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 comicâwhose material ranges from cat puns to,
well, less friendly punch lines also beginning with Câfilled all three levels
of the Pabst Theater twice Saturday
as part of his âThank God For Jokesâ tour. The first of his pair of 90-minute
sets brought a heft of laughs to win over all demographics present in the
packed theaterâwith the possible exception of those who showed up late.
Perhaps accustomed to tardy attendees at this point in his career, Birbiglia started his setâpromptly at 7, by the wayâwith a bit about on time people and late people (or âlateiesâ). Each time a late arrival filed in, the proud âearly personâ asked for the house lights to be brought up as he asked each group why they werenât 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 heâs a fit and healthy person. âI long for the day that doesnât get a laugh,â 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. âWhen youâre broke, everything is close to the ground,â 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.
Birbigliaâs material took an uncharacteristically barbed turn, as he acted out a childhood hymn with the words âChrist will come againâ in a neurotic Woody Allen cadence, explaining, âJesus is a Jewish socialist: the least popular demographic, especially among Christians.â Met with a mixed reaction, the comic said. âItâs not connecting at all,â thrice swinging the microphone haphazardly like a baseball bat. âIt was like the Brewers in the â90s.â
That spelled a nice transition to a hilarious story about following Fozzie Bear and accidentally saying fuck while performing with the Muppets in Montreal. âI was like the villain of the Muppet Show,â he said, before describing being consoled by Kermit backstage after he bombed.
The undisputed highlight of the night was his gut-busting story about ânuts in the airâ which saw him describing being banished to an airplane lavatory with his walnut bread sandwich on account of another passengerâs severe nut allergy. The experience helped Birbiglia learn he had a âfecal airspace allergy.â A close runner-up in the hour and a half of the comicâs 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 Russellâs profanity-laden tirade heâd unleashed on Lily Tomlin on set, Birbiglia reminisced, âThe audience enjoyed itâŠ and then David O. Russell left.â
After the feigning departure, Birbiglia returned to the stage and reprised a popular âJackalâ story that culminated in him jumping out a hotel window as a byproduct of his sleep disorder. By showâs end, Birbiglia and his almost entirely new set won over almost everyone in the Pabst, save for people with nut allergies, âlateiesâ andâin the unlikely event he was thereâDavid O. Russell.