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Mike Birbiglia: The Comedian’s Actor & The Actor’s Comedian

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I’m a Netflix Mooch.

I’m not proud of it, but I am.  Mooch isn’t even the correct label.  I’m more of a Netflix Flea.  I hop from person to person, and sometimes I get a little depraved (I’ve used accounts belonging to people ranging from the roommate of an acquaintance of a friend of mine, to my ex-girlfriend…even my recently deceased grandfather).  While I won’t name the person who I’m currently stealing online entertainment from, I can say that Netflix truly came through for me last night when I streamed Mike Birgbiglia’s most recent one-man show My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.

Birbiglia has been a hero of mine since high school.  He routines often go into detail about the trials and tribulations of being a socially inept teenager, something I found incredibly relatable as I struggled to come terms with the fact that I had a lot of extra pounds and even more zits.  However, as I grew up and my acne faded (for the most part), Birbiglia’s career took an unexpected turn when he adapted one of his stand-up specials, Sleepwalk with Me, into an off-Broadway one-man show.  In his review, Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times referred to production as “simply perfect,” further saying that 

Mr. Birbiglia, best known as a stand-up comic, uses a genial manner and a droll turn-off-your-cellphones opening to win you over, then embarks on a circuitous tale loosely pegged to his troubles with sleepwalking. But like any good monologue, this one is about more than what it’s about. By the end Mr. Birbiglia has also given us the birth and death of a romance, a portrait of his relationship with his father and a short course in various medical disorders.

He shows a great knack for dropping in quick, sly jokes (on a girl who caught his eye in college: “I kept running into her” — pause — “because I was following her.”) and a welcome respect for the audience’s ability to follow the long detours he takes from the main story. If some of those detours feel as if they might really just be excuses to work in material from his stand-up routine, they’re never less than rewarding. The laughter comes early and often.

 

While I never got a chance to see the show, Birbiglia followed up the production with a film adaptation, which premiered at Sundance to critical acclaim (coincidentally, this was the last film I watched on my dead grandfather’s Netflix account before they figured out that he could no longer pay his monthly dues…because he was dead).  Birbiglia’s tale of love, heartbreak, and rapid eye movement behavior disorder was an immensely entertaining cocktail of humor and tragedy.  For every laugh it garnered, it also conveyed a poignant truth–a rarity in most contemporary romantic comedies.

In My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, his most recent project which premiered on Netflix this fall, Birbiglia brings his audience on a hilarious yet heartfelt romantic journey, from his many almost first-kisses to his eventual marriage.  However, in this taped screening of one of the production’s live performances, Birbiglia does something much more significant–blur the lines between stand-up comedy, playwriting, and acting.

As a student in theatre school studying and attempting all three of these mediums in such different capacities, it’s so gratifying to see someone throw it all in a blender and end up with an honest performance.  I’ve spent the past year trying out material at open mics at various comedy clubs and bars throughout Boston, and my biggest mistake has been drawing a line between my material and my training.  It’s all coming from the same person, so why departmentalize my artistry?  If what makes us laugh can make us cry, and vice-versa, then why should we limit ourselves?

Mike Birbiglia has an exciting career ahead of him.  His truthful writing and brutally honest performances have earned him an incredibly innovative reputation.  Here’s to you, Mike–can’t wait to see what you come with next!

 

 

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