Good One: A Show About Jokes (2024)

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Good One: A Show About Jokes (2024)

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[crickets chirping]

[upbeat funky music]

- All right, here we go.

We're at the Columbus Theatre

in Providence.

Beautiful theater.

Probably about 800 seats.

I'm not performing here.

We're not performing

on this stage.


I'm performing up there.

That's where I work out

new material.

This is very hard to explain.

"Old Man and the Pool"

went to Broadway.

- His Broadway show--

it's fantastic--

"The Old Man and the Pool,"

with an additional

two-week extension of its run.

Please welcome back to the show

our friend Mike Birbiglia.

[cheers and applause]

- Super exciting.

And then it ends.

It's like, well,

I can't tour that anymore.

And so then it's like, OK.

Well, now what do I do?

[indistinct chatter]

This week in Providence,

it's, like, show number one

of 500 shows

or however many it takes

to be the next Broadway show,

comedy special.

What's the next show about?

And it's like, I don't know...

- Right.

- Until I figure out

what I'm obsessed with.

- When a comedian puts

a special out into the world,

they are faced

with a real sense of dread

that that is the last hour of

jokes they're ever gonna write,

and they should probably move

on to a different career.

- Good evening, and welcome...


To the Strange Attic

at the Columbus Theatre,

where Mike Birbiglia sometimes

performs shows for some reason.

[cheers and applause]


Thanks, Gary.

[cheers and applause]

Here we go again.

This is the beginning.

- A comedian

only makes it work onstage

if it looks like it's the first

time they're saying it.

If it doesn't seem natural,

the audience feels ripped off.

You weirdly have to put

all this time into it

to make it look

like you're coming up with it

off the top of your head.

- I don't know

why that's so funny.

You think it's funny,

so it'll live

to see another night

in the show.

I always tell the audience,

"In case anyone's wondering,

there will be no arc."

If you feel themes,

those aren't themes.


It's just the same person

telling the jokes.

"If you notice an arc,

feel free to shout it out."

You're probably thinking,

how come we don't get

the final product?

We just get the first draft.

I think Providence is

a first-draft town.

I just feel like--


Maybe that's who you are.

That's--that's why

my family lives here.

[laughter and applause]

[bright music]


I'm gonna start with a story

that took place

here in Rhode Island

last summer.

My wife and I stayed

at an Airbnb,

which, by the way,

no breakfast.

It's a--Airbnb is

a wildly misleading acronym.

It's like if you showed up

to an AA meeting,

and they're like,

"We're livestreaming."

And you're like, I had heard

it was sort of a private thing.

And they're like,

"Pop open a wine cooler.

We're gonna dish some goss."


All I'm doing right now

is just throwing out jokes

and seeing what sticks.

If they get a big enough laugh,

I'll do them,

you know, next week

in Washington, D.C.

That's actually what's

exciting about these shows,

is it's an adventure.

It's like, OK.

Wonder what this will be.

- Yeah.

- Who knows?

- Mike came upon this idea

to call shows "Working It Out,"

so as to set expectations.

You know, this isn't

a fully realized show.

- I come off of doing

"Old Man and the Pool,"

where it's, like, this

fully realized production.

I've been working

for four years.

So I always have

this sense of, like,

do they know that this is

what they're getting into?

This Airbnb said

five minutes from the beach.

And it wasn't.

It was not

five minutes from the beach.

It was on Seaview Road.

There was no sea view.

Everything was misleading.

[light music]

- I've only done one special,

so I'm so impressed with Mike

and people like Mike

who are prolific enough

to churn out a bunch.

And the other thing

about Mike is,

none of his have ever seemed

even a little bit rushed.

You realize

that he takes that idea

of what a special means


Obviously, he's been

incredibly lucky to be gifted

with things like

a sleepwalking affliction,

heart trouble.

Not all of us can have this

fall in our laps.

- So I told my brother Joe

about this,

and he goes, "You should

come over to our place."

I went over to his house,

and his house is

five minutes from the beach.


And Joe and I, we work

together professionally.

We've worked together

for 15 years.

I mean--but technically...

he works for me.


I mean, I sign his checks.


So, if he's five minutes

from the beach...

I should be

five minutes from the beach.

So I started thinking,

I should seize his home.


[upbeat music]

I think people ask you a lot,

how come you didn't become

a stand-up?

- Yeah, OK.

- Because you're very funny.

- Yes.

- You're a comedy writer.

- Some would say more funny.


- Some would say more funny.

- Mostly our mom.

- Most people.

- Mostly our mom.


The joke Mike has made is that

I'm too sensible

to be a comedian.

Yeah, I had a pretty serious

corporate job at the time...

- Yeah.

- At Pfizer.

