By: Paulanne Simmons
Not long after having Jimmy Kimmel introduce him via a film clip of the 2012 Gotham Independent Film Awards, Mike Birbiglia tells his audience at the Lynn Redgrave Theater that jokes are serious business. As proof he uses the example of the horrendous Charlie Hebdo massacres.
This is perhaps the most serious moment of the show. The rest of Thank God for Jokes is filled with stories of Birbiglia’s life as a comic, a husband, a son, and a newly transplanted New Yorker.
Despite his considerable fame, Birbiglia presents himself as an average Joe. Dressed in sneakers and a plaid shirt that strains a bit at the buttons, he indeed looks the part. Much of his humor is based on experiences many of us may have had with yoga classes, unsupportive relatives and Catholic school.
But then there’s the famous side of Birbiglia too. After all, this is the comedian who scored huge hits with his two solo shows, the 2008 Sleepwalk With Me and the 2011 My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. He’s also released three albums and has been featured on Girls and Orange Is the New Black.
Birbiglia’s celebrity has produced the stories of the time he and his wife received parenting advice from President Obama, or he had a run-in with David O. Russell after he recited word-for-word, at that same 2012 award ceremony, Russell’s directorial advice to Lily Tomlin during the filming of I Heart Huckabees.
Perhaps the funniest moments were those in which Birbiglia interacted with the audience. Two late-comers were conveniently escorted into the theater in the middle of his riff on the differences between people who arrive late and those who are always on time. After recounting how he was arrested for driving without a license when he was 22, Birbiglia asked members of the audience to share their experiences with the police. Honesty prevailed, as did the laughter.
Although Birbiglia claims jokes can be dangerous, the truth is his humor is quite tame. He barely touches on the real hot spots of our age: sex, religion, race, gender. His use of profanity is mostly to show how truly alien it is to him.
In some ways this is quite refreshing.
Thank God for Jokes, through May 29 at Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project, 45 Bleecker St., 212-925-1806