Stay with me on this one. I know you look at that seemingly harmless man pictured above as someone that is the opposite of threatening. But that’s what he wants you to think. That’s how he gets your butts in the seats, or gets you to choose his “stand-up comedy” specials on Netflix. If you’re a person who likes to laugh, well, let’s just say that you are in his target demographic. However, he is not just your average comedian.
Mike Birbiglia is a specialist. Most comedians just go for the laughs or the one-liners. Mike is a master of what he does for two reasons. One, he has perfected it. Two, no one else even attempts it. He is methodical, like a sniper, despite the fact that his weapon of choice is one of mass destruction. It is us. He uses us against us in the most intimate of ways. Mike Birbiglia does not tell jokes. He tells stories in an extremely funny, entertaining, yet simple way. Because if you step back and look at your life from an objective point of view, outside of your own feelings about what’s happening to you, one could argue that some of it is humourous, even the times where we are the most stressed, uncertain, and nervous about what it all means and what’s coming ahead.
Mike taps into that, as if he’s lived it. As if he’s an ordinary man going through the same life experiences as the rest of us. Could it be even possible? Who knows? But he speaks it as if he dares to be one of us, the regulars. If you’ve ever watched Mike’s Netflix specials like “What I Should Have Said Was Nothing” or (one of my all time favourites which I recommend to everyone) “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend“, then you already know what I mean about how dangerous he is.
People go to comedy shows to laugh. We don’t expect to have cathartic, life-celebrating, and sometimes life-changing “a-ha” moments as if we had just sat through a marathon of Oprah’s Greatest Hits. But that’s how he gets you. That’s Mike’s secret weapon. He tells stories, and disguises them as consumable jokes. Jokes about his fears, his anxiety about being a human on this planet at this time, his trepidation about falling in love, his concerns over his health, his fear of failing in his career, in his relationships, in being a parent. He tells them so well, that we are not just laughing because it’s funny, or because it’s true, but because it’s us. All of us. We chase him down the rabbit hole (we think) because his real-time introspection is hilarious. But before long, we are no longer sure if we are chasing him, or if he is simply reflecting us. At a Mike Birbiglia show, because he starts with unique situations, the audience doesn’t realize that we are all taking the journey with him until it gets to a point where it is uncomfortable. That is what the majority of his show is built up of, it is those moments that we look around and see that everything he is talking about, we have all felt or feel to some extent as we go through the difficult points in our life in real time.
Mike Birbiglia is dangerous. Left in the hands of someone who hadn’t mastered what he does, you may leave a show like that — one that makes you look at your fears and anxieties so closely — depressed, no matter what good-intentioned punchline was waiting at the end. But Mike is a master. Mike knows that after all these jokes about the scariness about being a human being, and how lost we feel sometimes, it’ll take more than a punchline to bring us to a better place than we were before we pressed play or walked into the theatre. So in those last few moments of a Mike Birbiglia show, like a surgeon, he goes to work. Mike’s closing cathartic realization that he utters as he looks back on the period of his life that he just spent over an hour talking to us about is why everyone who sees it is glad they are at a Mike Birbiglia show. You have to respect how deep he takes you into your own darkness to really respect how good he is at bringing us all out of it and therefore, by telling the story of his last few years, leaving the audience with the feeling that, “I really gotta calm down. Everything is going to be ok.” Leaving you with more than you expected from a comedy show. Arguably, more than we deserve. Something that becomes apparent when you look around the #JFL42 audience to see many patrons teary-eyed when the lights come up as Mike collects yet another standing ovation.
At the end of Mike Birbiglia’s career, you can actually watch his specials in order to see the inner thoughts of an everyday guy trying to navigate through the various stages of life, and the lessons we learn along the way. When you finally get to the realization that this was Mike Birbiglia’s plan all along, can you really even call him a “stand-up comedian”? In my opinion, he transcends that.
Established in 2012 and now in its sixth year, JFL42 is a pass-based interactive comedy Festival in Toronto created by Just For Laughs. Developed with a mandate to celebrate the most hilarious, innovative, riveting and relevant comedy experiences in the world with Toronto audiences, JFL42’s unique interactive pass-based ticketing and reservation system makes it the first comedy festival of its kind. In addition to JFL42, Just For Laughs has produced the world’s most prestigious comedy festival in Montreal for the past 35 years and in recent years has launched festivals in Sydney, Vancouver, and London, England.
For more information visit: www.jfl42.com