It’s easy to get lost in the sea of Netflix comedy specials considering the sheer quantity of options we’re given, and there seems to be something for nearly everyone. Mike Birbiglia is no stranger to the platform, with prior special Thank God for Jokes released on Netflix in 2017. Birbiglia sets himself apart with his most recent special, The New One, bringing together a medley of stellar stand-up jokes and Broadway-style elements for a truly unique and hilarious special.
Even if you haven’t heard Birbiglia’s name, you’ve definitely seen him before. As an actor, Birbiglia has appeared in The Fault in our Stars as support group leader Patrick, in Trainwreck as Amy Schumer’s brother-in-law, and as a guest star on numerous TV shows including Orange is the New Black and Billions.
His fame as a stand-up comedian only continues to grow, with each of his specials better than the last, and The New One is no exception. The show centers around the theme of parenthood. Birbiglia, who was always sure he never wanted to have kids, ended up having a daughter in 2015. Birbiglia doesn’t miss a beat during the entire hour and a half, effortlessly circling back to jokes made earlier in the special and poking fun at himself.
Birbiglia spends a decent chunk of the special telling self-deprecating jokes, showing the ease with which he can find the humor in his own life. While describing all seven of the reasons he didn’t want to have a child, he focuses extensively on all of the bad qualities he would be passing down, leading the audience to believe that each of these is a separate reason until he later reveals that they all qualify as one.
Most people wouldn’t be willing to disclose their medical history to a crowd, but Birbiglia does it hysterically, in such a way that you almost forget he’s talking about a real person. While going into extensive detail on the nature of his bladder tumor, severe sleepwalking disorder, and inability to find joy, Birbiglia manages to make life-altering conditions hysterical. One of Birbiglia’s best running jokes through the special comes with a reference to his sleepwalking condition: He needs to be wrapped up in a sleeping bag every night with mittens on to ensure he doesn’t open it and hurt anyone in his sleep. The homemade bed sheet that he made to encase himself along with a sleeping bag comes on stage in the second half of the performance, and Birbiglia puts it on to the amusement of the audience.
Unlike most other stand-up specials, Birbiglia makes use of many props toward the end of his performance. In a refreshing and relevant gag, dozens of items supposedly from around Birbiglia’s house drop to the stage, and he offers comments on a few of them, including his homemade bed sheet. The typical format of stand-up comedy, with only the comedian and a microphone on stage, can begin to feel monotonous after watching multiple specials. Unsurprisingly, Birbiglia’s reworking of the old standard was met with a warm reception from the audience. Performing on Broadway in the Cort Theatre added an additional expectation of theatricality, and Birbiglia delivered. He repeatedly turned to a book of poems written by his wife, reading poems about their life and daughter. Rather than taking away from the story, it added to it in a new and exciting way for stand-up comedy.
Birbiglia ties everything in the special back to his previous lack of desire to have a child and the false comfort his wife gave him in saying that having a kid doesn’t change the way you live. Working through all the ways in which his life has in fact changed with fatherhood, Birbiglia offers a rarely heard perspective on the challenges of parenting—at one point almost empathizing with fathers who leave their children. But for the most part, he navigates the topic with tact and manages to bring the subject back to an 11-year-old girl he talked with at the beginning of the show, tying all the loose ends of jokes together before the special ends. The skill with which Birbiglia is able to bring all of his seemingly unrelated anecdotes together into one story about fatherhood is unmissable and a great addition to Netflix’s stand-up comedy lineup.
Featured Image by Netflix