Actor, director, stand-up comedian and monologist extraordinaire Mike Birbiglia intends to lampoon each of these targets and many more when he makes his long promised return to the Lone Star state. In his first Texas appearance in nearly six years, Birbiglia will be doing more than 90 minutes of brand-new material as part of his newest tour: Thank God for Jokes!
Birbiglia's long sabbatical from the Texas comedy scene was even mentioned in his most recently recorded special, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, in which he said: "I was coming back from a five-day stint in Texas, which is awful. 'Cause it's in Texas. Not to say I dislike Texas...[but at the time] it felt like Texas just disliked me. So I had to dislike Texas back, to the point where I developed a small drinking problem. [A common occurrence] in Texas..."
But now the 35-year-old comedian couldn't be more excited about visiting Houston, due in part to numerous requests from his Facebook fan page. "I can't wait to [perform at the Wortham Center], because I've never played a theater [in Houston] before."
Birbiglia continued to say he's had positive experiences working at comedy clubs in Houston previously, something reiterated in My Girlfriend's Boyfriend when he calls comedy clubs "the last bastions of free speech and spoken word." Even though Birbiglia has made a name for himself on radio, with frequent appearances on National Public Radio's This American Life (hosted by Birbiglia's friend and frequent collaborator Ira Glass), the stage is most certainly where this comedian feels at home. "[But] I just feel more comfortable in theaters," he admits; "there's no one drinking or eating chicken fingers while I'm talking."
Audiences unfamiliar with Birbiglia's wide-eyed, optimistic wit are sure to be amused and even moved by his unique brand of self-deprecation and painfully true-to-life stories of discovery. "[There is] pathos in my show, sure." But as the title, Thank God for Jokes!, would have you assume, Birbiglia's latest offering fully intends to bring the funny.
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When asked if comedy has helped him to navigate his life, Birbiglia is quick to offer a light-hearted reply: "I mean, I think so. Maybe the wrong way," he says between laughs. "I've never thought of [comedy] in those terms. I think that somehow implies that my life has [gone in the right direction.] That's always a dangerous assumption to make."
While the Thank God for Jokes! tour marks the 20th on the road, the Massachusetts native has recently begun transitioning into a healthy new career as a filmmaker. In 2011, he adapted his fourth stand-up album, Sleepwalk with Me, into a semi-fictionalized feature of the same name, acting as lead director and co-scriptwriter (along with his brother, comedian Joe Birbiglia, and Ira Glass and Seth Barrish); Sleepwalk With Me opened to warm reviews and even won the NEXT Audience Favorite Award at the Sundance Film Festival. The funny man seems to see his career continuing down the filmmaker's path, saying to Splitsider during the film's release, "I studied playwriting and screenwriting in school and...I think I'm better at [writing for the screen] than the regular joke, joke, joke form."
Only time will tell if Birbiglia can surpass the dizzying heights of the two-year 70-city My Girlfriend's Boyfriend tour. Thank God for Jokes! is aiming at reaching as many as 100 cities. But for audiences spending an hour and a half laughing with this seasoned professional on April 24, Birbiglia vows that they will be treated to "what I consider my funniest act yet."
See Mike Birbiglia at 7:30 p.m. April 24 at the Wortham Theater Center/Brown Theater, 501 Texas. For information, call 832-487-7041 or visit explorehouston.org. $40 to $50.