Review – Mike Birbiglia, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend
Soho Theatre's risk with giving a two-week run to relative unknown US comic Mike Birbiglia has paid off, says Will Gore
Soho Theatre has made a brave move by booking American stand-up Mike Birbiglia for a two-week run in its main house. While his storytelling shows have packed them in Off Broadway and been nominated for a number of US awards, Birbiglia, as he readily admits, is not exactly a household name this side of the Atlantic.
He’s been waiting for us to call apparently, and it’s a good job that someone finally got through. Any fears that Birbiglia might be performing My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend to half-empty houses during his debut London run will almost certainly prove unfounded. Word will be getting out now about this very funny show.
With the amount of exposure comics get these days it’s a refreshing experience to see a performer without it being accompanied by the memory of an execrable panel show performance, and the Birbiglia’s experience is more refreshing than 12 cans of Lilt.
After a nice intro about mobile phones and call centres, technical problems threatened to stymie proceedings before they even got started, but Birbiglia’s expert handling of the situation, ditching the faulty mic and taking the snap decision to “shout my way through the show” instead, sent out the message that for the coming hour we were in safe hands.
In My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, Birbiglia tells the story of his burgeoning relationship with his best mate’s colleague, intercut with various tales of romantic woe drawn from his adolescence. Perhaps it’s not the most original ground to cover and there are the odd “difference between men and women” digressions, but Birbiglia has taken some familiar tropes and comes up with something joyous.
He’s unpretentious (the dodgy mic moment gets the audience onside straight away), and he peddles a nice line in self-deprecation (“I have the physique of a strong independent woman”). Yet his somewhat slackerish persona belies an expert ability as a storyteller.
He’s a consummate physical performer and his script is perfectly crafted, with quality one-liners keeping the laughs coming and the pace up. He also teases plenty of funny stuff from his longer routines about taking a date on a vomit-inducing fun fair ride, slow dancing to Led Zeppelin and the ground rules given to him by his first girlfriend (he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone they were going out, for example).
As is often the case with storytelling comedy, the tale is underpinned by moments of serious reflection. Birbiglia and his best friend had sworn themselves, and others, off marriage, and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend charts a kind of coming of age. The danger of this kind of show is that the material can veer into sub-Kitson whimsy, but Birbiglia strikes an excellent balance. His tale has moments that genuinely warm the heart, but the next gag is never too far away.