Recap: Comedian Mike Birbiglia Riffed on Tardiness, Being Broke and the Muppets at the Pabst Theater
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 comicâ€”whose material ranges from cat puns to,
well, less friendly punch lines also beginning with Câ€”filled all three levels
of the Pabst Theater twice Saturday
as part of his â€śThank God For Jokesâ€ť tour. The first of his pair of 90-minute
sets brought a heft of laughs to win over all demographics present in the
packed theaterâ€”with the possible exception of those who showed up late.
Perhaps accustomed to tardy attendees at this point in his career, Birbiglia started his setâ€”promptly at 7, by the wayâ€”with a bit about on time people and late people (or â€ślateiesâ€ť). Each time a late arrival filed in, the proud â€śearly personâ€ť asked for the house lights to be brought up as he asked each group why they werenâ€™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 heâ€™s a fit and healthy person. â€śI long for the day that doesnâ€™t get a laugh,â€ť 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. â€śWhen youâ€™re broke, everything is close to the ground,â€ť 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.
Birbigliaâ€™s material took an uncharacteristically barbed turn, as he acted out a childhood hymn with the words â€śChrist will come againâ€ť in a neurotic Woody Allen cadence, explaining, â€śJesus is a Jewish socialist: the least popular demographic, especially among Christians.â€ť Met with a mixed reaction, the comic said. â€śItâ€™s not connecting at all,â€ť thrice swinging the microphone haphazardly like a baseball bat. â€śIt was like the Brewers in the â€™90s.â€ť
That spelled a nice transition to a hilarious story about following Fozzie Bear and accidentally saying fuck while performing with the Muppets in Montreal. â€śI was like the villain of the Muppet Show,â€ť he said, before describing being consoled by Kermit backstage after he bombed.
The undisputed highlight of the night was his gut-busting story about â€śnuts in the airâ€ť which saw him describing being banished to an airplane lavatory with his walnut bread sandwich on account of another passengerâ€™s severe nut allergy. The experience helped Birbiglia learn he had a â€śfecal airspace allergy.â€ť A close runner-up in the hour and a half of the comicâ€™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 Russellâ€™s profanity-laden tirade heâ€™d unleashed on Lily Tomlin on set, Birbiglia reminisced, â€śThe audience enjoyed itâ€¦ and then David O. Russell left.â€ť
After the feigning departure, Birbiglia returned to the stage and reprised a popular â€śJackalâ€ť story that culminated in him jumping out a hotel window as a byproduct of his sleep disorder. By showâ€™s end, Birbiglia and his almost entirely new set won over almost everyone in the Pabst, save for people with nut allergies, â€ślateiesâ€ť andâ€”in the unlikely event he was thereâ€”David O. Russell.