And finally when he said,

"I need your help,"

I was more than happy

to leave that world.

On occasion, I'll write a joke

and give it to him.

And then he'll present it,

and it won't do well.

But he didn't do it

the way I thought

he should have done it.


Is he here? Um...


- When I was in high school,

you were living in Brooklyn.

And you would take me

to, like, the hipper shows

that had Sarah Silverman

and Zach Galifianakis.

- Right.

- Joe took me

to see Steven Wright

at the Cape Cod Melody Tent

when I was, like, 16.

Two of my biggest influences

were Steven Wright

and Mitch Hedberg.

- It's a small world,

but I wouldn't want

to paint it.


- Steven Wright, of course,

was all these, like, one-liner,

like, cerebral jokes.

People are always surprised

that these are the influences,

because they don't think of me

as, like, a joke teller.

And, like, Steven Wright

and Mitch Hedberg are

two of the greatest

joke tellers of all time.

- I'm gonna rob a bank

with a BB g*n.

Give me all your money,

or I will give you a dimple.

- In terms of developing

"Sleepwalk With Me,"

my biggest influence

was "Richard Pryor:

Live from the Sunset Strip."

- Of all the people

you ever heard of freebasing,

have you ever heard

of anybody blowing up?

Why me?

- He just had so many moves--

wildly versatile.

Sometimes you don't need

punch lines.


it can just be what happened.

I love jokes,

and I love storytelling.

So I do these shows

that are solo plays,

that are also

stand-up specials.

I'm a very different comic

than I was when I started.

I was like

an observational comic.

And at a certain point,

I started telling

personal stories about my life.

And it was weird.

It was a hard thing to do,

because I was

always discouraged

from telling personal stories

growing up.

Like, my dad, my whole life,

when I would tell

personal stories,

he'd be like,

"Don't tell anyone."

And it would be

about mundane things.

Like, it wasn't

about creepy things.

Like, I wouldn't make

the soccer team,

and he'd be like,

"Don't tell anyone."

I was like, they're gonna know,

you know,

when they show up at the games

and I'm not on the team

and I'm crying,

you know what I mean?


[soft music]

My dad, he was a doctor--

very serious person,

very academic person.

He always had this thing

that was like,

the more that you tell people

about yourself,

the more they can use it

against you.

But the upside is incredible.

If you can open up to people

and tell them the thing

that you'd be the least likely

to tell them about--

how you had cancer

or how you have

a serious sleepwalking disorder

or any of your flaws,

anything that you're

self-conscious about,

the connection can be so deep.

- When you grow up in

a structured Catholic family,

there is a fear

of veering way off.

But I do think that Mom

and Dad were supportive of you

or supportive--

- Of comedy?

- Yes.

- Really?

- I do.

I think that more than you do.

- Literally, when I told Dad

I was doing comedy--

when I was at Georgetown,

I was working the door.

- Mm-hmm.

- And I said,

"I'm working

at a comedy club at the door."

And he goes, "Comedy club?

What do they do, strip?"

- [laughs]

- He literally--

- Right, right.

- You know?

And it's like

a "Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."

- Right.

- Like, that's the context

of his old-time clubs.

- That's right.

- When I was a kid, I feel

like everything in my life

was me trying to express--

like, writing poetry,

writing essays,

writing jokes, drawing,

painting, writing plays...

And just, like,

in every direction,

people just being like,

"Yeah, I don't think

that's for you."

And they didn't mean

any harm by it.

They just thought I was this

kid who, like, trips a lot.

Like, it's almost like

the great metaphor

for being a comedian is like,

it's the person who trips a lot

and then figures out

how to write about it

in a funny way.

When I was 20,

there was blood in my pee.

My dad takes me first thing

in the morning to see

a urologist friend of his.

And the urologist asked me

to take my pants down,

and he's looking around.

I started to chime in

with my own theories,

because I find

doctors enjoy that.

I said to my urologist--

I can never unsay this.

I said, "Is it possible

that the blood is from me

masturbating too often?"


I said that...

out loud...

to my dad's friend!


The best jokes are the secrets.

You're telling the audience

things that, like,

you're not even really telling

your friends.

You look at the last show.

It's like,

"Old Man and the Pool" is,

I'm obsessed with age

and mortality.

- Right.

- You look at the show

before that, "The New One,"

it's like,

I'm obsessed

with having a child,

even though I never wanted

to have a child.

- Right.

- The obsession thing,

it's like--

- Totally.

- People being like,

what's the next show about?

And it's like, I don't know.

- Right.

- The last show was

all about death,

'cause it's a preoccupation

and it's relatable.

We're all gonna die.

So now I'm trying

to figure out, like,

OK, I'm writing this new show.

It's like, well,

what's after death?

What's the show gonna be about?

