In Mike Birbiglia’s 2013 special My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, Birbiglia basically tells only one joke: the story of how he got married to his current wife. Sure, there are many small sub-jokes, and every so often he decides to go a bit off-topic to provide backstory, but everything is focused on how he and his girlfriend eventually decided to tie the knot.
This is Birbiglia’s comedy style, whether it be on his Netflix specials or while appearing on This American Life. Instead of jumping from subject to subject, with segways to link each bit together, Birbiglia decides to follow a cross between Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey theory and Dave Chappelle’s insight. He does not use any extreme ideas or absurdist routines. He is just focused on having one beginning, middle and end, with a rising climax and a tidy resolution. In his new show, The New One, which Birbiglia performed at the State Theatre in Ithaca last Saturday, he follows this tried and true formula once more as he illustrates the process of having and raising a child.
Now, I am not a fan of kids at all. I hate just being around noisy brats and toddlers. Being on an airplane with a baby within a fifty-foot radius is a personal nightmare. Birbiglia starts off his show by addressing such sentiments, along with other ideas of why he would be a terrible father, from his bad genetics to the fact that he just does not want to lose his lifestyle. Birbiglia’s greatest strength is this ability to connect to the common person. He wears dad shoes and tucks his buttoned-up shirt in. He describes his old couch he picks up off the curb. He is not a pretentious, rich celebrity but seems more likely to be the middle-class white dude next door. The audience finds humor not because of the ridiculous, out-of-this-world statements he says, but because of the relatable situations he describes. Birbiglia stated that when one has kids, they lose all hobbies and interests, and a person in the crowd loudly agreed with a “yep!” The statement itself is not necessarily that funny, but everyone understands what Birbiglia is talking about, whether they have kids or not. People are not laughing at Birbiglia, but with him.
Birbiglia hides nothing from the audience about the journey of conceiving and raising a child in the early stages. He describes all the details, from sex to visiting the gynecologist to his wife’ stages of pregnancy to the first year with the baby. Never once did the experience seem pleasant. Instead, it seemed like a roller coaster that constantly turns and always induces vomit, but it is a ride that the audience has the thrill of being able to watch from afar while recollecting memories of their own experiences. Why does Birbiglia still decide to tell adventures of these negative experiences, including his cat pissing all over the hallway and couch?
Even though Birbiglia stated that his focus of The New One is to just provide laughs and an enjoyable time, he does highlight the beauty of the mundaneness in family. Birbiglia ends his show describing his wife, daughter and himself just sitting on a couch in a store, happy to be one as a family unit. Birbiglia does not finish his show with the strongest joke, but instead with the warmest and fuzziest memory. Like other comedians, Birbiglia’s first focus is on making the audience laugh, but he is also a storyteller. Sure, his journey might have bumps, but it leads to a family. It might not be idyllic, and it definitely is not perfect, but it is actual happiness.
After The New One ended and as I left the theater, my views on children had not changed that much. I still find them loud and way too much work. But maybe I can understand a bit more the reasons for and joys involved with having them.
Wilbert Ren is a sophomore in the College of Engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.