You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: Mike Birbiglia’s ‘Thank God for Jokes’

Mike Birbiglia.

It’s a common belief that analyzing what’s funny is not particularly funny. Mike Birbiglia proves the exception to the rule in his new solo show at Off Broadway’s Lynn Redgrave Theater. The show places him among the top tier of smart-funny comedians whose humor comes from a sly, subversive and introspective place.

Birbiglia’s latest opens with a film clip of Jimmy Kimmel introducing the comedian, who was the host of the 2012 Gotham Independent Film Awards. When Birbiglia, most known for his play, book and film “Sleepwalk With Me,” steps out on the stage in “Thank God for Jokes,” he looks the opposite of a slick jokester set to chuckle-up the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Amy Adams and Claire Danes, in a place where “every possible topic would be a minefield. “

“I’m a niche thing,” says Birbiglia, noting his non-A-list status, but with a profile that’s growing a bit with a recent stint in “Orange Is the New Black.” (Among  the opening night crowd at “Thank God for Jokes” were Seth Myers, Nathan Lane and Ben Stiller.)

Wearing a plaid shirt, rumpled slacks and sneakers, Birbiglia comes across as a lumpy Matt Damon: engaging, aging-boyish and sweetly matter-of fact.

As Birgilia recounts how stressed he was at the prospects of telling jokes to this Hollywood crowd, he begins an easy-going yet often hysterically funny examination of what a joke is and what makes it funny — or not. “Jokes are a volatile thing,” he says. “All jokes are offensive, to someone.”

Birbiglia often takes the audience on a circuitous route from his standup-as-thesis, talking about people who are late for everything — and doing a terrific riff on several unfortunate audience latecomers — to a visit to his urologist (always comedy gold), to the time he and his wife met the President and had a conversation about baby poo.

Whether he’s doing puns, punchlines or truisms, Birbiglia keeps returning to his point that “jokes have to be about something. That’s what I love about jokes. They’re your side of the story. They’re your opinion.”

And opinions inevitably piss someone off. Like the time he got arrested for driving with a suspended license and the cop didn’t share his sense of humor. Or a flight attendant who didn’t appreciate his riff on nut allergies. Or when he performed at a Christian college where he called Jesus “the original Bernie Sanders.”

“Jesus died so I could tell those jokes,” he gently insists, adding when you “get” the joke, there’s a special bond between the teller and the listener, “which means, in a way, it’s like we’re married.”

The show eventually returns to his Hollywood hosting stint and the one elaborate joke he told centering on an infamous outburst by director David O. Russell that went viral on the Internet. That telling elicits gales of laughter, but it also deftly proves Birbiglia’s point that jokes are liberating, important and personal.

Off Broadway Review: Mike Birbiglia's 'Thank God for Jokes'

Lynn Redgrave Theater, New York. 250 seats, $86.50 top. Opened, reviewed Feb. 10, 2016. Closes March 13, 2016. Running time: 1 HOUR, 25 MIN.

Production: A presentation by Mike Berkowitz, Joseph Birbiglia, Ron Delsener and Mike Lavoie of a play in one act written by Mike Birbiglia.

Creative: Directed by Seth Barrish. Sets, Beowulf Borritt; lighting, Aaron Coop, Davison Scandrett; sound, Jim Corona; production stage manager, Lauren Cavanaugh, production supervisor, Duncan R. Northern.

Cast: Mike Birbiglia.

More Legit

  • Hillary and Clinton review

    Broadway Review: Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in 'Hillary and Clinton'

    If anyone could play Hillary Clinton, it’s Laurie Metcalf – and here she is, in Lucas Hnath’s “Hillary and Clinton,” giving a performance that feels painfully honest and true. And if anyone could capture Bill Clinton’s feckless but irresistible charm, that would be John Lithgow – and here he is, too. Who better to work [...]

  • Hadestown review

    Broadway Review: 'Hadestown'

    “Hadestown” triggered a lot of buzz when this wholly American show (which came to the stage by way of a concept album) premiered at Off Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop in 2016. Arriving on Broadway with its earthly delights more or less intact, this perfectly heavenly musical — with book, music and lyrics by Anaïs [...]

  • Burn This review

    Broadway Review: Adam Driver, Keri Russell in 'Burn This'

    The ache for an absent artist permeates Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” now receiving a finely-tuned Broadway revival that features incendiary performances by Adam Driver and Keri Russell, playing two lost souls in a powerful and passionate dance of denial. AIDS is never mentioned in this 1987 play, yet the epidemic and the profound grief that [...]

  • White Noise Suzan-Lori Parks

    Listen: The 'Dumb Joke' Hidden in 'White Noise'

    Suzan-Lori Parks’ new play “White Noise” tackles a host of urgent, hot-button topics, including racism and slavery — but, according to the playwright, there’s also a “dumb joke” buried in it. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Appearing with “White Noise” director Oskar Eustis on “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast, Parks revealed that the inspiration for [...]

  • Adam Driver appears at the curtain

    Adam Driver on Starring in 'Burn This' for a Second Time

    The Hudson Theatre’s new production of “Burn This” marks its first Broadway revival since it premiered on the Great White Way in 1987, but Adam Driver is no stranger to the work. He starred as Pale in a Juilliard production of the Lanford Wilson drama when he was still a student — and only now, [...]

  • Alan Wasser

    Alan Wasser, Tony-Winning Broadway General Manager, Dies at 70

    Alan Wasser, a veteran Broadway general manager who received an honorary Tony Award, died from complications from Parkinson’s disease in New York on Sunday. He was 70. Wasser founded Alan Wasser Associates and general managed “Les Misérables,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Miss Saigon,” three of the most successful productions of all time. He [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content