Mike Birbiglia outlines, in essence, three strikes against marriage: It's based in the medieval notion of the exchange of property; mutual monogamy is almost impossible to achieve; and, since he's not an especially happy guy and has few prospects for becoming so, there's little logic in anyone actually wanting to share his space.
But since Birbiglia's monologue, which had its Chicago premiere Thursday night at the
But then, narrative suspense is not Birbiglia's thing. Telling personal stories is Birbiglia's thing. He is one of those recovering club comedians who has figured out that if you don't bill yourself as merely telling jokes but construct a yarn with an arc, you can soon find yourself filling theaters with people actually listening to what you have to say, as distinct from drinking fruity cocktails and talking among themselves.
"My Girlfriend's Boyfriend," Birbiglia's current show, has a very sophisticated arc. He has his main story — the romance with Jenny and the slow march to mutual commitment — but he also veers back to the embarrassments of his youth and various other digressions involving a couple of terrible car accidents.
One of his foremost skills is the ability to stand outside of this story when necessary. When the audience reacted with sympathetic sounds at one of his early personal humiliations, he gave a wry grin. "I know," he said. "I'm in the future too."
Birbiglia packed the Biograph Theatre on Thursday night for a show that was postponed from the Just for Laughs Festival in June. He's well known to the public thanks to many appearances on the radio show "This American Life" and the success of his movie
His is a distinct crowd, mostly 20- and 30-somethings out on dates (strangely revealing dates those must be, given the material). Many in the crowd looked rather like Birbiglia himself, whom you might call (and some have) a slacker comedian or a former nerd extracting a little slow-burning,
Certainly, his onstage persona is low status and awkward in space; he casts himself as a guy to whom things happen — cars crash into him, girls approach or leave him — rather than a guy who actually makes things happen. He does, at times, skate close to the problem that all everyman comedians face as they get more successful: They're not everymen anymore.
Perhaps that's too meta for Birbiglia. But he will have to deal with it in the future, as did Spalding Gray and as does Mike Daisey.
For most, though, Birbiglia's stories of throwing up on carnival rides or visiting girlfriends only to discover that a better-looking rival is also on the guest list will offer some genial, intelligent, well-crafted entertainment and a few shudders of recognition. The salient question is: How well would you do getting your Joe or your Jenny if you looked and acted like Birbiglia but didn't have your own dweeb-cool show?
When: Through Monday
Where: Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes