SALT LAKE CITY — Mike Birbiglia is no stranger to Kingsbury Hall. The comedian/actor/writer/director last performed there in 2013, during his “Thank God for Jokes” tour. His new tour, aptly titled “The New One,” returns to the historic Salt Lake venue on Saturday. Between the critically acclaimed film “Don’t Think Twice,” which he wrote and directed, and his recently released “Thank God for Jokes” Netflix special, Birbiglia’s been on a roll since then.
Speaking with the Deseret News over email, Birbiglia answered a few questions. The delusion of chronically late people, the number of swears in his new set, a secret story about Ben Stiller — whatever the subject, Birbiglia remained candid.
Deseret News: Your last Salt Lake performance was early in the “Thank God for Jokes” tour. Watching the Netflix special, it seemed pretty different from your Kingsbury Hall set.
Mike Birbiglia: “Thank God for Jokes” started off as a show that was all about telling the funniest jokes and stories I could conceive of. The more I performed that show, the more this thematic through-line sort of emerged organically. I realized the show wasn’t only a series of jokes, but also about the nature of jokes. The ways in which jokes are meaningful to me, and the way they bring us all together and how they alienate us from each other sometimes — the double-edged sword of jokes. My shows are sometimes like the creation of a documentary where you don't know what it’s about until you’re in the edit.
DN: That show’s leadoff bit, where you just keep roasting all the people who walk in late, was so funny and brutally honest. I imagine that’s the kind of thing all comedians dream of doing. How did that come about?
MB: Years and years and years of people being late to my shows, which drove me nuts, because as a comedian it interrupts your flow. Sometimes I would just stop the show and goof on these late people. Because people were so late, with such consistency, I started to have these improvised lines that I would just repeat: “What late people don’t understand about on time people is that we hate you. And the reason why we hate you is that it’s so easy to be on time. You just have to be early. Early lasts forever, and on time lasts just a second — and then you’re late forever.”
DN: Did anyone get sour about it?
MB: There were definitely people who wanted to tangle with me and argue about it. People always blame someone else for them being late. They'll say, “It was traffic” or, “The theatre put the wrong time on the website.” People have an extraordinary capacity for blaming other people before themselves, especially late people.
But I have to say, on opening night of the show in New York, off-Broadway, Ben Stiller showed up late, and I had already done the late bit. I never have admitted this to anybody: I saw him out of the corner of my eye as he walked in, and I just let it go, because I felt so bad. He’s so famous, and for him to do me the favor of taking time out of his busy schedule to show up, and for me to just like go after him the moment he walks in, just felt cruel. It also felt like it might end our friendship.
DN: When I interviewed you in 2013, you mentioned how much you like performing at Kingsbury Hall. Why exactly is that? Are there things about Kingsbury that bring out a good performance?
MB: Certainly the acoustics, the age of the building, how sweet and kind the staff ushers are, the people in Salt Lake are really good comedy fans. There’s just something about it where the experience is always good, and you can’t always put your finger on why.
On Twitter I wrote an open letter to comedy fans in Salt Lake City, because after “Thank God for Jokes” someone complained that it was too dirty. I wanted to clarify that this time it definitely is for adults, but it’s not gratuitous. Maybe three or four curses. But also, there’s an added bonus that the Lucas Bros (Kenny and Keith Lucas) are opening the show. They don't curse a whole lot, either. If you haven't seen their Netflix special, you should watch it. They’re absolutely stars.
DN: Promotion for “The New One” seems purposely vague — just repeatedly, sort of self-consciously driving the point of its newness, with no other details. Why is that? Just to be funny, or give yourself more creative freedom?2 comments on this story
MB: Neither. Its so the audience has the best audience experience they can possibly have. What I’ve witnessed in the last few years is that my best theatergoing or film-going experiences are when I know nothing about the thing I’m watching, and I’m just told, “Go see this!” The greatest gift I can give a friend is to say, “Go see ‘Lady Bird’ or ‘The Big Sick’ or ‘Get Out,’ and don’t watch a trailer and don’t read a review.” I actually think that’s the single greatest way to witness anything.
If you go …
What: Mike Birbiglia in "Mike Birbiglia: The New One"
Where: Kingsbury Hall, 1395 Presidents Circle
When: Saturday, Jan. 20, 7 p.m.
How much: $24-$40