Mike Birbiglia – The New One

Mike Birbiglia is so damn likeable. He comes on stage to The Beach Boys, and it fits his tone perfectly. He eases in to the set, riffing about how he was very nearly hit and killed by a bus while walking to the gig, and how different the gig would’ve been had he been killed. The press reaction he decides would be “What was he even doing in London? No one knows who he is there…”

The show is about becoming a parent, and the first half is about why that is a terrible idea. He sees his family members with kids being miserable. He lists, at great lengths, the many reasons he himself shouldn’t be a father. He talks about his life-threatening sleep disorder (as seen in his brilliant autobiographical film Sleepwalk With Me), and his anxiety, and why there shouldn’t be another him walking around. The material’s great, and the first half whips along at a good pace.

By the second half, the material transitions about him actually becoming a parent. Conceiving, pregnancy, birth, the early years. This is all subject matter that’s been covered a lot, by a lot of comedians, but he does it better than most and finds good new angles. The only issue is that, as he admits himself in the show, you can’t know what it’s like to be a parent until you are one. So, a certain amount of relatability is lost for areas of the audience (not me, I’ve got a kid and he’s right, it’s a terrible idea) and the response is unavoidably a little more muted than the first half.

As the material is honed predominantly around the one topic, Birbiglia wraps up the show very nicely, bringing all the threads back together for a satisfying ending. This is his biggest strength: storytelling and structure. This sort of hour narrative is often more of a British phenomenon but we know from his two great films (Don’t Think Twice, about an improv group, is nigh on perfect) that Birbiglia is a special talent.

That said, a lot of comics best known for their writing don’t have his performance chops. He uses the stage well, talks to the audience, and is surprisingly physical at times. Overall, it’s a very engaging and funny show. Beautifully structured and performed. Warm in tone, with dark undercurrents. Mike Birbiglia is the Beach Boys of comedy.

★★★★

Neil Green

From the Leicester Square Theatre 8/6/2018

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