Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend's Boyfriend

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Now *this* is how you do relationship comedy.

When you boil it down, Mike Birbiglia’s delightful show is largely about how he can’t win arguments with his girlfriend. ‘That's how I feel,’ she will tell him conclusively, frustrating challenge by debate or logic.

Such incompatabilities between the genders have been the stuff of stand-up forever, since it’s such a universal theme. But in this touching, romantic, honest and personal story, Birbiglia elevates it into a masterful piece of stand-up storytelling unafraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. If you like Daniel Kitson’s pseudo-theatrical shows – and everybody should – you’ll like this.

His current relationship is put into the context of a lifetime of awkward romantic disappointments, including more than one relationship when he was merely a locum, standing in when the real boyfriend, wasn’t around. Well, that explains the title.

Before that, it took the schoolboy Birbiglia forever to have his first kiss, and when he took a childhood sweetheart to the carnival, it ended messily, both figuratively and very literally. Such sweetly embarrassing comic vignettes establish him as a self-consciously hapless, but charming, soul put through the rinser by relationships. ‘For a nerd you’re not that smart,’ one paramour told him, reinforcing the idea of ineptitude in life and in love.

Birbiglia – making his first, and long-overdue, visit to Britain with this Soho Theatre run – matches the delivery to that shy image, with a laid-back and perfectly measured approach. In truth, though, such lack of showmanship is a clear consequence of him being in such absolute control of his material. When he needs to turn on the performance pyrotechnics, he does so with compelling style – whether physically acting out that fateful fairground ride or becoming indignantly angry at the injustice he suffered following a car accident.

Brilliant observational routines are smuggled into the tightly constructed story with elegant fluidity, often painting delightful pictures of peculiar experiences such as stumbling out of the house at first light. He’s so convincing he makes even the surreal seem real.

Meanwhile, the story keeps you hooked until, with a flourish and a sudden burst of speed, he reaches a heartwarming and satisfying end. It almost comes too soon, as the absorbing 80 minutes just flew by – but on reflection, like the rest of this mature and brilliant show, it was perfectly judged.

Review date: 18 May 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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