For those of you who think that I'm all about theater, and musical theater in particular, well, for the most part you're right. But there is an admittedly minute part of me that enjoys the occasional foray into more mainstream culture.
I'm a particularly ardent fan of stand-up comedy, including such stellar comedians as Paula Poundstone, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, and Eddie Izzard. So when I'm not in a Broadway theater, or regional equivalent, I can often be found at a comedy performance, or at least watching one on Comedy Central.
But sometimes my passions for theater and comedy collide, as they did a few seasons back with the regrettably weak Spamalot. And last night, I went to see one of my favorite comedians, Mike Birbiglia, at Boston's Wilbur Theater, and therein hangs a tale.
The Wilbur is a venerable Boston institution, essentially a house for touring productions of plays and small musicals. Famed performers who have tread these boards include Lillian Gish, the Barrymores, Katharine Hepburn, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Jason Robards, and Alan Bates. Over the years, I've sat in the lovely little Wilbur to view such shows as Sweet Sue, Glengarry Glen Ross, La Bête, and most recently The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
But lately the Wilbur has fallen on hard times, and for years has more often been dark than occupied. When I interviewed playwright Douglas Carter Beane recently, I mentioned the Wilbur as a possible locale for the Xanadu tour, and he said that union rules made the Wilbur cost-prohibitive.
Well, DCB must not be the only one who feels that way, because recently the Wilbur was leased to the Comedy Connection, a local chain of comedy clubs. Which, of course, leaves me torn: I hate the thought of anything playing the Wilbur but legitimate theater, but I also know Boston could really use a mid-size comedy venue. Typically comics play the enormous Wang Theater or some hole in the wall, and there hasn't been much that's in-between.
All that said, I really enjoyed Mike Birbiglia's show, which was essentially a tryout date for his upcoming one-man Off-Broadway show, Sleepwalk with Me. I've always found Mike a very honest and personable comedian, although his CDs and TV appearances feature a lot of material overlap, and at times he's felt a bit too scripted.
But Birbiglia seems to have grown a great deal as a performer, bringing a much more comfortable, fluid style to his delivery. He mentioned that he compulsively Googles himself, and that once he read someone's blog on which they referred to him as "pudgy and awkward." Well, Mike, you are kind of pudgy, but you're also adorable, and you carry the extra weight well. And, yeah, you're also pretty awkward, but I think of it more as honest and self-effacing, and that's what makes you so appealing as a performer.
So, yeah, I'll probably see other comedians at the Wilbur. But somewhere inside I'll be wishing I was seeing the Xanadu tour.