Jenn Tisdale is a D.C. stand up comic. Follow her on Twitter at @Jenn_Tisdale.
Last night I was running late to see Mike Birbiglia’s “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” at Georgetown University. I’m late for everything. I was due on February 22nd and was born on February 23rd so it’s literally been a lifelong issue. Fortunately I only missed 2 minutes of his act and walked in to see a pleasantly disheveled Birbiglia pacing the stage of the Davis Performing Arts Center in the midst of a story about how calling your cell phone provider’s customer service rep feels more like you are speaking to a concerned friend versus someone who can solve your problem. “Your cell phone isn’t working? That does sound rough.”
I first saw Mike Birbiglia open up for Jon Stewart a few years ago at Merriweather Post Pavilion. I laughed more at his set than I did at Stewart’s. Sorry. I’m not sorry. I was surprised that his quiet delivery was able to travel so well in such a venue. I vividly remember two jokes. One was about playing Scrabble with Jay-Z and how he would just make up words with the letter “z” sometimes just turning the letter “n” sideways. The other was this one (go to the 3:37 mark)…
The tagline to this story became the name of his DVD “My Secret-Public Journal Live: What I Should Have Said Was Nothing,” which was born of his therapist’s suggestion to keep a journal. His ability to “make an awkward situation more awkward” is a running theme in his life and consequently his shows.
He is performing “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” on the heels of the cinematic release of “Sleepwalk With Me,” which is based on his Off-Broadway Show and book of the same name. It follows his journey as an aspiring comedian (though he’s playing a “character”) trying to balance life and a relationship and now a sleep disorder which causes him to violently act out his dreams. The film is hilarious and if you’re familiar with his stand up at all you’ll recognize some of his bits peppered throughout, like tiny surprise parties. Also Marc Maron shows up for a cameo in case you missed sardonic anger.
There were elements of physical comedy in “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” which helped bring the show back up after the occasional poignant line. Birbiglia nostalgically retold the story of his first date which involved a trip to a carnival and a ride called The Scrambler. During the story he regales us with hilarious details such as the 16 year-old stoner running the ride who puts down the bar over their laps and doesn’t stick around long enough for Birbiglia to finish a sentence because he “doesn’t like the second half of sentences, apparently.” He then goes on to recreate the effects of the Scrambler by running in a huge circle all while pleading with the ride operator to stop the ride before he threw up. He then threw up his own “salsa mix of carnival food.” He knows how to use the entire stage without taking away from the meat of the story, which is not an easy thing to do.
I found I was genuinely interested in Birbiglia’s performance. As a comic it is often difficult to laugh at live comedy so when I do I feel very grateful and overjoyed. He may be a success but it was comforting to hear that self-deprecation still roams free in jokes about how he doesn’t really look at himself in the mirror before he leaves the house and when he does it’s just to make sure he’s not bleeding. There were moments of sweet, tender honesty that are necessary in an hour long show because your body needs that time to heal and then ready itself for more laughter. He speaks softly during those kinder moments and in those times I would lean in so I could hear what he was saying because I knew it was going to be that good and possibly life-changing, and it was.
After the show he invited us to stick around for a brief Q&A but more importantly he wanted to hear feedback about the show, and not ego-feedback but rather our reactions and emotional responses. That’s important because comedy, or in this case comedic storytelling, is so much more than what you’re saying. You invite the audience into your world therefore it helps you to hear how they felt while there. Personally I felt anxious at times because the bulk of his stories are all rooted in awkwardness, but more importantly I felt that anxiety because I recognized it in my own stories and that is what makes Mike Birbiglia so good at what he does.
“My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” is a show that walks you through the full range of human emotions. I laughed. I almost cried. I nearly texted my ex-boyfriend. It was endearing and hysterical and I would wish it upon anyone.