What's more high stakes

than death?

- One time, I was

in West Virginia.

This is when

I was starting out.

And this guy was

opening for me.

He goes, "Oh, you live

in New York City?"

He goes, "I went there once.

"The only place I saw was

the inside

of an abortion clinic."

You know,

that's like a joke where

I wouldn't have written

that joke, like, 20 years ago.

But I wrote down the memory.

That's how he started

the conversation.

Now, what I should have said...

was nothing.


What I did say was,

"You really gotta spend

a week there

"to get a feel for the town.

"You know, I'd probably swing

by the Empire State Building.

"If it's the holiday season,

I'd go to Rockefeller Center

"to see the tree.

"The abortion clinics are nice.

That was one of your things."


I journal a lot--probably

three, four times a week.

And usually, it's not funny,

as much as it's just

writing down memories

so that I don't forget them.

- I'll walk into his dressing

room when he's on the show,

and there'll be a journal

he's writing in,

and there's another journal--

almost as if he's flexing

to everybody who comes in,

I might fill up

this first journal

so fast that I need

a second one.

This is a random box

of journals,

which is the only type

of box of journals I have.

A lot--like, a majority of it

is just writing something down

about how you feel

and then rereading them later

and seeing if there's

anything of value

that's worth saying onstage.

[percussive music]

"Comedy is mean,

even when it's not mean,

"because life is mean

and painful and cruel.

Or at very least,

the funny parts."

I stand by that.

Most of the time,

all of us are being polite

to either everyone

we're encountering

or some people

we're encountering.

And you don't have to be polite

to a journal.

It is the only thing

that I can think of

that is culturally understood

that only belongs to you.

This is from, I think--

it's, like, four years old.

"I just got back

from Brooklyn Bridge Park,

"where ten four-year-olds

tackled me

"and stuffed grass

into my nose and ears

and yelled, 'Beautiful.'"

That's the kind of thing

that I would write down,

and it might become a joke,

it might not.

I mean, that would

basically have to be--

that would be the setup

for punch line, tag, tag, tag.


like, the structure

of, like, everything I do.

Like, in a full journal

like this,

there might be one line

that's, like, anything.

With all of this,

you're creating clay

to make a sculpture.

But if you didn't have clay,

you couldn't make a sculpture.

And so this is the dirt.

[upbeat music]

My whole life,

my dad would be like,

"Don't tell anyone."

I wouldn't make

the soccer team.

He'd be like,

"Don't tell anyone."

I was like,

"They're gonna know

"when I'm not on the team

and I'm crying,

you know what I mean?"


- Do you get time

every day to write?

- God, no.

I mean, I try, but it's like--

I find that the time

I'm able to write most

is on the subway

to the Comedy Cellar.

Earlier today,

I showed them my journals.

I've never shown anyone

my journals--anyone, ever.

- You have

a whole record called

"My Secret Private Journals."

- I know, but I've never

showed them to anybody.

- [laughs]

- So the process usually

is writing in my journal.

And then I'll be like, OK.

I'll give that a sh*t onstage.

And then I have

one other Rhode Island story.

Pedro from Petro,

which I have to read,

'cause it's brand-new.

Two years ago, my wife

and daughter and I rented

a house here in Barrington.

Everything was great

until we turned the heat on

and there wasn't any.

And it was Thanksgiving.

I'll bring it

to, like, Peter and Joe,

and we'll kick around

analogies and tags

and things like that.

The Pedro from Petro story

went this week

from being 4 pages

to about 2 1/2 pages.

So it went from being

about a 12-minute story

this week to being, like,

a 7-minute story.

And I called the oil company.

I didn't shout,

but I think he could hear

some angst in my voice.

And to deescalate it,

he goes, "Happy Thanksgiving."


And it will probably land

at being,

like, a 5-minute story.

Which I thought was a pretty

smart move on his part,

because I was

forced to respond,

"Happy Thanksgiving

to you, too."

Even though he was completely

f*cking me over in real time

and lying to me,

like the pilgrims.


The--all right,

I'll keep in that line.

You could also change

"Happy Thanksgiving"

to "Merry Christmas."

- Oh, right.

Just move it to Christmas.

- Yeah.

- Oh, that's interesting.

- In a way,

that's kind of better.

- Well, is it less--

I mean, well,

people do run out of oil

on Christmas.

- Yeah, but then

you lose the pilgrims joke.

- That's the thing.

- Pilgrims joke is currently

the biggest hitter.

- Oh, right. Right, right.

- Yeah.

I feel like the upsides of

this week, for me, feel clear.

There's a lot of jokes

and a lot of stories that work.

The downside is,

it's not about anything.

- I remember seeing

one of Mike's shows

and going backstage


and this was a show that was

exceptional when I saw it.

