Looking around the audience waiting for Mike Birbiglia’s The New One to begin, I recognize his huge following. We need laughter more than ever and Birbiglia suits up with his homely, hysterical riffs with grace and aplomb.
The prolific monologist appears to be everywhere at once. The award-winner (Kurt Vonnegut Humor Award 2017, Stand-up Comedian awards 2016, 2009, 2003) revels in standup and theatrical solo shows. His winning productions have included My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (Lucille Lortel, 2011) and Mike Birbiglia: Thank God for Jokes (2016). Not only does he tour his solo shows nationally and internationally, he finds the time to write, direct, and act. For example, his film Don’t Think Twice (2016) debuted at festivals and received award nominations.
He’s also released eight comedy albums and four comedy specials. And did I mention he acts in television (Orange is the New Black) and film?
The New One began Off Broadway at the Cherry Lane and extended before landing at the Cort Theatre on Broadway. With zany but well-modulated humor, Birbiglia’s jokes crash into us nonstop. Directed by Seth Barrish, his marvelous genius delivers a well-written, beautifully acted, perfectly paced performance.
Birbiglia endears us to him the moment he walks his relaxed self onstage. This every-guy American just wants to have fun and enjoy himself. And he makes us believe that he gets off entertaining us and explaining the most startling, shocking, and frightening developments in his life. The connection he establishes with the audience is well honed, measured, soft-spoken, admirable. When we sigh about the doctor discovering his cancer or his description of painful procedures, he comments, “I know.” The give-and-take stimulated by his responses to our guffaws, chortles, groans, and awwwws bonds us in a weird, crazy identification that we all (males, females, transgenders, old, young) participate in. God! I hope Birbiglia takes decades to fade away. We need his humor to grow old to. He gets us, and we get him. It’s love, and love should be forever, or ’til death do us part!
This consummate comedian gives us his intimate and singular takes on singledom, husband-dom, fatherdom. With the last comes the title of his show. He establishes eventually and finally that he is the father of “The New One.” Of course, this also refers to his changing identity.
Beginning with a symbol that expands to cover elements of his life in his 20s, 30s, and the current year, he zeroes in on his first couch. What Birbiglia does with a simple piece of furniture sent us into gales of laughter. The amazing thing about his aphorisms is that they not only make sense, but we note them and forget they make sense in our own lives. But this is where Birbiglia takes things that one considers insignificant and reveals their mammoth importance for us. Thus, when he codifies his numerous reasons why he loves his couch and generalizes why its better than his bed, we admit: Christ! He’s right!
I just adored how Birbiglia makes the couch one of the centerpieces of his story. From there he lifts off into other subjects, like the wooing of his wife. We enjoy his lovely, humorous observations about their relationship. Happily they can live and love forever after. We believe this for them more than for any other couple on the planet. The two of them have reached a soul union. Birbiglia’s buildup sings with humor.
What follows is the inevitable. Shouldn’t couples who adore one another have a child together? Who better than they to bring their love to their “own” boy or girl. What? In their decision-making about not having a child vs. having a child, Birbiglia shows his nimble-mindedness. The hysterical back-and-forth reflects the beauty and angst and abject uncertainty of a new human being coming onto the planet. This crescendos into one of the high points of the evening. What an ending for a beginning. We identify; half the audience has been there, done that. The guy sitting next to me was awwing throughout these riffs.
Birbiglia tells us how his wife believed a baby would be great for him. Only a Birbiglia could set up this story of how he never, ever, ever wanted kids. Just by looking at his brother’s misery, he knows kids are not for him. Ironically, as he covers the hysterical threads insuring he cannot have children for a myriad of reasons, we know with one mind as an audience Birbiglia nails it. We laugh passionately in agreement! Yes!
Anyone in their right mind, whatever gender or sexual orientation, would never have children and duplicate themselves. Having kids is nuts, wacko, especially now given the state of the planet. And I will add, because Birbiglia does not specify, especially with the current political crisis.
And when the event happens, in true Birbiglia form, what he has foreshadowed comes to pass. Then reversals and twists occur. As with any set of parents raising a newborn, comes the roller-coaster ride that runs off the rails. You’ll just have to see the show to discover whether he and his wife land on their feet or spiral out into the darkness without a prayer.
Birbiglia masters relating his feelings with candor and authenticity. We become his intimates and he can tell us whatever he devises. We so want to listen! And best of all he makes a circularity of the randomness of his life, which actually appears fairly ordered, after all. In any case, I laughed and teared up and the gentleman next to me awwwed up until the standing ovation. What a fabulous, LOL, fun evening. No one wanted to leave. We could have stayed for another hour. But the poor guy had to go home to his baby daughter and wife. We’d kept him long enough.
Do not miss The New One, Mike Birbiglia’s shimmering laugh riot. Cheer yourself for the holidays and especially after Thanksgiving when you need the most laughs. The New One runs at Broadway’s Cort Theatre until 20 January. Visit the website for tickets.