Although consistent with the theme of his “Secret Public Tour,” comedian Mike Birbiglia’s three “secret special guests” who opened for him at his show Thursday night at the Performing Arts Center were inconsistently funny.
The first performer was low-key and well-received. The audience also loved Todd Glass, the last opener, who gave a very physical Jim Gaffigan-esque performance, mocking responses from the audience like, “Why is he even doing that?”
However, the second opener, Lynn Shawcroft, started out shaky by addressing the PAC by saying, “Hello, S.L…B!” to the stunned silence of the crowd. She then continued to back-peddle into even more comedic awkwardness as she resorted to topics such as the spotlight (“I can’t even see you guys!”) and how she was almost done.
Finally, Birbiglia ran onstage in a hoodie, T-shirt and baggy pants as the crowd cheered for the long-anticipated headliner whose casual outfit reflected his informal style.
Material from the “Secret Public Tour” is based on Birbiglia’s popular “Secret Public Journal,” a blog of stories from the comedian’s life that he e-mails to thousands of fans.
The stories, peppered with more “likes” than a nightclub fight on “The Hills,” are delivered in a conversational style, like hilarious dinner-party banter in the valley (even though Birbiglia grew up in Boston).
Birbiglia’s entire set was a recollection of his 10 most embarrassing life stories in vivid detail, and the audience loved it. Who doesn’t want to hear about someone else’s misfortunes and have the license to laugh at them? But Birbiglia explained that not everyone believes his outrageously awkward stories are true.
“People come up to me after the show and are like, ‘Was that true?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ and they’re like, ‘WAS it?’ and I don’t know how to respond to that,” Birbiglia joked. “Like, I guess I could say it louder, like, ‘YAAAAAH!’ They’d be like, ‘It’s probably true – he said it louder.’”
Birbiglia also introduced the proverbial Sleepy Karl, his alter ego persona who tries to keep him from getting up in the morning. “He’s a terrible employee but a great dude,” Birbiglia explained. “He’s like, ‘Why would you go out THERE when you can stay in HERE and go skiing and your skis will be French toast sticks?’”
The joke was well-received by the mostly college-aged audience, the majority of which probably have a similar alter ego in the morning.
Birbiglia lucked out with his audience, who inadvertently gave him some material which he fully exploited. At one point he asserted, “We’re at the beach,” and when the audience murmured disagreement, “We’re 10 minutes from the beach.” The beach conversation seemed to be done. However, it was apparently not, as someone excitedly shrieked, “BEACH!” and nothing more, leaving a steak in front of a lion in the sense that Birbiglia was not going to let this one go.
“Beach?! That’s it?” said the surprised Birbiglia. Throughout the entire set he fell back on the exclamation, even making himself laugh. It’s no surprise the audience felt compelled to start repartee with Birbiglia – especially because he told his stories as if he really wanted the crowd to understand and sympathize.
“It’s important for you to understand before I tell you this that you are on MY side.” explained Birbiglia before he told the story of a charity golf tournament that turned into the worst show he ever did.
The stories were similar to classical Mozart sonatas – they had so many calculated digressions that at some points it was obvious the audience had forgotten the original line of thought in a flurry of sub-topics. However, Birbiglia always brought it back to the main focus (sometimes 45 minutes later) and ended his masterpiece that only seemed like it had lost track.
Of course, George W. Bush didn’t escape Birbiglia’s famously clever metaphors Thursday night. “You know, like when your dad decides he’s going to build a deck, but he doesn’t know how to build a deck,” began Birbiglia, the crowd already laughing at the comparison.
“But then four years later there’s an atrocity of duct tape and two-by-fours hanging off the back of the house and you’re like, ‘That doesn’t look a whole lot like a deck, Dad!’ and he’s like, ‘Deck accomplished!’” It’s comedic gold like which that gains Birbiglia unsurpassed respect from his audiences.
Toward the end of the show, Birbiglia sounded a lot like Andy Kauffman when he invited guests out for milk and cookies after a show in the ’70s. Birbiglia admitted that he would love to have a show where the audience was in beds with pizza and the whole show would be a big sleepover with Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the morning.
Finally, he brought out his acoustic guitar and surprised the audience with some fancy licks, after which he performed a few classics such as “Guitar Guy at the Party” and “Christian Rock” along with new material.
“I have a CD,” Birbiglia said of his “My Secret Public Journalism LIVE” album. “I hope one of you will buy it and the rest of you have computers.” Everyone laughed, mainly because it’s such a brutally honest truth.
“I didn’t know I had so many friends in SLO. I like it so much here,” he said. “I hope I get to eat your pizza.”