“Please don’t quote this out of context,” the affable comedian, storyteller, actor and Brooklyn resident Mike Birbiglia begs his audience as he graphically recounts the gross childhood memory of visiting a pool locker room and seeing an old man in the midst of…
You know what? As Birbiglia requested, let’s leave it at that. (I also won’t reveal the surprise absurdist ending, or a tragicomic five-minute routine involving a proposed moment of silence.)
Shortly before the pandemic, Birbiglia came to Broadway for the first time with his enjoyable one-man show “The New One,” which focused on Birbiglia’s hesitant and bewildered transition into fatherhood. (The show was filmed live for Netflix.)
Whereas “The New One” transferred to Broadway following an earlier Off-Broadway run, Birbiglia headed straight to Broadway with “The Old Man & Pool,” an 85-minute monologue in which Birbiglia confronts a sense of precarious human existence and discusses how he set out to take better care of his body (via daily swimming) after being diagnosed with shortness of breath and type 2 diabetes.
This is not new territory for Birbiglia, who has several medical conditions, including a sleeping disorder which once led to a life-threatening incident (previously revealed in his breakout monologue “Sleepwalk With Me,” which was adapted into a 2012 film) and now requires him to sleep under lock and key in a custom-made straightjacket made of sheets.
Birbiglia relies upon a well-honed nice guy persona. He presents himself as excited, clueless, casual, well-meaning, polite, underachieving and self-effacing. And in doing so, he comes off as heartfelt, relatable and not so different from any given audience member who is figuring out life as it goes along.
There is an appealing smoothness, simplicity, and sense of construction to Birbiglia’s shows. (Seth Barrish, who serves as Birbiglia’s regular director, surely deserves much credit.) Birbiglia excels at offering fun anecdotes, dramatizing conversations with offstage characters, making Seinfeld-style observations about daily life and performing occasional physical bits.
Birbiglia (who has toured extensively, maintained an active social media presence, and appeared in recurring roles on TV hits such as “Orange is the New Black” and “Billions”) has an impressively large, diverse and young fan-base, which filled the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center to capacity at my performance.
Here’s hoping that Birbiglia continues to come to Broadway each season with new autobiographical monologues and inspires the same kind of turnout.
Vivian Beaumont Theatre, 150 W. 65th St., mikebirbigliabroadway.com. Through Jan. 15.