Starting promptly at 10 p.m., Mike Birbiglia took the stage at the Overture Center for the second time Friday night, much to the delight of the packed Capitol Theater audience. “Promptly at 10” is important to note, as most shows or concerts often say a showtime and won’t dim the house lights until 10 to 15 minutes after the stated time on the ticket. But Birbiglia is an “on-time person,” a difference he was clear to point out between him and his wife, shortly after riffing about “desperately wanting but can’t having” The Old Fashioned’s cheese curds and how he still saw people ice-fishing on that balmy afternoon.
Unlike comedians Aziz Ansari or Pete Holmes, who are typically very high-energy, Mike Birbiglia was very calm and collected. He strolled back and forth on the stage, sharing quips and anecdotes about being educated about Jesus in a private Catholic school, having a reputation as a “clean comic” and sharing more of the worst gigs he’s ever performed. A new favorite came from a story in which he performed stand-up with the Muppets, accidentally dropping an “f-bomb” as soon as he came on stage.
Another excellent portion of the show was devoted to his married life (a topic that is essentially the basis for “Sleepwalk With Me” and “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend”) and how he loves the quirks and intimate jokes that come with it. He explained how “Cattssachusetts” became the “joke of the year” to him, his wife and their cat “Ivan.” (There isn’t much to explain: they just started calling Massachusetts “Cattssachusetts” whenever they would vacation there with their cat.) He then explained that it was right of the audience not to laugh because it was not funny and that he and the audience were not married. However, after a mouse problem almost ruined one vacation that Mike called “Mouseachusetts”— a joke the audience now laughed at— he cleverly pointed out that they now laughed at that pun, and that that’s a little bit what it is like to be married.
A lot of Mike Birbiglia’s success can be attributed to his acclaimed recent film and one-man shows “Sleepwalk with Me” and “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” (both on Netflix by the way), as well as his frequent collaborations with Ira Glass, host of “This American Life.” All of these works are very well-written and come highly-recommended, yet they lack many aspects of conventional stand-up. The “Thank God for Jokes” tour is his answer to that: to re-establish himself as one of the great touring stand-ups today. Friday night’s show definitely proved that, but emphasized that Birbiglia’s greatest strength lies in his storytelling ability, how he can expertly and intimately engage the audience to get everyone to “be on his side.”
Birbiglia’s final joke was about his recent hosting of the Gotham Independent Film Awards and how he severely angered one of his favorite directors, David O. Russell. He pointed out that Russell is known for having a temper problem, as evidenced by a video that leaked out of him viciously cursing out Lily Tomlin. Birbiglia then retrieved a word-for word transcript of Russell’s rant, read it to the audience and explained how he worked the entire rant into a joke that sent Russell swearing and fuming out of the theater moments before he was about to receive the Gotham Independent Film’s Lifetime Achievement award. The show ended on that joke, but shortly after, Birbiglia came back on for a very gracious encore, stating how he has been coming to Madison for about 16 years and how he hopes to come back very soon. He then asked the audience if they had any old favorites that they wanted to hear, and immediately someone yelled out “Eckersley!,” another story from Birbiglia’s “My Secret Public Journal,” where Birbiglia ends up hosting another show that goes awry. It was a delightful end to a delightful performance.