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By Erica Jackson Curran / February 5, 12:00 AM
Mike Birbiglia's funniest show ever

Laugh Track

Mike Birbiglia 2 Photo Credit Brian Friedman_thumb
How does comedian Mike Birbiglia know his career is in a good place? Because his audiences actually recognize him. “These days people come out to see me on purpose,” he says, laughing. “I feel like I’ve weeded out the people who aren’t into it and now it’s just people who are excited to be there. It’s a lot more like performing for your friends than it was when I started.”

The Shrewsbury native, now based in NYC, is known for his conversational, self-deprecating blend of stand-up comedy and storytelling. He’s doing a series of shows in Boston at the Wilbur on his new Thank God For Jokes tour, which he’s been developing for the last two years. “The whole show is about jokes and how jokes can get us in trouble sometimes and how ultimately they make us feel closer to each other, and how it’s made me feel closer to people in my life,” he says. “Honestly, it’s just 90 minutes of the funniest stories and jokes that I have, the things that make me laugh the most.”

The tour is a departure from Birbiglia’s more recent efforts like Sleepwalk With Me and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. Whereas those shows were more long-form and autobiographical, his new show is lighter and looser.

“I’m not focused on show structure and dramatic structure and narrative arc and that kind of thing,” he says. “So in some ways it’s really freeing—the show’s really loose, it’s got a lot of improv in it. It veers in a lot of directions and I really do think it might be the funniest show I’ve ever done.”

But don’t expect the show to be overly jokey—that’s one of Birbiglia’s pet peeves. His favorite comedians “don’t stress me out,” he says. “A lot of times I’ll go to a stand-up comedy show and I’ll feel really stressed out being in the audience, like the comedians are forcing these jokes on you, demanding you to laugh at every single line, every single moment, and if you don’t you get in trouble and you’re chided by the comedian. I don’t want the audience to feel pressured… If something makes you laugh, great; if it doesn’t, we’ll keep moving.”

Those unfamiliar with Birbiglia’s style are often disarmed by how conversational it is. “Sometimes I’m so non-perform-y that people think I’m not performing material and I’m just talking,” he says. “And then people will come see me perform another night and they’re like, ‘You said the same thing!’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, ’cause I wrote it! Those are the words that I wrote!’”

In addition to his tour, the prolific comic is currently developing two movie scripts: one for My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend and another “top secret” one. He always seems to be working on something new, and that’s the way he likes it. “I don’t have writer’s block,” he says. “If anything, I have writer’s annoyance, which is that I annoy people around me with my ideas constantly. My wife is like, ‘Shut up! Stop talking!’ I tend to have a ton of ideas and about five percent of them are great, and I spend the majority of my time whittling them down to the five percent.”

As he embarks on the Thank God for Jokes tour, Birbiglia is excited to share his new material with Boston fans. “It feels like I’m performing for a bunch of old friends, even though I don’t know everybody,” he says. “Regions have their own sense of humor. When I perform in Boston, I feel like we’re on the same page with a bunch of stuff before we even start.”
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