Saw Mike Birbiglia's one-man show, "Sleepwalk With Me," last night at Upright Citizens Brigade. He's apparently prepping it for an off-Broadway run in the fall, but why see it for $50 when you can see it for $5 at UCB. I've blogged about Birbiglia before. I've seen him perform three other times, I think. I think he's super funny, and what I like about his stuff as compared with most stand-up comedy out there is that you watch him and you feel like you're getting a sense of him as a person, you feel like you're getting into his head a little bit, you feel like you're watching something authentic and real. Demetri Martin's stuff (for the most part) has this quality too, although his recent CD, "These Are Jokes," doesn't so much, and I was pretty disappointed by it.
I'd seen what I have to imagine was a very early version of the Sleepwalk show a few years ago at UCB in New York, when I went to their Monday night stand-up showcase once (called Crash Test) and Birbiglia was the surprise guest and he told a crazy story that didn't sound entirely true about a sleepwalking adventure that I won't spoil because it's the core piece of the new show. That was a twenty-minute story, and it's now been built out to this 80-minute "Sleepwalk With Me" show, with much more to it as far as the story itself and the set-up and the asides and the emotional heft of the whole piece.
So he's clearly been working on this thing for a while, and it all feels very carefully honed, very deliberately put together -- there are some bits, especially toward the beginning, that are pulled from other material of his that I'd heard before, either on stage or on CD, but what I think Birbiglia is unusually good at is making material he's performed a thousand times before still feel fresh and new and real (which makes his CDs a pretty solid repeat listen, actually) and most of that fit in seamlessly and didn't feel lazy or anything... and the bits and digressions fade more and more into the background as he gets deeper into the core story of the piece...
It's hard to talk intelligently about the show without giving things away, which I really don't want to do... but I guess what surprised me is that part of what makes Birbiglia appealing on stage is that you want to root for him, he seems like a good guy, he's self-effacing on stage, he's likeable... and for the first two-thirds of the show, I was totally with him, I was totally on his side, I was really, really enjoying the show and was really impressed with the craft of it, honestly. I kept looking over at my fiancee (who's out in LA for the next few weeks doing a med school rotation in the UCLA hospital system -- it's awesome to have her out here and to get to not be long-distance for a little while, but that's fodder for another post entirely) to see if she was laughing (she's heard one of Birbiglia's CDs, but going to this thing was my idea, not hers, and I wanted her to like it, and hoped she would, and was also curious what was hitting her as funny as someone who hadn't heard most of this material before, since I'd heard a bunch of the pieces before in different forms and so it wasn't all completely fresh to me) and she was, and overall the audience really seemed to be with him... and then there's a moment two-thirds of the way in, when he admits something that makes him seem like a little less of a good guy, and actually kind of a jerk, in a way that he doesn't come across at all on stage... and I think he was trying to really hard to stay just on the side of the line where you're still rooting for him, you're still on his side... but I'm not sure he did. He definitely lost my fiancee at that point, and I think he lost a decent chunk of the audience. He lost me a little bit, and I wanted to be on his side, I really did. And he almost got me back by the end -- but, I don't know. I think to some degree this is the feeling he's trying to provoke -- he's trying to see how far he can go and still keep the audience on his side -- but that moment, the moment when the story turns that one extra tick, it's like the air goes out a little bit, and I wonder if he's still working on calibrating it exactly right. On the other hand, it's sort of cool to play with the idea of still being able to be funny when the audience isn't quite sure whether or not it's still on your side.
In any case, highly recommended, very very funny, and -- maybe even better than that -- spent the entire car ride home talking about it, and about audience expectations of comedy, and whether you have to always be on the comedian's side, and talking about the real-life stuff that he shared in the show. But mostly it's very very funny and totally, totally worth seeing, whether for $5 at UCB or $50 elsewhere.
And, I discovered in my Google Reader when I got home, there was an excerpt from the show on This American Life over the weekend, and you can listen to it here. It's the first big story in the episode but doesn't start until a few minutes in.