I would've thought there was

no work left in this show.

And then you go backstage,

and it does look

like a detective

trying to catch a serial k*ller

in the middle of a manhunt--

so many different index cards.

I don't know if it made it

more or less fun

to realize how much work,

how much structure had gone

into what I'd just seen

that he had made

look effortless.

- This index-card thing

is brilliant.

It sounds simple,

but it's so brilliant.

He lays the entire show down

on index cards.

[upbeat music]

He tells me,

"If I can lift up

one of these index cards

and the show still works...

- "Decent guys on the bus"


- "Then that joke,

that story, is gone."

- I was on book

the other night with it,

and it didn't go as well.

- He'll have bangers,

like, really great jokes.

- It felt a little stodgy.

- And he'll just lift it,

lift it, lift it.

- I think, like, long-term,

Pedro from Petro,

if that's gonna live

in the show,

it's gonna have to have

something to do

with taking care of my family.

- Mm-hmm.

- Some kind of stakes.

- I know you well enough

to know

you're in between, like,

five things at all times.

You're working up

new material at the Cellar,

or you're doing the podcast,

you know.

And Jen has your back,

and your brother has your back.

But somehow, even though

they have your back,

you have a feeling all the time

that it's all on you.

- [laughs]

- That basically,

if you stop working

for a month,

suddenly, like, several people

would be unemployed and--

I don't know,

I can't even imagine.

- My wife is--

she's here tonight.

She's a poet.

She writes under a pseudonym.

It's Allen Ginsberg.


[laughter and applause]

And I don't know if I would--

I don't know if

I would have made these shows

if it weren't for Jen,

because she's always

really loved these shows.

And I think

you end up just doing

the thing that the person

who you're in love with enjoys,

because you're like,

what else am I gonna do?

[upbeat rock music]


it was a funny moment.

They interviewed Jenny

earlier today.

- If you talk

to Mike's siblings,

you talk to his parents,

everyone will tell you

that Joe Birbiglia

is the funnier Birbiglia.

- And Jen was like,

"I just want to set

the record straight.

Like, Mike's the funny one."

- Aww.

- I thought that was sweet.

- When I met Mike,

he was 25 years old.

As I got to know him,

he would tell me stories.

And what I appreciated

about it

is that he was telling me

all these things about him

that were, like,

a lot of red flags.

It wasn't gonna work

if we were gonna get married

and I was going to stifle

his ability to talk

about his life.

- I'm very jealous

that Mike seems to have

a solid understanding

with his wife

about what is allowed

to be said onstage.

My wife and I are having

a continuing conversation.

- In Hindi,

there's a saying that says...

[speaking Hindi]

"Don't say the things

that you speak of at home,"

which is a very, like, kind of

beautiful saying about...

the way parents

and family members feel

about the way comedians act


- My wife has said,

"I don't care how mean

you make me sound,

as long as you

always make me right."

It's diabolical.

- I'm happily married,

which is to say,

I'm not happy...


But I'm happy I'm married.

Does that make sense?

- There's things that we

just keep for ourselves,

and that's

very important to me.

When I was pregnant,

I had a lot of issues.

I was like,

"I really don't want you

talking about this onstage."

And that was really hard

for him.

- But, like,

yeah, because I wasn't

happy before I, like,

was married.

And then I got married,

and I'm like, that's cool.

And then like,

I'm still not happy.

You know what I mean?

And then, like, we had a child,

and, like, that's great.

Still not happy.

You know what I mean?


- So when Mike started writing

"The New One"

about that time period,

it was a little bit

of floodgates opening

after I had sort of kiboshed

his ability to talk

about our lives for a while.

- Me not being happy, like,

that's what was cool about me.

Like, you saw my shows, right?

This is very tenuous stuff

I'm talking about here.

It's unformed

and irresponsible.


For me to have something

be in a show,

it has to be a story that is

attached to something real.

You know, tragedy plus time.

I'm always trying to find that.

But if it's just serious,

if I'm just talking

about cancer

in a serious, serious way,

well, that's not, like,

what having cancer is like.

Like, when you have cancer,

sometimes something funny


That's why the story works.

There's parts of the Internet

where they credit me with,

"Comedy is tragedy plus time."


- Really?

That's a good one, Mike.

- I'm like, how do I fact-check

that one for them?


That's not me!

My whole comedy career

is based on it.

- Yeah.

- But I didn't invent it.

- That's really funny.

- I haven't been here

in 30 years.

Do you mind if I come up?

- Come on in.

- OK.

Well, thank you very much.

[upbeat music]

This is the house

I grew up in Shrewsbury.

- Oh, hi, there.

I'm Mike.

I'm sorry to be in your home.

