they all say over and over again. It wasn’t funny the first time and it’s not funny the 20th time you hear it. I think sometimes Robert uses that to make it feel like a realistic family. I think people like that. Every family has their in jokes and quirks and their own vocabulary that they use towards each other. I think the Goodmans are no different.
CraveOnline: In one episode the parents bring a lovely girl over for dinner. What’s wrong with her?
Simon Bird: Oh, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her. I think all the problems are with me and how I can’t quite deal with this situation. The situation is my mom has set me up on a date in front of the entire family. The girl arrives and I’m sure you can imagine how embarrassing it would be to have to try and charm and impress a beautiful young lady in front of your mom and dad.
CraveOnline: I would think if she were up for coming over to a family dinner as a first date, she must be cool.
Simon Bird: Yeah, I’m not sure she knew it was a date. I think she thought it might be a social engagement.
CraveOnline: See, then you can bond over that. “Oh, can you believe how they set us up for this?”
Simon Bird: Yeah, well, that’s a tactic that Adam maybe should’ve used but he didn’t.
CraveOnline: I feel like American dysfunctional comedies are mean with people sniping at each other. Friday Night Dinner is more just about being silly. Is that a difference between American and British comedy?
Simon Bird: I don’t think American family sitcoms are mean. I guess I really love Arrested Development. I guess they are quite mean in that but that is also a very silly, surreal, absurd show as well and it has got a heart as well. The main characters in Arrested Development are basically nice people. And Modern Family I think they’re underneath it all quite sweet, so I wouldn’t say all American family comedies are that mean. If anything, Friday Night Dinner is quite mean. All these pranks that we play on each other, there’s a lot of hitting and slapping and jumping at each other trying to scare each other. But underneath it all it is a family, so we all love each other.
CraveOnline: I guess I think about George Lopez and Everybody Loves Raymond where they’re just insulting each other.
Simon Bird: Yeah, that’s true. I see. Well, definitely there’s little bits of sniping and meanness too in this, but ultimately they all get along.
CraveOnline: Inbetweeners started with the characters in high school. How old are they in The Inbetweeners Movie?
Simon Bird: In The Inbetweeners movie they’re about 18. They just finished school and they go on holiday to celebrate finishing. They’ll be 18.
CraveOnline: There’s quite an American tradition of actors in their 20s and even 30s playing teenagers. Does that exist in England too?
Simon Bird: I don’t know, really. There haven’t been that many. One of the reasons The Inbetweeners has been successful over there is there actually haven’t been that many British shows about teenagers. So I don’t know whether there is a tradition one way or the other really but I think certainly it can’t go on for too long. We’ll have to move onto characters in their ’20s now.
CraveOnline: What sort of trouble do they get into on vacation?
Simon Bird: Oh, if I told you, I’d have to kill you because we’ve been sworn to secrecy.
CraveOnline: Is it quite a different style in a movie?
Simon Bird: I think the sense of humor is very similar. If you like the TV show, you’ll like the movie I think because it’s very similar in that way. It was definitely different filming it in boring things, like we had more expensive cameras and better lighting, all that technical stuff. It definitely looks better and looks more expensive. It looks like a proper film.
Crave Online: Since you’re on another series and you’ve done the movie, does this mean the TV series for Inbetweeners is over?
Simon Bird: Yeah, I don’t think it’s got anything to do with whether or not I’m doing another series because in Britain it only takes 6 weeks to film a series so you can do lots of different series. It doesn’t really matter. I think it’s more to do with the fact that the writers have done everything they can do with The Inbetweeners so I think the movie is probably the climax so to speak of the whole thing.
CraveOnline: Does that feel satisfying to you?
Simon Bird: Yeah, I think it does. We had a great time doing it and I feel like we’ve done a good job and I think everyone is ready to move on to the next thing.
CraveOnline: As your first big gig, Inbetweeners is still fairly recent. How has this emerging success as an actor been for you?
Simon Bird: It’s been a dream come true, I suppose. I’m still sort of hungry to do more. Although it’s been absolutely amazing doing The Inbetweeners, I want to write my own things and hopefully have a show that’s as successful as The Inbetweeners that is my own baby.
CraveOnline: What did it take to break in in 2008?
Simon Bird: Just doing live comedy, standup and sketches. Iain [Morris] and David [Beesley] who wrote The Inbetweeners saw me in a sketch show with some of my friends. We got to know each other, they asked us to write some stuff for them and we developed a working relationship. They eventually cast me in their show.
CraveOnline: Who were the comedians you admired growing up?
Simon Bird: Well, my favorite show when I was at school was The Office, the British Office. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are massive influences I suppose. I love Robert, who writers Friday Night Dinner, his series Look Around You I used to watch in school. That’s one of my all time favorite comedy shows so it was amazing to get to work with him. All the classics, from Britain, Steve Coogan, Chris Morris, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong who write Peep Show which I loved. From America, Arrested Development, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm.
CraveOnline: What does it mean to you to be on several shows on BBC then?
Simon Bird: It’s great. The BBC is traditionally the home of British comedy I suppose. I’ve never actually done anything on the BBC in England so it’s quite strange coming out here promoting things for BBC America because all the shows that I’ve done are on Channel 4 in England. It’s nice to work for the opposition for once.
CraveOnline: Do you imagine the young comedians in school today watching your shows the way you watched The Office and Peep Show?
Simon Bird: It’s terrifying to think that that’s a possibility. I don’t think I deserve that yet. I think they should still go watch The Office. That’s better.
CraveOnline: You imagine this family has dinner every Friday night, there must be more than six crazy dinners from season one.
Simon Bird: Exactly, I think it could run and run.
CraveOnline: Do you actually eat anything on the set?
Simon Bird: Well, you have to be very careful because it all depends on what you do the first take. If you eat everything on your plate in the first take, then you have to do that for every other take you do no matter if it’s 30 takes and you’re there for five hours. So I’m always very careful. I just have very small forkfuls. I try not to eat that much.
CraveOnline: Is the food any good?
Simon Bird: Oh yeah, they do a pretty good job. It’s usually chicken and vegetables. They keep it hot so it’s all right.
Crave Online: I didn’t think you’d eat the whole plate, but they may have even had prop food.
Simon Bird: No, it’s the real deal and I’ve heard about a lot of sets where they have a bucket by you to make sure that you do eat properly during the scene, and then spew it back up afterwards. But we don’t do that.
CraveOnline: Well, I’ve heard of a spit bucket, not a vomit bucket.
Simon Bird: That’s true. That’s true. Good point.
CraveOnline: What’s next for you?
Simon Bird: Well, I head back to England to do some promotion for The Inbetweeners movie which comes out in the middle of August. Then hopefully start working on the new show for Channel 4, Chickens, which we’ve done a pilot of and we’re waiting to hear if it gets a series.
CraveOnline: What is Chickens about?
Simon Bird: It’s set in 1914. It’s about three men who don’t go off to World War I. So they’re the only men left in a village full of women.
CraveOnline: Is that more like Inbetweeners or Friday Night Dinner?
Simon Bird: It’s a very different setup. It’s difficult to tell. It might be similar if I’ve been influenced by working with Robert and with Iain and David. Maybe their sense of humor is infused into mine in some way but I think it will have its own unique style of voice hopefully.
CraveOnline: Do they try to win these women over?
Simon Bird: Oh yeah. They’re desperate to win the women. They see it as a golden opportunity when all these men are out of town.
CraveOnline: And it doesn’t quite work out for them?
Simon Bird: Obviously no.
Photo Credit: Daniel Deme / WENN.com