By Elyse Trevers
Mike Birbiglia is very likable; he’s affable, self-effacing and usually smiling. These traits suit him since he tells jokes for a living in his one-man shows. Until recently, his shows ran in small Off-Broadway venues, but when his latest 85 minutes show, “The New One” sold out at The Cherry Lane, it moved to The Cort Theatre, a Broadway house.
Having seen several of his other shows, I wasn’t sure if he could connect with the audience as well in a 1000 plus seat venue as he had in smaller sites. In the last show, he asked for a show of hands on one issue and then began a lengthy conversation with someone about getting arrested.
It’s harder to achieve that level of familiarity with a larger group. My misgivings were unfounded as he instantly reacted to a gal in the audience who was giggling uncontrollably. In the orchestra seats, we all smiled but I’m not sure if the mezzanine and balcony “felt the same love.”
Birbiglia is a storyteller with a show crafted like a novel, beginning and ending at the same place-a couch. He seems to digress from his central point several times, only to return to his main point.
He subtly sets up the jokes and has some recurring punchlines that the audience predictably reacts to each time. He laughs as we laugh and his smile is contagious. Birbiglia has a conversational style as he strolls around the stage, and most of the time, he speaks with a slow measured pace.
He mines his own life and experiences for comedy. Like his other shows, this one is autobiographical, and he uses some of the older material, particular about his serious health issues. He had a bladder tumor when he was 19 and has a threatening sleepwalking disorder.
As he’s aged – he’s almost 40 – he’s developed other health issues and with the help of some visuals and wonderful comic descriptions, he’s able to get us to laugh about them.
“The New One” is about the comic and his wife Jen having their first child. As a childless man, he had often observed how kids changed people and situations, and he describes being on a plane and needing noise-canceling headphones to drown out the noise of crying babies noting, “I lost a lot of friends to kids.”
Birbiglia is upfront about not wanting to have a child and enumerates his seven reasons why. First among them is his feelings about his own physical issues. “I never felt like there should be more of me in the world.”
Since he has medical issues, it wasn’t easy for him to father a child, and he describes his adventures in the doctor’s office with a ‘cup’ and some very vivid porn. He is also clear about initially feeling like an outsider when their daughter is finally born and now it’s Jen and Oona and he wryly notes that he’s watching his wife in “the greatest love affair of her entire life and I’m watching through a window.”
Anyone who is a parent will find what he says relatable, and my guess is that younger parents will find it even funnier as they recognize some of their lives (and their stuff) on stage.
In trying to convince him they should have a child, Jen tells him that their lives won’t change. Well-sure it sure has but, at least, Birbiglia got some new comic material for his show. “The New One” is a limited run till Jan. 20.