I remember standing up

on a high chair

when I was probably

three or four years old,

trying to get attention,

falling down,

and landing on my head.

- Oh, no.

- They take me to the hospital.

I ended up with, like,

20 stitches in my head.

- Oh, my goodness.

- That's where

comedians come from.

We fall on our head.

This week I visited

Shrewsbury, my hometown.

I grew up in Shrewsbury,



[cheers and applause]

I went to Saint Mary's School--

it's a Catholic grade school--

from grade one through eight.

And, like, the amount

that you age

in that span of time

is profound.

Like, there was this girl

in my class.

The nun let her

ring the bell for recess.

And I remember thinking, like,

oh, that's so cool.

In, like, third grade,

I was like, that's so cool.

I hope someday

I can ring the bell.

And then when she was, like,

in, like, ninth grade,

I heard she had sex

for the first time.

And I was like, wow.

I still haven't rung the bell.

You know what I mean?

[bell tolling]

You remember

the three-check system?

If you were talking in class,

you get a check.

Like, an X mark.

And I got three checks,

like, so many times

because I just wouldn't

stop talking.

- Yes.

- They taught us

that God was watching us

at all times.

And I thought, oh, I guess

he's watching me masturbate.

And so I tried to cheat

to the camera,

thinking if he happened

to be looking

at the monitor at that moment,

he'd think,

"I've seen a lot

of 12-year-olds masturbate,

but this kid's good."


One of the misunderstood things

about comedians is,

people always assume

they're the class clown.

But I don't think

a majority are.

- I don't ever remember

thinking, like,

oh, he's funny, he's funny,

he's funny.

Looking back on it...

I'm sorry, but you were

not funny as a kid.


- I get it. I get it.

- Your brother was funny.

- Your brother was hilarious.

- Yeah, Joe was very funny.

- Yeah.

- Joe's hilarious.

Growing up, when I would

say things that were kind of

seemingly off-kilter

to my friends,

I don't think it was

ever viewed as humorous.

It was more viewed as just,

like, why are you saying this?

[soft music]

People would be

sort of confused.

- This is first grade?

- This is first grade.

- Yeah.

- I mean, I have this now.

If I say a thing

that I'm thinking,

it's usually not

very well received.

My sisters Gina and Patty,

they were, like,

teacher's assistants.

And when they walked in,

they saw me

just being screamed at.

Like, a teacher,

like, in my face.

And Gina went home

and said to my mom,

"Like, Mike's, like,

a pretty bad kid.

"Like, he gets in trouble.

Like, gets in trouble,

like, a lot."

- There was one kid who used

to pick on you in this class.

- Oh, yeah.

There was one time

this guy was pushing me

on, like, the hill down here,

and then Michael,

like, att*cked him.

You, like, slid-tackled him

or something.

- Is that, like,

hard to think about?

- [chuckles]

- It's hard for me

to think about.

It's always hard to know,

like, as a friend

in that situation, right?


- Yes.

- How do you step in?

- Yeah.

When I was in ninth grade,

I went to this

all-boys Catholic school.

- Saint John's?

- Saint John's. There you are.

Joey Grigioni was

from Worcester.

He loved to fight.

One day,

I'm walking down the hill.

And I feel

on the back of my head

what seems like a rock

on my head.

Turns out it was a fist.

I forgot to mention,

Joey Grigioni

has rock-like fists.

And next thing I know,

I'm just on the ground.

And I'm just getting pounded

in the back of my head.

I didn't even run away

at first, you know?

Like, it took me a few seconds

to just eventually be like,

I guess I should leave here,

you know what I mean?

Like, this conversation

is going terribly.

It's only now, at age 44, that

any of this is funny at all.



- And then I just

threw in the towel.

I go, you know, I'm just

gonna leave this school.

And what was remarkable

is that no one tried

to talk me out of it.

Not a single grown-up

in my life.

Not my teachers, my parents,

not my guidance counselor.

Nobody said, "Stick with it.

Don't let them get

the best of you."

They knew that they had

gotten the best of me.

Like, the best of me was gone.


So, at the end of the year,

I transferred schools.

And the first few weeks

of school,

you're getting to know people.

And they say,

where are you from?

What was your last school like?

And I decided

to leave out the fact

that I had been

b*at up mercilessly

in my previous school.

And you know what?

They never found out.

Because that's what

they don't teach you

in those after-school specials.

Running away works.

- Who am I not telling

in the bullying story?

- Oh, that's true.

That's a good point.



Yeah, no. I didn't--

it didn't occur to me.


And that's the show.

Thanks a lot for coming.

[cheers and applause]

This has been the first week

of the next show.

So I was just happy

that the "running away works,"

I got off the page.

- I really like that line

of, like,

"That's what

they don't teach you

in the after-school specials."

