Like all great stand-up comedians, almost everyone can see himself or herself in Mike Birbiglia. Hiding a sharp wit behind a confused mumble, Birbilia is a great storyteller, and even when he’s dead wrong, it’s impossible not to take his side. This charm was present and accounted for during his performance of “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” Monday night at the Guthrie.
Although Birbiglia is a stand-up comedian by trade, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” isn’t being billed as a stand up special, exactly. It’s more of a one-man show, telling a much longer story than even Birbiglia’s long-form stand up sets would allow with assistance from a director.
The show is a companion piece to 2008's “Sleepwalk With Me” which, like “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” was based on stories Birbiglia contributed to “This American Life,” and injected a fair amount of pathos and genuineness to Birbiglia’s act.
Structured almost exactly like “Sleepwalk,” “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” opened with a vivid and poetic description of a hit and run before rewinding to grade school and tracing Birbiglia’s romantic history leading up to the crash. The two stories dovetail nicely in a poignant but rushed ending.
While “Sleepwalk” used Birbigia’s “This American Life” pieces as a jumping off point to tell a larger story, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” seems like it was built around them. The pieces he used are great, but were largely unchanged since they aired, with Birbiglia often just adding connective tissue.
But a sweater with visible seams can still be a great sweater, and the show didn’t suffer. Birbiglia performed wonderfully, speaking in his trademark fidgety mumble and often diverging on to long tangents that appeared off the cuff but were actually carefully constructed to feed the show’s larger themes.
The sold-out crowd was full of young dedicated fans, who were eating out of Birbiglia’s hand even during his pre-shpw warm up/cell phone announcement. He got huge laughs when he finally dropped his trademark, understated “I know. I’m in the future also.” After getting a gasp from the crowd.
Birbiglia also showed more physical range then he has before, making use of the Guthrie’s large Wurtele Thrust. One story found seventh-grade Birbiglia on a doomed amusement park ride with a date. As The Scrambler started up, Birbiglia spun around and around the stage, flailing as he described what was going through his head as he tried not to vomit.
Birbiglia can also change from hilarious to captivating at a moments notice. Multiple times throughout the night Birbiglia would take the crowd from thunderous laughter to complete silence in a matter of seconds just by a slight change of tone. Birbiglia hides his gift for storytelling behind his stage persona, but there is no doubt he had everyone in the audience completely engaged for the show’s full 90 minutes.
Overall “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” wasn’t quite as strong as “Sleepwalk With Me”, but Birbiglia’s performance was so great it didn’t really matter. Much of Birbiglia’s humor comes from sleepy self-deprecation, but with this show he has reason to be proud.
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