The Very Best
Why am I crying at da comedy club?
Many comedians use humor as a way to ease into more serious subject matter, though there always exists a risk that a comedy special can skew too far down the silly or the self-reflective route. Mike Birbiglia has come about as close to the perfect balance as possible, in this recording of his one-man Broadway show at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Key to this is the fact that Birbiglia tells one very cohesive story throughout these 77 minutes, frequently branching off to other humorous anecdotes but always returning with a pensive self-consciousness to the real possibility of him dying sooner than he'd want.
This filmed version of Birbiglia's show doesn't give a full idea of its multimedia qualities (Birbiglia occasionally has words and images projected onto the curved screen behind him, which he also physically interacts with), but the comedian's sincere style of storytelling more than makes up for the lack of audiovisual tricks we're permitted to see. And don't get it confused: this is a very funny stand-up special, whose jokes always come from the most unexpected places—it also just happens to contain some truly moving moments that come out of nowhere, but make total sense alongside all the laughter.
Stand-up specials aren't really expected to conclude in particularly memorable ways. Sometimes it's more than enough for a comedian to just drop a really strong joke before finally thanking and bidding goodbye to the audience. But the ending of The Old Man and the Pool is stunning—built around an earlier, seemingly throwaway joke but deployed in a way that's poignant, funny, and kind of creepy all at once. It's the exclamation mark that you don't even notice Birbiglia is heading towards the entire time, and it drives home his greatest learning: that we will never be ready for death, but there's so much to treasure before it happens.