It's like, running away works.

- Yeah, running away works.

I think for D.C.,

I'll try to memorize it.

[cheers and applause]

Also, like, just adding

the context of, like,

being like, "I'm 44 now,

and so it's funny."

- Mm-hmm.

- It's funnier now

than it was then.

- Yeah.

- Like, it kind of gives

the audience a pass to laugh.

Great job this week, Gary.

It's our first week!

[cheers and applause]

[upbeat jazzy music]

[indistinct chatter]

[upbeat music]

- This week I'm performing

in Washington, D.C.

In Providence,

I was just throwing out jokes,

seeing what sticks.

This week

trying to put together

runs of jokes

into what might be stories.

Growing up,

my dad would be like, "Hush!

Don't tell anyone."

In a year or two, those stories

might become a show.

When she was in ninth grade,

I heard she had sex

for the first time.

And I was like, wow.

I still haven't rung the bell.

It's nice to be in D.C.

The first time I did stand-up,

I won a contest at Georgetown

called The Funniest Person

on Campus.

It was wild.

It was hosted

by Victoria Jackson

from "Saturday Night Live."

I think it was probably

the first celebrity

I ever met in my whole life.

I couldn't believe

that she was at my college.

[bell tolls]

[light music]

The idea that I would

just be performing

in a 600-seat theater

was just shocking.

[cheers and applause]

Like, I think maybe

it was a standing ovation.

Like, it was, like,

pretty big.

Funniest Person

on Campus contest

was when I met Nick Kroll,

because he entered also.

It was a really fluky thing

that a bunch of comedians

came from this school,

because it's, like,

not a funny school.

Just a very serious place.

I never even clocked,

really, the idea

that I was doing comedy

in this very,

like, almost,

like, religious hall.

I auditioned

for the improv group,

and I got in.

And it was, like--

it was a long sh*t.

Like, I think, like,

50 or 100 people auditioned.

And then all of a sudden,

I was friends

with these ten

hilarious people

who were funnier than anyone

I had met in my whole life.

And I was like, oh, OK.

I guess this is--

I guess these people exist.

And it was very eye-opening.

It made me feel

a certain sense of hope,

that, like, I found my people

and, like, that what I thought

was funny about me,

they thought was funny

about me.

And that was, like, a huge

breakthrough in my life.

Victoria Jackson said to me...

[high-pitched voice]

"You're gonna be a comedian."

[normal voice]

She had a very high voice.

I actually did think, like,

maybe she's right.

I got $200

and the chance to perform

at the Washington, D.C.

Improv, which is, like,

not only the best comedy club

in Washington,

top five, top ten comedy clubs

in the country.

[rockabilly music]

[car horn honking]

- I want you to get

your hands together right now

for Mike Birbiglia.


[cheers and applause]

- Thanks, Gary.

Appreciate it.

Gary Simons, everybody.

I went, and I opened

for Dave Chappelle.

Nice to see everybody.

I said,

"Can I perform here again?"

I thought to myself,

I just need stage time.

And they said,

"We don't need that.

But we need someone

to work the door."

So I go, "I'll do that."

I worked here at the door.

I used to seat people

down here.

The worst was,

you have to sometimes

seat people behind these poles.

For example, like, you have

those seats behind the poles.


No, and I'm sorry.

I would bring, you know, people

with the menus.

And then I would jog away.

As an aspiring comic,

you get to watch

a lot of shows for free.

I was able to watch, like,

George Lopez and Mitch Hedberg

and Lewis Black

and all these people who...

- Yeah.

- like, I would have loved

to have seen,

but I couldn't afford it.

Started off here when I was 19.

And I was, like,

an observational comic.

Like, the kinds of jokes

that I would say would be like,

I would hate to be

a stick insect, you know,

'cause all the other insects

are always bumping into you.

And that's the whole joke.

That would be my act.

The first time I told

a joke that worked, I said,

"My girlfriend

is getting to the age

"where she's thinking

about having kids,

which is exciting 'cause we're

gonna have to break up."

And I said,

"I don't want to have kids

"until I'm sure

nothing else good

can happen in my life."

It was like

an inflection point.

Not because

the joke is so great,

but because it was the moment

where I realized

that telling an honest truth

about how I felt...

connected with a group

of people in a room.

Like, there was

a feeling of like,

oh, they get me,

and I get them...

in a way that, like,

an observational joke

about insects

or something doesn't.

I opened for George Lopez once,

and I kind of, like, bombed.

I was, like, up here,

and it, like, didn't go great.

At the time, I was living

with my girlfriend.

We'd watch Oprah

every day together.

We were like Oprah soldiers.

We were, like, super into it.

Like, all about it.

We're in the book club.

You know what I mean?

