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Monday, March 10, 2014

Recap: Comedian Mike Birbiglia Riffed on Tardiness, Being Broke and the Muppets at the Pabst Theater

2014.03.08 mike birbiglia comedian stand up pabst theater 2014
Photo credit: Benjamin Wick
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The affable and self-deprecating everyman-isms of humorist Mike Birbiglia strike a chord with audiences of almost every cross section. The author, filmmaker, NPR darling and veteran stand-up comic—whose material ranges from cat puns to, well, less friendly punch lines also beginning with C—filled all three levels of the Pabst Theater twice Saturday as part of his “Thank God For Jokes” tour. The first of his pair of 90-minute sets brought a heft of laughs to win over all demographics present in the packed theater—with the possible exception of those who showed up late.

Perhaps accustomed to tardy attendees at this point in his career, Birbiglia started his set—promptly at 7, by the way—with a bit about on time people and late people (or “lateies”). Each time a late arrival filed in, the proud “early person” asked for the house lights to be brought up as he asked each group why they weren’t on time. The stunt served as a solid segue to a long-form story about being ditched at yoga by his frequently late wife. In his natural disheveled state, he explained he does yoga because he’s a fit and healthy person. “I long for the day that doesn’t get a laugh,” he said as the laughter subsided.

From there, he brought us back to his pre-fame struggles, including sleeping on an air mattress, cooking with a hot plate in a dresser-less apartment after moving to New York. “When you’re broke, everything is close to the ground,” he finished. The struggle stories continued to a hilarious tale of being arrested in rural New Jersey for driving with a suspended license and writhing while handcuffed in the squad car in fruitless effort to scratch an itch.

Birbiglia’s material took an uncharacteristically barbed turn, as he acted out a childhood hymn with the words “Christ will come again” in a neurotic Woody Allen cadence, explaining, “Jesus is a Jewish socialist: the least popular demographic, especially among Christians.” Met with a mixed reaction, the comic said. “It’s not connecting at all,” thrice swinging the microphone haphazardly like a baseball bat. “It was like the Brewers in the ’90s.”

That spelled a nice transition to a hilarious story about following Fozzie Bear and accidentally saying fuck while performing with the Muppets in Montreal. “I was like the villain of the Muppet Show,” he said, before describing being consoled by Kermit backstage after he bombed.

The undisputed highlight of the night was his gut-busting story about “nuts in the air” which saw him describing being banished to an airplane lavatory with his walnut bread sandwich on account of another passenger’s severe nut allergy. The experience helped Birbiglia learn he had a “fecal airspace allergy.” A close runner-up in the hour and a half of the comic’s sidesplitting stories was a tale of humiliating David O. Russell while hosting a film festival, minutes before the famed director was to receive an award. After reading a transcript of Russell’s profanity-laden tirade he’d unleashed on Lily Tomlin on set, Birbiglia reminisced, “The audience enjoyed it… and then David O. Russell left.”

After the feigning departure, Birbiglia returned to the stage and reprised a popular “Jackal” story that culminated in him jumping out a hotel window as a byproduct of his sleep disorder. By show’s end, Birbiglia and his almost entirely new set won over almost everyone in the Pabst, save for people with nut allergies, “lateies” and—in the unlikely event he was there—David O. Russell.