Mike Birbiglia: Thank God for Jokes By: Iris Wiener
Mike Birbiglia gives new meaning to thinking “outside of the proverbial box” when it comes to his latest piece of theatrical inventiveness. In its simplest form it can be described as stand-up with a message, but that would be doing it an injustice. Thank God for Jokes is a gem of a comedic experience because of its heart, congruity, and downright fun. Birbiglia’s light-hearted humor is rife with a powerful punch of meaning, and is an experience not to be missed.
Thank God for Jokes marks the comedian/actor/writer’s return to the New York stage after his applauded off-Broadway productions of My Grlfriend’s Boyfriend and Sleepwalk with Me, the latter of which was the basis for Birbiglia’s New York Times best-selling memoir, Sleepwalk with Me. A film based on his act and memoir quickly garnered positive reactions as well. Now on the cusp of fame due to roles in Trainwreck, The Fault in Our Stars, Girls and Orange is the New Black, he’s on track to take the funny business by storm. Just a glimpse at the celebrity friends who came out to celebrate his opening night (Colin Quinn, Ben Stiller, Nathan Lane, Seth Meyers, John Mulaney, and SNL’sAidy Bryant and Vanessa Bayer, amongst others), and it’s clear that the smartest talents in entertainment are catching on to his accessible quality of humor.
Birbiglia’s subtle tone has become his staple for the stage, and with good reason; between lamenting on everything from late people to being arrested for driving with a suspended license, his style is conversational and easily enjoyable. He begins his show with video of Jimmy Kimmel introducing him as the host of the 22nd Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards in 2012, and uses this as a launching pad for a theme of fear: fear over the scariest gig of his career thus far, and the fear that was instilled in him when he was pummeled for telling a joke to his peers in the ninth grade. He reminds his audience that no joke should ever end with “I’m joking,” and thankfully, there is no need for him to use this crutch at any time in his show. Thank God for Jokes is unapologetic in its honest humor. The show culminates with an emphasis on how important it is not to be afraid to tell jokes, as every one of them will offend someone. Birbiglia drives this point home, as he reminds his audience of the consequences of a lack of offensiveness in our world.
One might think ruminations on telling Jesus jokes at a Christian college would be tricky business. For Birbiglia, it is delightful to hear how he maneuvered those murky waters. “Jesus died so I can tell those jokes,” he says, minus the snark one would expect. To great amusement he challenges his audience to imagine the experience of following Fozzie’s act in a Muppet show…and then cursing in the process. Birbiglia is so likable that a story involving expletives and Kermit does not elicit a groan…nor do his thoughts on Statler and Waldorf’s alleged homosexuality. “They go to theater seven nights a week and bitch about everything!” he laughs.
Seth Barrish’s direction helps Birbiglia to traverse what seem to be tangents from a cohesive story, but are in effect exemplifying the intelligence of the overarching matter of civility in this world. Birbiglia conveys that comedy is “his way of telling his side of the story,” and he does just that with gusto when he makes his way full circle back to the Gotham Independent Film Awards, and his jest at director David O. Russell’s infamously horrible on-set behavior that went viral. Consequently, Birbiglia knows he will never be in a David O. Russell picture, and that’s fine by him. After all, he has the opportunity to tell his side of the story in his third hit show, and no apologies are necessary.
Thank God For Jokes
through March 13th at the Lynn Redgrave Theater
49 Bleecker Street in the East Village.
John Mulaney, Mike Birbiglia, Nathan Lane
Mike Birbiglia, Nick Sandrow