Especially now, jokes are one of the most important things we’ve got. Whether the jokes come from a place of brutal honesty like Marc Maron or evil fiction like Anthony Jeselnik, it’s important to laugh. Mike Birbiglia’s new Thank God for Jokes discusses how important it is to make jokes with Birbiglia’s emotive honesty and deep thought. Birbiglia doesn’t fail to make you laugh, but there are moments that this special lags at a predictable pace.
Birbiglia takes the stage with a pretty funny bit about the differences between those always late and the punctual. It’s a bit that gets a number of callbacks throughout the show, and it works. “You just have to be early, because early lasts for hours. On time, is really fast, and then you’re late forever,” Birbiglia reasons. His bits are self-deprecatingly optimistic, and it’s all based around the idea that jokes are important. He doesn’t really stray too far from typical and cliché comedian topics such as peanut allergies or Christianity, but Birbiglia gets meta discussing how important it is to make jokes about these things: “Jesus died so I could tell those jokes.” His takes on these topics are all pretty fresh, whether it’s hyper-personal (talking about dropping an F-bomb on the Muppets) or very relatable (making Cat puns with your wife). Birbiglia’s goofy humor hits the way it always does and should be familiar to fans of his Sleepwalk With Me or My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend specials.
Like in those previous two specials, Birbiglia has a moment towards the end of his hour that he gets serious. It seems like every comic has their moment to get serious during their special, whether its Bo Burnham or Neal Brennan. These moments vary in how well they hit. Burnham does well in Make Happy, but 3 Mics was pretty awkward throughout it. In My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, the serious moments worked well to accommodate the serious ones. Here, it just seems awkward to talk about how important jokes are, even when Birbiglia makes the point of bringing up the Charlie Hebdo attacks. It just creates moments where I’d rather hear Birbiglia make jokes than talk about jokes. In high school theatre, I had a director who talked about earning moments in theatre, and as the line between stand up and theatre continues to blur more, the serious moments need to be earned more so than the laughs. The payoff needs to be bigger, and here, it just isn’t large enough. Thank God for Jokes covers just about everything in a comedian’s arsenal, but in this case, it should have just stuck with the funny stuff.