Review By Casey Curtis
Thank God for different approaches to telling jokes. In a comedy universe that ranges from high octane in-your-face comedy club stand-ups to improv to sitcoms et al, Mike Birbiglia carves a niche by being an amiable “rambler” of a story teller. But make no mistake, Mike Birbiglia‘s Thank God For Jokes is a carefully crafted ramble where every destination is appealing and all roads eventually converge and lead to a satisfying destination.
In Thank God for Jokes, Mike Birbiglia weaves numerous stories from his life that all connect to a theme of “what limits if any, should be applied to the jokes that we tell, when can they be told, and who has the right to tell them.” His tale comes into focus around an awards show that he was hired to host. In doing so he tells a joke that rankles the director who was there to receive a lifetime achievement award. But Mike argues that his loyalty was to the joke more so than to currying favor with the honoree.
In essence, Mr. Birbiglia puts his career at risk in service of his belief that jokes are sacred. (Amen to that!) This principle is demonstrated in numerous contexts in Mike’s life — e.g. a Christian College where he tells Jesus jokes (his choice to do this kind of material is questioned by the person who hired him), as well as a Muppets gig where he inadvertently says the F word. In all cases, Mike realizes afterward that the telling of the story is funnier than the mishap and maybe it’s deeper purpose in his life. A particularly satisfying example of how Mike essentially walks through life with a metal detector in hand in search of engaging stories and jokes comes in an interaction with a doctor who is surprised to learn Mike is a comedian. The doctor challenges Mike, “You’re a comedian? — If you’re a comedian, how come you’re not funny now?” Mike shares his inner thoughts with the audience, ”And what I wanted to say was I’m gonna take this conversation we’re having now and repeat that to strangers and that’s the joke. You’re the joke…later.”
It is Birbiglia’s verbal peregrinations that enchant. In this consistently funny and smart show he seems to tangentially wander topic to topic, but this is a very carefully mapped out journey — one where the various stories all tie together to make a point about the sanctity of the free speech that are jokes.
I suggest you make pilgrimage to the Culture Project to exercise your right to hear free speech, specifically that of Mr. Birbiglia. And arrive on time — Mike has a riff that involves dividing the world into late and on-time people (this reviewer sadly being in the former category) — to see Thank God for Jokes.
Mike Birbiglia: Thank God For Jokes, a new show written and performed by Mike Birbiglia, at the Lynn Redgrave Theater (45 Bleecker Street at the corner of Lafayette Street); 866-811-4111. Directed by Seth Barrish, set design by Beowulf Boritt. Mike Birbiglia: Thank God For Jokes is produced by Mike Berkowitz, Joseph Birbiglia, Ron Delsener, and Mike Lavoie. TGFJ Runtime- 90 minutes. Performances will continue through March 13.