I have been a fan of Mike Birbiglia for years. When I first listened to Two Drink Mike I knew that he was a unique voice. I have been amazed by his evolution as a comedian. With What I Should Have Said is Nothing Birbiglia started to become more confessional. He wove observational humor in and out of the true stories from his life. He seemed unafraid to share his own health issues, foolishness, and failures. I loved it because he felt like a normal person.
He continued to evolve into a master storyteller. In Sleepwalk With Me, and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Birbiglia made a shift from straight stand-up to a mix between stand-up and a one-man show. These specials were so well directed and produced and tired to central themes. He didn’t use his comedy to tear people down. He consistently put himself on display and allowed his audience to enter into his neuroses and relational hang-ups.
Birbiglia released a masterpiece on the power of humor and comedy, Thank God for Jokes while was writing my dissertation. My thesis was essential that comedy can build community through the shared experience and examples of vulnerability. If you don’t want to read a boring academic paper, then please watch Thank God for Jokes.
When I first heard about Birbiglia’s latest special The New One I was eager to watch it. Every time I think Birbiglia has reached the height of his powers, his next special displays that he is still finding new ways to stretch his storytelling and finding new comedic heights.
In The New One Birbiglia shares the journey that he and his wife went on as they went from not wanting children, to trying to conceive, to birth, and even his struggles with finding his place in his family. As a father, I found myself laughing with Birbiglia as I resonated with some of his fears, wrestling with his own selfishness, dealing with health fears, and pet owners with a new baby.
Wife and kids jokes may be the most pedestrian kinds of jokes. It is easy for comedians to say, my wife is crazy and my kids drive me insane. Over and over Birbiglia reveals that his wife is amazing and his daughter is wonderful. He is the one with the problems. He recognizes that his selfishness is the problem. In one of the most vulnerable parts of his special, Mike says that he understands why dads leave. Family is hard and selfishness really doesn’t have any room in a family.
The title of this special, The New One, could have several implications.
- This is a new special,
- Talking about a new child,
- Talking about a new couch (it’s important for the special),
Ultimately though, the new one he is referring to is the transformation from a family of individuals to one family unit, unified by love.
I am trying to not tell you any of the jokes in this special, I don’t want to ruin it, but if you are a parent there are so many experiences he shares in this special that is resonate with your life.
This special is not a ”family-friendly” show. There are some swearing and jokes about sex and trying to conceive. I would recommend watching this special for yourself before letting your kids watch it.
One last note, this special shows an aspect of Mike Birbiglia’s transformation into a father. The song that opens and closes the special is a great choice, “I Wanna Get Better” by the Bleachers.
There is a line in the chorus that resonated with me:
“I didn’t know I was broken
Until I wanted to change.”
This is a pretty profound statement, and as a pastor, I recognize that the gospel invites us to transformation. Sometimes we don’t recognize our need for transformation until we have already accepted that we need a change in our lives.
The New One is a story of transformation. I hope that as you watch this special your spirit resonates with the desire for transformation and that you would be open to the changes that are necessary for your life to be made new.