Dallas — The funny is all around us. Each day we’re bombarded by the absurd. Many of us laugh at the peculiarities we encounter. A few of us remember them and relate the funny back to our spouses or friends at the bar. Even fewer of us write down the ridiculousness of life and craft it into an hour-long set to perform for an audience of strangers.
Thankfully, Mike Birbiglia is an even rarer bird. He’s able to explain the funny while being funny. His show Thursday at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House was hilarious start to finish. He knows his niche, as he said early on. His humor is self-deprecating to the point where the audience is laughing with him laughing at himself.
He sees the absurdity in real time, cataloging the events that lead to the tragedy that over time becomes comedy “myrrh.”
His Catholic upbringing informed more than a few rollicking moments, as he related some lyrics to a well-known hymn that his brother—Joey Bag O’Donuts—reinterpreted for comedic effect. And he often tagged jokes by claiming the protagonist of the tale died so he could tell the joke.
His bit about people who are perpetually late was side-splitting funny and only got better when a couple of first-row audience members showed up 50 minutes late. Birbiglia was already on to his next joke about some pins and needles he experiences while ejaculating, but he quickly shifted gears to engage the gentleman enough to explain the error of his tardiness.
In a second or two, Birbiglia rehashed the gist of his earlier joke for the “lateies” and then tagged jokes back to the couple’s transgression time and again for an inside joke within a joke. It was hilarious, and it was Birbiglia at his improvising best, to the point of making himself chuckle after one particularly biting barb about the man’s job at a venture capital firm, which definitely didn’t sound like a Ponzi scheme at all.
Birbiglia somehow explains his jokes as he’s telling them, deconstructing how the funny came about, at least how his side of the story was formed. He talks of how every joke is sure to offend someone and how every joke is simply the teller’s side of the story. It’s engaging and unique.
He also explains how exclaiming “I’m joking” after an offensive remark demeans all jokes and all comedians. And he does all of this in a tone and pace that is itself funny. Many jokes are ruined by the person telling the joke and hack comedians too often rely upon a corny catchphrase to punctuate jokes that aren’t funny by themselves. (Think Fozzy Bear’s “Wocka, Wocka, Wocka.”)
But that’s because his timing is impeccable, his wit first-rate and his delivery pitch-perfect. The Dallas stop was one of the last of a year-long, 100-city tour, and it showed. The set was well-crafted and fine-tuned. The audience ate it up. Birbiglia sprinkled many bits with subtle callbacks to prior jokes that had more than a few folks giggling to themselves.
Birbiglia talks of a lifelong dream come true that turns into a bit of a nightmare when he’s asked to perform with the Muppets. Standing in the wings awaiting his turn, he realizing his set follows Fozzy, the, um, comedic legend. As the Muppet known for his, shall we say uncomedy, finishes his set, Statler and Waldorf, the grumpy old men in the box above the stage, start doing what they do—heckling. They segue into announcing the next comedian (Birbiglia) mentioning his movie Sleepwalk with Me and how his set is sure to make them sleepy.
Offstage, Birbiglia realizes he’s being heckled before even stepping to the mike. He’s a little flustered as he walks onstage only to realize he didn’t put a stool out there. So, he jogs out, sees no stool, mumbles “fuck” and runs off stage to get the stool. But the audience doesn’t know that. They just watched as some guy ambled onstage, cursed and left. It’s all hilarious, and few other comedians have the wherewithal to explain a joke in which the joke is on them with such panache.
Birbiglia makes the simple act of jogging on and off stage funny. Maybe it’s his everyman physique or the Barney Rubblesque manner of his gait. The man is as funny as all get-out.
Thank God for Mike Birbiglia.