Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man and the Pool is the man’s hour-and-a half long account of how he started taking his health seriously. First things first, it is an extremely long special. Secondly, people of all ages can watch this, but perhaps they would not want to. This assumption is based on nothing more than a stereotype that the younger audience may still want to enjoy and exploit good health before old age inevitably sets it. Any offense in that sentence is our attempt at a joke.
In the stand-up special, it takes a while for the jokes to hit. In fact, the first ten minutes are certifiably a drag, where he discusses how he and his doctor tried to find a suitable exercise for him. But it is during these ten minutes that the YMCA pool becomes the main character of The Old Man and the Pool. It is hard to call this stand-up special hilarious, even though there were sufficiently engaging bits in it. The fact is that in this one-sided conversation between the comedian and the audience, the tendency to zone out is very strong, especially if you are not falling out of your chair with laughter every once in a while. There is no choice except for the standards of comedy to be that high because, at the end of the day, it is simply one person on stage performing the perceived tragedies and comedies of their life. Its only importance is its relatability, and while it is not hard to establish that, it is hard to stay engaged for as long as the comedian demands, especially if you are watching through a screen.
This is one of those stand-up specials where the audience may not find themselves glued to the screen throughout the runtime, but they also won’t be able to cast it off midway, like we have been tempted to do with some of the other specials in recent times. Basically, Mike Birbiglia is a sensitive comedian, and while his troubles are not as funny anymore, he still manages to keep it all fun and games. In other news, this is his third stand-up special for the streaming platform, and the news tells us that it was announced on the ten-year anniversary of the platform’s first stand-up special. Since then, Netflix has gone on to produce many more stand-up sets, perhaps so many that the audience (us) was found complaining that quality has lost to quantity. The most obvious example of this was the recent celebration of a stand-up venue’s 60-year anniversary, where a number of comedians came to present their sets but with no sense of the spirit of the very event that they were participating in. It was reduced to a ‘work thing’ instead of an actual celebration, and that is sad in so many ways, especially when the industry is about laughing at the lighter side of life. The point of saying this was to re-emphasize why Mike Birbiglia’s sensitivity worked for him.
One of our favorite things to do is judge a comedian by their sun signs. It is controversial and silly, but it is just something to have fun with. Mike Birbiglia was born on June 20, which is on the cusp of Gemini and Cancer, otherwise known as the “Cusp of Magic.” The people are known for having “huge hearts and a childlike wonder for life,” which ensures that they always find happiness no matter what. Astrology said this, not us because we don’t know better. In the case of Mike Birbiglia, the huge heart was fairly evident. He was entirely respectful and sweet the whole time. The childlike wonder was proved through his presentation of statistics, and we suppose the man is going to therapy, which means that he is actively working for and finding the happiness he wants and desires. The reason to bring this up is because any comedy special is made distinctive by the personality of the comedian. Be it Matt Rife in Natural Selection, Beth Stelling in If You Didn’t Want Me Then, or Vir Das in his recently awarded Landing, their skills are enhanced by their perspectives, and the sun signs are a harmless way of deciphering that. Additionally, it is a way of sledging the comedians, who generally tend to call it rubbish.
The thing with Mike Birbligia in The Old Man and the Pool is that he is more than a comedian; he is a storyteller in this set. The body of the story has been given more importance than the punchline at the end, and if this is kept in mind from the beginning, the complaints can be done away with. Be it his resistance to exercise, the feeling of dread upon seeing his medical results, or the final motivating factor that comes when he considers his family’s past and future, it has all been heard before and also been made fun of, but Mike Birbiglia has a way of not making it frivolous or dismissive for the sake of comedy that ends up feeling unique and, strangely, motivational.
Mike Birbiglia and Michael Phelps may swim five times a week, but his consistency in energy, his management of the audience, and the way he was on his toes with his jokes, stories, and occasional improvisation showed how much love he poured into the set and his audience, which is more than what we can say for so many comedians these days. It is a sincere belief that nobody can represent the effort of effortlessness more than a comedian on stage.
What is most likable about Mike Birbiglia is that the audience is extremely aware of everything he has overcome in life. Yet he seems strangely well-adjusted for it. There is no defensiveness to him, not even anger or some kind of hyper-competitive drive. It is just a desire to do right by the audience and by himself to the best of his ability. That is enough for the audience when watching a stand-up set as long as The Old Man and the Pool.