Like, we're just, like,

full-on Oprah.

But the thing that always

struck me as really funny

was that her song

at the beginning of her show

is, like--the song

that was like...

Run on, run on

And my joke was, like,

I don't think Oprah runs a lot.


And this is not a joke

I would ever tell now,

other than right now

into a microphone

in front of a group

of strangers.

I go backstage,

and I say to George Lopez,

"Hey, do you have any,

like, critical feedback?"

And he goes, "I wouldn't open

with a thing about Oprah"...

"'Cause they love Oprah,

and they don't know

who the hell you are."

[soft upbeat music]

He goes, "You know, you should

make fun of yourself

"before you make fun

of other people,

"because then you have

a relationship

with the audience."

It's stuck to me

to this very day.

- That's my time.

Thank you very much.

Let's give it up

for Mike Birbiglia.


[cheers and applause]

- Thanks, Gary.

Gary Simons, everybody.

- I've been really grateful

to be able to do these shows

and, like, learn from each one.

- You're k*lling, man.

You're doing great.

- Thank you.

- It's exciting.

[upbeat music]

- Mike Birbiglia is

one of those dudes

that truly loves

the art form of comedy.

The people that he's touched--

myself, Kroll, Mulaney--

we're all so different,

but it is his love of comedy,

his desire to help mentor.

- My favorite comedians

who are coming up,

like Hasan Minhaj

and Atsuko Okatsuka,

I love that they tell

personal stories.

And usually, like, I love

when their stories

are completely different

from mine.

- Trippy!

- Ah!

Look what you've done.

[upbeat music]


I had already done stand-up

for maybe, like, 11 years.

And my stand-up, you know,

not bad, you know.

But it wasn't gonna be


It was definitely

during the pandemic,

when there was just, like,

a general big sadness,

I turned inward.

I didn't want people

to feel sad.

I started writing

more about things

that was hard for me

to talk about before,

like my mom's mental illness.

The truth is,

my mom has schizophrenia...

I never talked about it

before the pandemic.

Which means she hears

voices in her head

and she hallucinates a lot.

And also, I started talking

to my fans more

and making more videos

with my family...

because it was a mood lifter

for all of us.

So those dance videos

that went viral...

and the drop challenge

that went viral,

that was all, you know,

me running from trauma.

You know?


Mike found me

on one of those videos.

[elevator bell dings]

And then he DM'd me

and was like,

"Would you want to be

on my podcast?"

There is a show in Vegas called

"The Puppetry of the Penis."

- Yes, there is.

- Have you seen it?

- I've seen it. It's...

- You've seen it!

- Bizarre.

- After that, he asked me

to open for him.

Just so cool, you know?

He's the one that told me

to get on TikTok.

We don't need to talk age,

but he is older than me.

He's 400 years old.

I'm hip.

My clothes, trendy.

You're telling me

I need to be on TikTok?

And he's like, "Well, I mean,

do you want to be forgotten?"

- Atsuko, like, she started

coming on the road with me

and opening for me.

And at one point,

I said to her, like,

like, what's the strangest

thing that's happened

in the last few years?

And she told me...

- About this intruder

that came to our house

three times in the same day.

I was already touring

with my hour at that time.

And I was like,

I want to figure out

a way to put this

intruder story into the hour.

But I don't know how.

- And I was like,

wow, this is great.

It's a great story.

- And he was like,

"He came to your house

"three times in the same day.

That's three acts."

- That's not just a joke.

That's a whole show.

- I was really excited

but a little scared,

'cause I was like,

well, I've been doing an hour

that I know works.

But I want

this intruder story in there.

Oh, this is gonna be

so much more work, Mike.

OK, I'll do it.

[rock music]

And then he got

really excited.

He loves process.

He loves jokes and stories.

And so he was like,

"OK, let's sit down."

And he took out

his note cards.

And he was like, "OK,

so act one is first intrusion,

second intrusion,

third intrusion."

If you were to tell

a younger me that as an adult,

I would have

an HBO stand-up special,

I'd be like...

yeah, that sounds about right.

No, I'm just kidding.

I'd be like, "What's HBO?

We don't have cable."

So our landlord

had an intruder.

That's what he's so good at,

having an arc in his shows.

- I used to write everything

down on the computer,

and I actually found

there was value to writing

it out longhand first.

When you think

you have a funny idea

and you type it into

the computer, it goes so fast.

When you think of an idea and

you're writing it out longhand,

about halfway through

a lot of times,

you realize, oh, this stinks.

And I did learn that from Mike.

- It's this weird thing where

I'm not just looking to him

for advice, but I'm also

looking for him

for some form of therapy,

I guess.

- I'm aging into a point

where I'm starting to be

a mentor to people,

which I don't think I ever

thought I was gonna do.

