Home is where the heart is. And for Mike Birbiglia, it’s also where the sold-out crowds are. A string of them, in fact.
Following the wild success of his critically-acclaimed one-man show and subsequent Netflix special, Thank God For Jokes, the Shrewsbury native brought his brand new arsenal of material, aptly-titled The New One, to The Wilbur Theatre for six homecoming shows (October 4 to October 8). Even with shows that creeped close to midnight, the crowds that flocked to Tremont street didn’t let Birbiglia forget where he came from.
Throughout the six-show mini-residency engagement, and pulling a double on Friday night, Birbiglia further cemented why he is one of comedy’s hardest hitters today, serving up doses of observational humor driven by outrageous (and sometimes downright depressing) moments in his life that the audience could relate to.
Maybe the 9:45 p.m. start time was a bit late for some in attendance on Friday and Saturday, as a few contagious yawns telephoned around the theatre prior to showtime. But the yawning didn’t last, as Birbiglia’s voice boomed over the PA to introduce opener Chris Laker, whose laid back demeanor (and, let’s face it, outstanding mane of hair) seemed to resonate with the crowd, as he shelled out tales of personal turmoil, mixed with just enough light-hearted observational musing, with a streak of self-deprecation that was delivered in just the right way to sway the overall response from a sympathetic and ominous “Ohhh…” to round after round of uncontrollable laughter.
Laker relinquished the stage to Jacqueline Novak, who mainly riffed on the simple, yet often discussed femininity of male genitalia — all the while maintaining a fashion show runway strut that she used as a springboard to propel her set into motion.
The lights dimmed as Novak finished her set, and Birbiglia prepared to take the stage with a simple, welcoming wave to the crowd, before wasting no time employing what now has to be his signature style of comedy, with complex descriptions of simple things like couches and mattresses, and strange, yet totally understandable ponderings on the oddities of his love life.
Not sticking to a chronological timeline of life events, which actually seemed to make the material that much more enjoyable, Birbiglia shared stories of attachment to personal belongings, his mounting health struggles, and the journey of fatherhood. Strategically injecting small inside jokes that only the most invested fans of his material would understand, like “I know… I’m in the future too,” and the now-customary ribbing of his brother, Joe (or “Joey bag o’ donuts” as many have come to know him), Birbiglia employed old tricks, yet brought a fresh perspective to unchartered territory in his catalog, before bringing it all full circle to a dramatic ending that could only be, and most certainly was, welcomed with raucous applause as the Georgetown graduate went out the way he came in — with a wave and that infectious smile.
If Birbiglia’s life was a TV show, The New One would be like the newest topsy-turvy season that chronicles the absurdity, as well as the tender and sobering moments that he has experienced on this amusement park ride of success, from the halls of St. John’s High School, to the front lawn of a La Quinta Inn in Walla Walla, Washington, and then back home where he has showcased, once again, why he is regarded as one of the best in the comedy game today.