Reflecting On: Mike Birbiglia – Two Drink Mike

MikeBirbiglia1

Mike Birbiglia is one of the biggest storytelling comedians in the country. His shows often center on a main story of some type, be it sleepwalking or past relationships, with jokes written around and supporting the thesis. Ten years ago, Two Drink Mike was released. While it’s a solid comedy album, it is the only traditional release from Birbiglia before he transitioned into more of a story based format. While it doesn’t have the depth and writing of projects like Sleepwalk With Me, it provides the footing and talent that led Birbigs to experiment and craft his act into something unique to the comedy scene.

Two Drink Mike, Birbiglia’s debut album from Comedy Central Records, is more or less standard fare. Quick one-liners mixed in among larger ideas. The album is a loving mixture of talent and young, hungry ambition. Ideas, such as how his girlfriend’s cats were gay because, “they’re always licking each other and spooning in the window and criticizing the way I dress,” hadn’t quite evolved into long form, intricate tales. The way that absurd ideas like the ‘Dustbuster Olympics’ and its inclusion into Sleepwalk With Me built the story, as a symptom of the climactic ending rather than a standalone throw away, hadn’t found its way into his act yet. What remains is an album of fantastic jokes of absurd premises, even though they only tease the openness that we’ve come to see in Birbiglia at this point in his career.

Two Drink Mike seemed like a hit at the time of its release. I have no idea how it did in terms of sales, but it was at the forefront of the comedy boom of the mid 2000’s. Comedy Central’s record label exploded fresh off of the success of Dane Cook’s previous albums, Retaliation and Harmful if Swallowed. New CDs were being released constantly. Amid a full roster of albums, Mike Birbiglia appeared, fresh faced and awkwardly doing a photo shoot next to a washing machine.

I passed his album around to all of my friends. As one of the few comedians on the record label who ‘seemed clean,’ he became the first storyteller we’d ever heard. “You’d be surprised”, one of the first punchlines (and still one of his most famous), became an inside joke that we still use today. They’ve gone to several of his shows in Indianapolis and anxiously tell me how amazing it was afterwards.

Even though the jokes are solid, they’re a vast departure from where Birbiglia’s comedic style would end. It’s one of the few instances I can think of where a comedian caught on before they had really found their voice. To change from a ‘traditional’ joke teller to a storyteller with jokes written around an idea is a massive accomplishment, especially after already having notoriety and a firm fan base.

Two Drink Mike is a good comedy album. Though I can’t rank it among my favorites the way Sleepwalk With Me does, it’s one of my most memorable. Birbiglia was the first comedian I discovered that didn’t obsess about dicks. Instead, he talked about pizza bagels. He didn’t shout “fuck” every few sentences while he thought of the next line. Instead, there was a nervous chuckle to his voice that let me see myself in him, just doing what made him happy rather than attempt to be another dirty comic. And it made me what to explore comedy more than I had and see who else could be this unique.

I do think that Birbiglia’s success helped launch a new generation of storytellers, and an appreciation of ‘clean’ jokes, helped by the fact that Jim Gaffigan started rocketing to fame around the same time. And while his comedy can tackle darker subjects and topics, Birbiglia maintains an upbeat attitude and sense of whimsy to his stories. And after everything, his set concludes with an acoustic song recapping the show and adding one last laugh to his bits from the last hour, making every bit feel like it was an inside joke with the audience all along.  This type of delivery not only perfectly sets up the future of Birbigs’ career, it laid the foundation for the wave of ‘positive’ comics like Pete Holmes to gain traction in the scene.

Two Drink Mike is one of those albums that instantly brings me back to a certain point in time, when it felt like the stand-up world was just beginning to find its way out of a niche sub-cultural hobby and into a mainstream entertainment venture again for the first time in years. While comedy was finally discovering what it was again, Two Drink Mike tested the waters of Birbigs’ storytelling abilities to establish himself in the world of long form comedy that he currently dominates in today.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and relistens to stand-up albums over and over like a terrible ceiling fan made of jokes. Two Drink Mike was the third comedy album he ever bought, after Dane Cook’s first two. Hooray!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: