In 2008, Mike Birbiglia did something that few modern comics try anymore: He went long. His off-Broadway show Sleepwalk With Me saw him tease out his usual awkwardness-based stand-up into a one-man performance that would eventually be developed into a 2012 movie of the same name.
Birbiglia followed that up with 2013’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, another long-form piece, which amped up his baseline awkward to showing-up-naked-for-class-on-test-day-while-your-crush-points-and-laughs levels.
Now, he’s taking a step back with Thank God for Jokes at The Mirage’s Aces of Comedy on May 3. It’s a more traditional stand-up set whose name harkens back to when he wanted to be a priest “for ridiculous reasons.” Nothing about the call of religion, or spreading the word: It’s just that old Father Patterson used to get cheap laughs from a captive audience. Like being a cruise-ship act, but with a terrible buffet.
Sleepwalk evolved from Birbiglia’s background as a playwright. A friend convinced him it was the best way to get onstage both as an actor and a writer. It helped usher along his penchant for finding theme and arc in stand-up, which set the stage for Girlfriend. Now those genre-stretching efforts are second nature. The new material in Thank God evolved a loose theme about the way jokes can both bind and alienate—painfully familiar territory to anyone who’s had everyday banter take a turn into a deadly social minefield.
“It’s the ultimate feeling of being misunderstood,” Birbiglia says. “I was at this restaurant, and this hostess said, ‘I wanted to come to your show, but I’m in college and broke.’ I felt bad for her and said, ‘This conversation is funnier than anything you’ll see onstage tonight.’ She said, ‘I have a boyfriend.’”
If you don’t die a little bit inside reading that, then you were probably one of the popular kids in high school.
Which is an elusive quality, popularity. Birbiglia has built his slowly over the years, but he’s poised to play in a couple of upcoming movies—aside from the planned adaptation of Girlfriend—that will goose his screen exposure. He has a small part in the Jamie Foxx version of Annie, and he’s in The Fault in Our Stars, the forthcoming June movie adaptation of the young-adult bestseller.
The Mirage stop is Birbiglia’s first time in town. He might be a little nervous. “Concerned that I don’t have Vegas-y fans,” he tweeted. “But join me. It’ll be weird. Together.”
“I’m apprehensive no one shows up. It’s a place that has so many entertainment options. If they don’t show up, it means they were open to being entertained, but just not by me,” he says. “Last week I played New Orleans; this week I play Las Vegas. It’s the quintessential non-Mike Birbiglia town. It’s all about partying and celebration and excitement. I’m very excited about Vegas. The more I learn about the various replica cities, the more excited I am. Plus, I like playing blackjack.”
8 p.m. May 3, Terry Fator Theatre at The Mirage, $44, 702-792-7777.