Published on March 31st, 2014 | by Jessica Mickey0
Review: Mike Birbiglia Bir-brings it to the Music Hall
Charleston Music Hall
When performing in large theaters, Mike Birbiglia starts his shows with practically zero fanfare. He just casually strolls onstage to dimmed lights and begins talking. Which kind of makes sense. Birbiglia reminds you of a guy you’re meeting at a laid-back bar, one that’s not too divey or sports-focused, just to hang in booth, split a pitcher of light beer, and share a few hilarious personal stories with.
On Sunday, Birbiglia (or “Birbigs,” as his fans like to refer to him) brought his latest stand-up tour, Thank God for Jokes, to the Charleston Music Hall. The show was heavily sold out, catering to an odd ticketing system that split the audience into two general admission sections without reserved seats — sort of like a Southwest Flight minus overhead baggage space. An announcement was made to squeeze in to make room for those still looking for seats together shortly before the show started. Much of the crowd was already waiting in line before the doors opened to score the optimum view. Luckily, for the majority of the audience, most of the seats in the Music Hall are winners — except, possibly, the rows situated on the far sides of the balcony, which Birbiglia was quick to point out early into his set. “You’re not facing the show — you’re looking at the audience,” he observed.
Please understand, I’m paraphrasing many of his comments and quips — it’s hard to remember things verbatim when you’re enjoying yourself so much.
After a brief scramble for a stool he forgot to set up during sound check (with the help of Music Hall director Charles Carmody), Birbiglia was ever the gracious guest, complimenting the town and talking about his first-floor room at the Wentworth Mansion with a comically southern accent. “You can’t say ‘Wentworth Mansion’ without sounding like the narrator from The Dukes of Hazzard,” he joked before launching into his frustration with late people (“The thing with late people is that they’re good looking. They call themselves ‘fashionable.’”), yoga (“All you’re really trying to do is not fart.”), and how his wife made him look him look like a delusional widow when she didn’t show up for their yoga class after he set up a reserved mat for her beside him. Which led him to the main theme of this particular show: “The thing about comedy is that it’s only your side of the story.”
He then shared an anecdote of a very recent encounter at Hominy Grill, where he was just trying to be friendly to a hostess by making a joke, who was quick to directly point out, “I have a boyfriend.”
Birbiglia went on to talk about many other times where jokes were taken the wrong way or he accidentally said something he probably should’ve kept to himself. Like the time he was arrested for a suspended license, or made jokes about Jesus Christ and his Catholic upbringing to a less-than-entertained audience of Christian college students (“comedy Myrrh” might be a new favorite phrase, which, as I found out afterward, he totally improvised on the spot), or how he accidentally dropped an f-bomb during a Muppets show in Canada. His observation that Statler and Waldorf are old gay men because they go the theater every week and bitch about everything was particularly inspired.
Interestingly enough, for those familiar with his past works My Secret Public Journal, Sleepwalk With Me, and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, Birbigs seems to be taking more risks these days, integrating more edgy material in the form of sexual innuendo involving spam mail and by bringing up director David O. Russell’s infamous rant against Lily Tomlin during the filming of I Heart Huckabees while performing at an award ceremony that was honoring the man himself, but he does so with complete justifiable purpose — it all lends itself to the subtly presented puzzle pieces that make up the big picture.
When a woman who, in all likelihood, had been boozing since brunch, began causing a ruckus in the balcony, Birbiglia seamlessly addressed it sans judgment, causing one audience member to yell, “We all hate her,” to thunderous applause, and another to state, “The world’s still turning, go on with the show,” which, I mean, come on. Of course a master like Birbiglia had to riff on what a ludicrous statement that is.
After the show, Brandy Sullivan, a co-owner of Theatre 99 (one of the show’s presenters), made the remark that a lot of people probably watched him that evening and thought, “I can do that,” because he makes it look so damn easy. Birbiglia is well aware of his perfect personal formula, integrating clever and accessible jokes and punchlines into personal stories that seem to only happen to a guy like him. He’s comfortable, charming, and genuine. How often do you find that in a comic’s stage persona? And is it even fair calling it a persona? One has to believe that when it comes to Birbiglia, what you see is what you get — pure comedy Myrrh.
Photos by Brian Friedman.
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