Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sleepwalk with Me

I laughed and laughed and laughed at Mike Birbiglia's show Saturday night at the Bleecker Street Theater. Best feeling ever. We laughed until our heads were floating above us and nothing in the world seemed to matter because everything in the world was funny. I love that feeling, and I haven't felt it in far too long. (Well, that's not true. I recently realized that physical feeling of a good laugh is the same light-as-air feeling that we get from a really hard cry... how unfortunate.) Laughter of this degree comes from good storytelling, not comedy alone. And while Sleepwalk with Me could be categorized as stand-up, it held its own as a story, which made this show stunningly unique.

I first heard of Mike Birbiglia on This American Life, the Fear of Sleep episode. (Listen to it immediately... there is also a super interesting story about The Shining and an even more interesting bit about understanding death through sleep. The human mind astounds me!)

His tone is extremely endearing and his comedy is very clean and not the least bit crude. Well, obviously, as I first heard him on NPR. But he isn't trying to be clean, he isn't trying to be family friendly... he just uses real life as a jumping point, and his real life and his real person are respectful and deeply feeling. I don't usually like stand-up comedy for the reason that it is too easy. Its so easy to jump into vulgarity and to make fun of audience members while being overtly inapproprite. Its so base. Its talentless and cheap.

Birbiglia, on the other hand, talks about love and sex and family with respect and honor, but makes it FUNNY. So funny. So in addition to laughter we feel heart. He's a good guy. These honest good guy qualities--from his opening instructions for us to turn off our cell phones to his closing comments about finally relating to his distant father--make every audience member fall in love with him.

This is what happens when we create a platform for everyday people who are good at telling stories. He reminds me of my friend Cale. He could have been at our dinner table, he could have been in our living room, late in the evening, with wine and lingering laughter. The difference is that he hints at an event, an epic event, then takes the entire two hours or so to get there. There is no one to interrupt or jump in with thier own anticdotes, as often happens when Cale tells stories. And we don't get frusterated by his wandering... that takes talent. We let Mike speak and are grateful for it. The story ebbs and flows, in and out of his life in his twenties, so familiar that we nod along amidst the song-like laughter.

We learn bits an pieces of his life building up to a grand moment that of course doesn't disappoint when we finally arrive. Its a one-two punch, a shuffle-ball-change, but real and epic and larger that life. I turned to my friend Meghan so many times, whispering in her ear our own funnies, our own embarrassing memories from a life growing up awkwardly and together. He was a catalyst, after all, for not taking ourselves too seriously. Thank goodness for that.

If you live in New York City, I highly recommend this show. Its local, off-Broadway theater done really really well. And as my boy Ira Glass has said... hurry and catch him before he gets too famous.

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