Before Mike Birbiglia became a father, Judd Apatow cast him as one.
After spending the whole day fielding improvised insults from Schumer on set, Birbiglia jokes that he would come home and tell his wife Jen, who writes poetry under the name J. Hope Stein and is affectionately referred to as “Clo” by her husband on stage, “I think I might be a boring loser.” She would respond, “You’re not boring.”
At the time, the real-life couple were struggling first with the decision of whether to have children and then with the process of actually getting pregnant. That emotional journey is the basis of Birbiglia’s latest show, simply called The New One, which ran on Broadway last fall and premieres on Netflix today. You can check out an exclusive clip from the special below.
For the past month, Birbiglia had been performing The New One at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, where we met up to record our interview in his dressing room before one of his final shows.
“There’s something about this show that’s unlike any other show I’ve done,” he says. He feels like the audience “needs it” somehow. That is especially true for parents, who come up afterwards to tell him that they now feel more comfortable talking about the “elephant in the room” that is their ambivalence about the experience of having children. Other times, young couples approach him after the show to tell him they now know they never want to be parents.
Birbiglia has always existed somewhere in between the realms of stand-up comedy and one-person theater shows and resists the idea of categorization. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. To those who want to tell him he’s not a “real” stand-up because he tells long, personal stories on stage that are both hilarious and emotionally affecting, he responds, “I don’t care.”
How his previous Netflix special ‘Thank God for Jokes’ predicted the ‘hottest topic’ in comedy
“When people ask me about the state of jokes right now, I’m always like, well, I did a special about that. It’s on Netflix. It came out long before it was the hottest topic in America. There’s a line that never made it into the show, because I felt like it was too on the nose, but I feel like is relevant to conversation now, which is: People have the right to tell jokes and people equally have the right to be offended by jokes. Those two ideas can coexist. If you’re being criticized, it means that you’re charting, culturally. If people think what you’re saying is relevant then some people will say, ‘I like what you’re saying,’ some people will say ‘I hate what you’re saying.’ But I think what’s been hard for a certain generation of comedians, perhaps, is that comedy used to be more under the radar. It didn’t chart. I wouldn’t say it was a subculture, but it was not zeitgeisty.”
On Hannah Gadsby and making the transition from stand-up to one-person theater shows
“I didn’t have concerns about it because things weren’t going well enough for me to have concerns. That was a big thing with Hannah Gadsby’s special [Nanette] where people were like, ‘It’s not stand-up! It’s a one-person show!’ It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s beautiful. It doesn’t matter what you call anything. It just matters ultimately what the experience is for the audience member. When that show came out [on Netflix], people were tweeting, ‘How come when Mike Birbiglia does it, no one complains about that?!’ And was laughing because Hannah Gadsby’s so much bigger than I am. She is like an international phenomenon, it’s not even close. And they do complain about it to me! I get tons of flak! I think she’s really great for comedy, in general, because it opens people’s aperture to what comedy can be. So even if some people don’t like it or some person loves it, there’s one person watching going, ‘Oh my God, it can be that!’”
How ‘This American Life’ host Ira Glass became his ‘great mentor’
“I always thought I’d be a great fit with that show. Because all these years, when I’d listen to David Sedaris on This American Life, I was like, ‘I think I’m more like that.’ I always felt like he was a kindred spirit, comedically. They get pitched constantly. And then at a certain point, Julie Snyder, a senior producer there, called me and told me, ‘We’d like to run the audio from The Moth.’ And I go, I’d really like to do the story like Sedaris does, where he’s in the studio. And she was like, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’ So then Ira [Glass] just called me, which is a crazy celebrity phone call because he’s the voice. You just feel like you’re talking to the radio. He’s like, here’s why I think you should do the live audio. And he was right. I ended up meeting up with him in New York and we’ve ended up doing two movies together and this show together, The New One, and probably like 10-plus stories for his radio show. He’s been a great mentor.”
On his movie ‘Don’t Think Twice’ and longtime fascination with SNL
“Not only did I not audition for it, I didn’t get to audition for it. That’s how low my career was in that period of time. I think my agent at the time sent a tape and no one ever responded. But I’m obsessed with it. I love Saturday Night Live. I’ve just loved it since I was a kid. For comedy nerds, it’s like sports for us. It’s live, it’s on television every week, it’s consistent. And there’s a seasonal aspect to it, too. There’s something about that show. I think Seth Meyers put it well once when he said one thing is always true about every episode of Saturday Night Live: some of the sketches are good, some of the sketches are bad, some of the sketches are OK. It’s endlessly fascinating.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Stand-up comedian Dan Soder, whose new special Son of a Gary, premieres on HBO Saturday, December 7th at 10 p.m. ET.