But sometimes

that just happens.

You age.


And--but it was helpful for me

to be a student first,

to understand, like,

what that is and what--

as a student,

what you need from a mentor.

You don't want it

to be pretty good.

You want it to be great.

And the only way

you can make it great

is writing, failing,

getting feedback.

Need more there.

Writing again, failing again.

I'll take out that line.

The story peaked

a little early.

Getting more feedback...


I don't know why.

The ending worked well

in the other show.

Is the only way

that people get better.

That's what

they don't teach you

in the after-school specials.

Sometimes running away works.

Eventually, if you're lucky,

you'll arrive at something

that is yours.

Last night was

the first time I thought,

the "getting b*at up" story,

I think,

will probably be

in the next show.

This seems promising.


Thank you.

Thanks for having me.

[light music]

- In some ways, stand-up

comedy is like a documentary

of your own life, right?

In most documentaries,

they sh**t

and they sh**t and they sh**t.

And then eventually

something happens.

And we go, oh,

that's what it's about.

It all hinges on,

there has to be a main event.

- Mm-hmm.

- I don't know what

the main event is of this yet.

Once every three weeks,

our dad will call me.

He'll go, "Mike,

the craziest thing happened."

I'll go, "What?"

He goes, "I was

at the hardware store...

And someone had heard of you."

And I was like,

"I don't know if that's,

like, the craziest thing."

- He does say that a lot.

- The craziest thing.

- [laughs]

- Like, I think,

the least believable part

of that story

is that you were

at a hardware store.

Dude, the whole job is,

you tell jokes to strangers.

Eventually some of

the strangers are gonna see it.

- [laughs]

- Our father did tell me once,

one job he would have liked

would have been to be a writer

for "Saturday Night Live."

- No.

- He said that?

- Yeah.

- I can't even see him

saying that or watching it.

- That is absurd.

- Isn't that unusual?

- That is so strange.

- Seems out

of character, right?

- Right.

- Joe gets the juice.

- [laughs]

- My brother Joe was talking

to my dad, who's 83.

He was a doctor,

went to law school,

never wanted me and Joe

to go into comedy at all.

- Mm-hmm.

- And he said,

"I thought,

for a period of time,

that I could write

for 'Saturday Night Live.'"

- Really?

- Yeah.

- Was your dad funny?

- My dad is very dry.

And my mom is

a great storyteller.

- Hmm.

Have you ever heard

of the thing

that Rilke says,

how children dance

to the unlived lives

of their parents?

- Oh.

Going to Shrewsbury this week,

Dad, of course, wanted to know,

"Who did you run into?"

- Yeah. [laughs]

- "Who did you see?"

And then you go,

"Mrs. Gazik, Mrs. McCann."

"Well, did they say

anything about me?"

- They wanted to know

if you were alive.

- Yeah, they wanted to know

if you were alive.


That's exac--yeah.


I answered that you were alive.

[light guitar music]

In my 20s and 30s,

as a comedian,

I feel like I have

so many judgments

in my act of my parents.

And I think as I get older

and they get older,

they're in their 80s,

and I'm just like--

it's like, what was I doing?

When I see our childhood home,

like, it definitely brings me

to, oh, yeah,

like, they were just parents

just, like, trying their best.

- That's right.

- So it's like, maybe that's

what the next show is about.

- Mm-hmm.

- I don't know how literally

any one of those jokes

supports that idea.

- [laughs]

- But it could.

It's like, the reason I don't

know what the show is about

is, I don't know

what will happen

in the next three

or four years.

So it's like,

you know, God forbid,

someone close to me dies

or any number of things

that I'm anxious about

at all times could occur.

And I'd say, most likely,

that's what the show ends up

being about.

It's just a doozy.

Being an autobiographical

comedian is not--

it's not advisable.

But also, it's my favorite

type of comedy.


That's all for me.

[cheers and applause]

Thank you so much.

Thanks for being here.

I'll see you next time,


[upbeat music]

Still rolling?


Save it for the camera.

- You save it.

- What was it like?

- Save it for the camera.

- OK. All right.

- That's more interesting

than what I have to say.

- Sister Margaret walked

into our classroom.

And she was like,

"Boys and girls,

"I'm hearing something

on the playground.

I'm hearing a word."

- [laughs]

- "And that word is 'f*ck.'"

- Oh, my God. Wow.

"What happened

to that one joke?"

The reason it's gone

is because of you.

- You know, the thing

that always impresses me

the most about Mike

is how much thought he puts

into his clothes.

When he walks out onstage,

you think,

oh, maybe one day

I'll hit it big enough

to have whoever

his personal shopper is.

- Pretty much everything

I'm saying

makes me uncomfortable.

- Yay, good job, everyone.
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