When Mike Birbiglia announced that his fourth one-man show would be playing at the Cherry Lane, he wouldn’t say what it would be about; he simply called it “The New One.” (“I hate it when people tell me what anything is about or really any details at all,” he explained in a press release.)
How arrogant, I thought. Who does he think he is?
He’s someone who can sell out the entire run of a show at the Cherry Lane in a matter of hours.
His fans, won over by his previous shows (Sleepwalk With Me, 2008, now a best-selling book and film; My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, 2011; Thank God for Jokes, 2016), seemed to have a blind faith that I didn’t share.
And I felt my skepticism rewarded when for the first fifteen minutes or so he seemed to ramble, talking about his couch, impersonating a bed, joking about his wife of ten years, offering up an anecdote about how annoying his brother’s kid is, telling us about his stand-up career: “I do this in 100 cities a year, which is more cities than there are.” Many, he said, are just towns with an Appleby’s and ambition.
Ah, so this is going to be a random stand-up.
But then…he riffed on how he hates kids, how he’s “lost a lot of good friends to kids” – how his friends having kids is “worse than a disease, because they want you to have it too.” Then he enumerated “seven specific reasons” for his not having a kid – the first a long, blunt and amusing account of his many illnesses and conditions: “I’m not exactly handing off A-plus genes.” Another: “I have little to teach. I’ve read hundreds of books; I’ve retained very little. I’m not 100 percent sure why it rains.” Another: “People are terrible, and I’m not great.”
And then… it becomes clear why the show is called “The New One” – how clever that title turns out to be.
“The New One” winds up a fresh, funny, subversive and even occasionally moving account of becoming and then being a father — his wife’s efforts to convince him to have a child (“I’m going to work hard to make sure the baby doesn’t change the way we live.” – ha!); his struggle with fertility (“I told you, my body’s a lemon”); his wife’s “75 months” of pregnancy (she tells him at one point: “I feel like a mammal. I want to go to the Museum of Natural History with the other mammals”); and the birth and first year of Oona – which, Birbiglia tells us pointedly, means “one.”
He recounts with annoyance how people say to him “’Is it the most joy you’ve ever experienced.’ And you have to say ‘It’s the most joy’” – his expression priceless.
An hour into the 90-minute show, Beowulf Boritt’s set, which was little more than a Persian rug – not even the couch Birbiglia talks so much about — changes in a way that matches how Birbiglia’s life changed. It’s better if I don’t say anything about it or really any details at all.
Mike Birbiglia’s The New One
Cherry Lane Theater
Directed by Seth Barrish
Written and performed by Mike Birbiglia
Set by Beowulf Borritt
“The New One” is sold out through August 26, 2018.