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Let's Go For A Walk

Comedian Mike Birbiglia brings his storytelling forte to the forefront on new album

Mike Birbiglia is back with “Sleepwalk With Me: Live,” a new long-in-the-gestation set of material out on CD on April 19. In this set of material, Birbiglia is more focused in his storytelling compared to his last album, “My Secret Public Journal” (see review, 10/7/07) – not that his prior effort wasn’t funny, but this new one is just different in structure.

“Sleepwalk With Me” is built all around Birbiglia’s sleepwalking misadventures, with some pieces being tangents from that topic, although everything does lead back to those misadventures in the end.

Along the way, Birbiglia does employ a few of his familiar sad-sack turns of phrase, such as ‘Yeah,’ describing how he might unthinkingly answer a question, and ‘I know,’ anticipating what the audience might think of something he’s likely to do, and ‘I know the future too.’

An astute listener will hear traces of Steve Martin, Woody Allen and Bill Cosby sprinkled into Birbiglia’s delivery at times now. As Birbiglia gains experience (he’s just 32 now), he’s becoming very much the craftsman in his delivery, using subtle shifts in voice for characterizations in his material. The rhythm Birbiglia uses in repeating a refrain about how he should be “going to the doctor” is an appreciative mimicry of Cosby, for example. And when Birbiglia employs homage to Allen or Martin, it’s like he uses their styles as paints on his palette – Allen shows up in Birbiglia’s schlemiel-like self-characterization; Martin in the more surreal or absurd turns of phrase. In “There’s Something In My Bladder,” he describes his first visit to a proctologist who yells at him for being surprised, “Cut the theatrics!” to which he responded “sorry about the theatrics,” in a voice very reminiscent of Martin’s “excuse me!”

A lot of Birbiglia’s storytelling could be called post-modern Henny Youngman, or perhaps Rodney Dangerfield. He talks about his difficulties starting out in comedy, and how it’s different than acting or other pursuits, because in those a bad performance could be blamed on scenery or co-stars or other factors, but in stand-up, it’s just “we don’t like you -- you know, your personality.” Birbiglia plays up a beleaguered persona like no one else who comes to mind. There’s a bit of self-confessed loser to the personality he projects, but he’s got more than enough mastery of the tone of his delivery and his storytelling to make the material identifiable and sympathetic. “Sleepwalk With Me” is a recommended addition to a collection.

Mike Birbiglia is also already into another set of material, “My Girlfriend's Boyfriend,” a one-man show live at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York through May 15.




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