Moontower 2018 Review: Mike Birbiglia's The New One

Birbiglia captured all the hilarity and fear of fatherhood

Mike Birbiglia isn’t the first comedian to question his fitness for fatherhood or the first dad to tuck a plaid button-down into khakis for a Thursday night at the theatre. But he might be the first of either to find the story of his daughter’s birth in a couch.

Mike Birbiglia (Courtesy of Bells and Whistles Productions)

Birbiglia (Sleepwalk With Me) headlined the second night of the 2018 Moontower Comedy Festival with The New One, his new show about reluctantly becoming a dad. Austin-based comedian and impressionist Mike MacRae opened with a fitting set on his own challenges with fatherhood. He joked about the amount of “unsolicited advice” he and his wife receive from an anti-vaxxer neighbor who “doesn’t have kids but does have the internet,” and how disappointing it is trying to teach kids about civics and journalism when Trump is in the news. His kid: “A pee tape? Like a video where people are peeing?” MacRae: “Yup. That’s what’s on the news.” It set the tone for Birbiglia’s show pretty perfectly.

The New One starts with an account of Birbiglia’s first step toward adulthood: buying − rather than finding − a couch. It serves as a springboard for a story about his transition from someone who disliked kids (and swore he would never have any) to fatherhood. While the show begins as some similar sets have − with jokes about general ineptitude and poor genes − it isn’t a second-coming-of-age story about a goofy thirty-something maturing into a dad. Like many of his live performances, the show follows a narrative format, blending hilarious dirty anecdotes and sex jokes with some emotional moments. With an ease that only comes from an expert storyteller, Birbiglia presents an extraordinarily honest and, in the end, touching story about becoming a dad. He captures at once the fear and hilarity of every step, which ranges from fertility assistance and “elective ball surgery” to worrying over a troubled pregnancy to managing his well-documented sleeping disorder in a home with a new mom and infant daughter. The dichotomy between how funny − but also serious − the situation can be creates just the right amount of comedic tension. “There are details of my life that are both set-up and punch lines,” he joked.

In some ways, The New One feels reminiscent of the frankness in Ali Wong’s Moontower set last year, in which she joked at length about the less popular aspects of becoming a mother. For example, at one point Birbiglia delves into the aloneness a new father can feel, playing off the cliche about parents learning the meaning of love. “I didn’t know what nothing was until I was a dad,” he said. “I understand why dads leave. I feel comfortable saying that because I’m not going to leave,” he said, cautiously. Adding, “Your best friend is in the best love affair of her life, and you’re watching from a window.”

The show is a bit of a long walk, with a running time of over an hour. But Birbiglia uses the long leash to construct a story rich with characters and anecdotes with perfectly timed callbacks that sincerely feel like inside jokes with the audience. That would be enough to recommend it, but the best part is how funny it is. Save a few quick quips about flyover cities, the entire set is fresh and inspired. He exited the stage to a standing ovation.

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Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival, Moontower Comedy 2018, Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me, Mike MacRae, Ali Wong

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