Moontower 2014, Day 3: Mike Birbiglia

Storyteller's 'Thank God for Jokes' considers their cathartic power

Moontower 2014, Day 3: Mike Birbiglia

Mike Birbiglia's successful longform pieces Sleepwalk With Me and My Girlfriend's Boyfriend showcased the gifted standup and NPR darling's storytelling skills, as well as his knack for merging his wide-eyed-everyman stage presence with darker autobiographical content.

The master monologist's current show, Thank God for Jokes, is also largely autobiographical, yet within an episodic format that harkens back to his roots as a more traditional joke teller.

Amiably stringing together a leisurely series of anecdotes embodying varying degrees of personal embarrassment and emotional discomfort, the show is a gently cathartic meditation on the power of jokes, and their role in the lives of Birbiglia and his audience.

But the thematic elements and gentle personal revelations never came at the cost of the laughs, which flowed copiously through stories encompassing the comic's Catholic-school experiences, the distinctions between on-time people and the habitually late, his attempt to scratch an itch while handcuffed in the back of a police car, his ill-advised public encounters with filmmaker David O. Russell and actor James Van Der Beek, and the mortifying experience of accidentally uttering the f-word while performing with the Muppets. The talk grew particularly winsome when Birbiglia recounted interactions with his wife, who often serves as an unseen voice of reason (although not when she's blowing off a yoga class after her spouse makes a big deal of saving a mat for her).

The fact that the show's far-ranging vignettes achieved the same momentum and cohesion that he brings to his longer pieces is a testament to Birbiglia's seamless craftsmanship. And the fact that he returned to the stage to deliver an encore reprise of the horrifying yet inescapably hilarious hotel incident that's a centerpiece of Sleepwalk with Me underlines his instincts as a savvy entertainer.

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More Moontower Comedy 2014
Moontower 2014, Day 3: Marc Maron
Moontower 2014, Day 3: Marc Maron
The comic's comic again plumbed the depths of angst and anger

Scott Schinder, April 28, 2014

Moontower 2014, Day 4: Fred Armisen
Moontower 2014, Day 4: Fred Armisen
Less comedy show than meet-and-greet, but oh, Armisen charmed

Russ Espinoza, April 28, 2014

More Mike Birbiglia
"Yes, and ..."
Mike Birbiglia tackles improv group dynamics with Don't Think Twice

Beejoli Shah, March 11, 2016

Rise and Shine
Rise and Shine
Mike Birbiglia on getting 'Sleepwalk With Me' made

Kimberley Jones, Aug. 31, 2012

More by Scott Schinder
Music DVDs
The Byrd Who Flew Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark

Dec. 19, 2014

Box Sets
Bob Dylan & The Band
The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (Record Review)

Dec. 12, 2014


Moontower Comedy 2014, Mike Birbiglia, Thank God for Jokes, David O. Russell, James Van Der Beek

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