In the past week, I’ve seen two stand-up comedy shows, which is notable, because going to see stand-up comedians is something I never do.
However, I do think stand-up comedy is a pretty interesting medium, and I’m always interested in how to craft jokes and stories for an audience. One of my more fascinating experiences was going to see my friend Heather’s friend Bill perform stand-up after taking a local stand-up comedy class; he and about nine other students got up on stage and did their best to amuse those of us in the audience. They all had different styles, and though a lot of the acts were fairly good-natured and PG, others were much more adult, discomfiting and even offensive. If an act flopped, I was still pretty amazed that the person had had the courage to get up on stage and tell a bunch of bad jokes. I mean, why would you do that? Of course, perhaps they were under the impression that they were being funny.
Anyway, last night I took in comedian Mike Birbiglia’s acclaimed show “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” at The Egg. Birbiglia is very funny. He’s really better described as a humorous monologuist and his show had real moments of poignancy.
The story he tells is essentially a love story, about the somewhat rocky road that brought him around to the concepts of both love and marriage. In telling this story, Birbiglia goes off numerous tangents. There’s a very funny bit about going on a date to an amusement park, and throwing up on The Scrambler, and other funny detours — to a school dance, where he had his first kiss, to the home of his high school girlfriend’s parents, where he realized his girlfriend was seeing someone else, to missed planes at airports and the homes of his friends. In some ways, it’s a circuitous journey, but Birbiglia never loses the thread, bookending his tale with an account of a life-changing car accident — one of those accidents that makes you realize what’s important in life, though in Birbiglia’s case, his moment of revelation required some nudging from his long-time (and, one can assume, long-suffering) girlfriend Jenny.
I don’t know how important it is for a comic to be “relatable.” For instance, I think it’s possible to enjoy the comedy of Richard Pryor even if you’re not a recovering cocaine addict. But one of Birbiglia’s strengths is his relatibility. He seems like a regular, if quirky, guy, right down to his attire — jeans, sneakers and an untucked, button-down shirt. (“This is my A outfit,” he explained. “It’s not like I got mustard on my good shirt, and had to wear this.”) His jokes highlight the absurdities of everyday life and relationships — absurdities that will be familiar to pretty much everyone, except for a charmed few.
I particularly enjoyed his tirade about marriage, where he outlines the seven or so reasons why he’s opposed to marriage and will never get married. Of course, the entire monologue is building to marriage, and Birbiglia’s decision to acquiesce to an institution he’s not quite sure he believes in. It’s a funny story, but it’s also quite moving.
The other comic I saw was Andy Pitz, in Auburn, N.Y. I knew nothing about him, but it was pretty much the only thing in town to do, and my friend Marnie had a few hours of freedom from her two young children. Pitz was pretty good. He had some similarities to Birbiglia, most notably an ability to highlight the absurdities of everyday life. For example, a bit on the ridiculousness of certain kitchen gadgets, such as the hanging banana holder, was pretty funny. The big theme was fatherhood, as Pitz and his wife just had a baby, and most of these jokes were pretty funny, too.
So it’s been a fun week of stand-up comedy, and who knows? Maybe I’ll start paying more attention to what’s out there.
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