The moments in my life where I’ve felt closest with the people I care about were when we were sharing jokes. - Mike Birbiglia
We go to comedy shows expecting to laugh... it’s sort of the point. In his show at Newport Yachting Center show on Friday Mike Birbiglia more than delivered on that expectation while also taking every opportunity to show the crowd just how fragile, unpredictable, and amazing that laughter can be.
His One Hundred plus city tour, "Thank God For Jokes," finds Birbiglia using his characteristic insight, honesty and playfulness to explore the limitless variety of ways in which we employ humor in order to bond, attack, escape, and just plain cope with the insanity of our everyday lives. Birbiglia’s tale of being forced to eat a chicken salad sandwich in an airplane bathroom at 30,000 feet ends in a lesson about how whether we laugh or not at a joke largely depends on whether it's on us. The description of a long-running inside gag between he and his wife that plays on the word Massachusetts starts off as an example of how jokes can be used to bring people together on a non-logical level (even if they’re patently not funny,) only to end by showing that a small tweak of context and the change of a single syllable can turn dead silence into the roar of a crowd.
Again and again Birbiglia used his trademark storytelling ability to turn hilarious anecdotes about late night encounters with the Weehawken NJ Police Department, or being consoled by Kermit the Frog after a rough gig, into studies of the sheer number of ways that we use (and get used by) jokes as we make it through our lives as best we can. He wasted no time in illustrating this when he opened up his set by digging into the habits of people who are chronically late for everything (like everyone else in his family). His breakdown of the differences between the prompt and the tardy brought up some great bits about being left shivering in wet trunks on the side of the road while waiting for his mom to pick him up after swim class and about his family having to speed to the airport each summer to make their vacation flight at the last minute. But it was also a brilliant way for him to open the show in that it allowed the majority of the crowd who’d arrived on time to listen to his opening act (the deeply talented Chris Gethard) to gel together into a united and appreciative audience that reveled in Birbiglia gently making fun of the latecomers who made their way to their seats after he was already onstage.
As Birbiglia noted early in the show: “jokes have to be about something”, and often enough their subject is another person, which is why he also made sure to mention that “We have the right to tell jokes and other people have the right to be offended by them.” Nowhere in his act was this more clear than in his closing story. The details will be best enjoyed by either seeing Birbiglia live or by what’s sure to be the incredible special that this tour will culminate in, but when he tells of how he used his platform as the host of a glitzy awards show to tell a devastating (and devastatingly funny) joke at the expense of director David O. Russell, the guest of honor, we get a crystal clear view of just how many things a joke can be at once. In one moment between him, Russell, and a gathered crowd of Hollywood’s leading lights he managed to execute a perfectly written bit, make a man publicly relive probably the most embarrassing moment of his life, get a body-shaking laugh out of an actor who hadn’t eaten in 3 weeks, and pretty much ensure that he’ll never be cast in at least one major auteur’s future work. Thank God for jokes indeed.
There are still plenty of great upcoming comedy events at the Newport Yachting Center* this summer including Jim Jeffries & Amy Schumer. It's an excellent venue for live comedy and the personal touch of Joe & Diane Rocco do quite a bit to make the performers and audience feel right at home.
*Click for tickets or just go to Newportcomedy.com from here.