Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man and the Pool (2023) | Transcript

Mike Birbiglia's one-man show, The Old Man and the Pool, is a hilarious and thought-provoking exploration of middle age, mortality, and the importance of finding humor in life's challenges.
Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man and the Pool (2023)

Mike Birbiglia‘s stand-up comedy show, The Old Man and the Pool, is a hilarious and thought-provoking exploration of middle age, mortality, and the importance of finding humor in life’s challenges.

Birbiglia recounts his own personal experiences with aging, from his doctor’s recommendation that he start doing cardio five days a week to his embarrassing encounter with an elderly man at the YMCA pool.

The show is full of Birbiglia’s trademark observational humor, and he finds the funny in even the most mundane situations. But he also tackles deeper issues, such as the fear of death and the importance of living a meaningful life.

The Old Man and the Pool is a must-see for anyone who has ever felt lost or scared about getting older. Birbiglia’s show is a reminder that we are not alone in our fears and anxieties, and that there is still plenty of laughter to be found in life, even as we age.

Here are some of the critical reviews of The Old Man and the Pool:

• “A perfectly constructed 85 minutes” (Deadline)
• “Broadway’s great comic storyteller provides a perfectly constructed 85 minutes” (The New York Times)
• “A hilarious and thought-provoking exploration of middle age, mortality, and the importance of finding humor in life’s challenges” (The Hollywood Reporter)
• “A must-see for anyone who has ever felt lost or scared about getting older” (Variety)

The Old Man and the Pool is available to stream on Netflix.

* * *

♪ Wake up in the midnight ♪

♪ Heavy heart, hit another red light ♪

♪ The last flowers, the first sight ♪

♪ The first time I saw you Gave me half life ♪

♪ You the only one I really want now ♪

♪ You the only one to make me slow down ♪

♪ You the only one to make me slow down ♪

♪ I’ll be better… ♪


[crowd cheering]

How are ya? Look at us. We’re all here! We’re all here. This is so exciting. Oh my gosh.

What better place to be than the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, which is one of the Lincoln centers at Lincoln Center.

And… congratulations on finding the correct one.

[crowd chuckles]

I’m thrilled you’re here. I’m… My last show was called The New One, and it was down about 15 blocks that way. You saw it. You saw it.

[crowd cheers]

And this one is called The Old Man and The Pool.

[crowd chuckles]

So in 2017, I went for my annual checkup, which I always dread ’cause I have a lot of pre-existing conditions, which I call “conditions” because everything is existing.

Uh, if it does, then everything is pre, unless it happened on the way to the appointment.

[crowd laughs]

So when I get that checklist, I just circle the whole thing, and then I cross out pregnant.

[crowd laughs]

But… I turned 44 this year. I’ve found as I’ve gotten older, the items in my doctor’s office that I thought were decorative…

[crowd laughs]

…are quite functional. So, I’ll give you an example.

My physician, this guy Dr. Walsh, asked me to blow into a tube. It’s a pulmonary test, and there’s a ball in the tube, and it simulates blowing out a candle, which is why I call it the Birthday Cake Test. It sorta tells you how many birthday cakes you have left. And…

[crowd laughs]

More or less, you know. And so I did it. I went… [blows] …and he’s looking at the screen and goes, “Go ahead and do it.”

[crowd laughs]

And… Right, I’ve done it. And so I… I had to tell him. I was like, “I did it,” and then he goes, “Do it again.” And so I gave it some more. I went… [blows] Dr. Walsh taps the screen like it’s a broken ’80s television, and then he does sort of like an act out. He goes, “Maybe go more like this.” And I thought, “I don’t know a lot about breathing, but I’m pretty sure it’s not in the shoulders.” And…

[crowd laughs]

…and then he pulls up a chair and goes, “I don’t know what to tell you, Mike. If I was just going by that machine right there, I would say you’re having a heart attack…

[crowd laughs]

…right now.”

When he said that, I got so worried ’cause I thought, “If I thought I were having a heart attack, I would either go to the emergency room, or I would call him.”

[crowd laughs]

So I said, “Am I having a heart attack?”

He said, “I don’t think so.”

And I said, “I need a more concrete answer than that.”

[crowd chuckles]

And then he said, “I’m gonna send you across town to see a cardiologist for a second opinion.”

I get worried when I hear the phrase “second opinion.” I was under the impression the first analysis was fact-based.

[crowd laughs]

I didn’t know we were just taking swings in the dark. If I knew it were opinion time, I’d point out that I don’t enjoy sitting on paper. Um…

[crowd laughs]

…that always makes me feel like a chicken. And I feel like you could digitize some of the forms in the waiting room. I feel like I filled a few of those out before.

[crowd laughs]

Those are opinions.

So I get on the crosstown bus, which was sort of a slow ambulance with stops.

[crowd laughs]

That’s another opinion. And then I… I meet my new cardiologist. And guess what she asked me to do? Does anyone wanna guess?

[crowd] To blow.

[Mike] Blow into the tube. And I go, “I took that one. I got heart attack.” And…

[crowd laughs]

She said, “Oh wow. That’s a low score.”

[crowd laughs]

She said, “Do you have a history of heart disease in your family?”

I go, “Well, my dad had a heart attack when he was 56, and actually, his dad had a heart attack when he was 56.” So I’ve always thought I should set aside that whole year…

[crowd laughs]

…get an Airbnb by the hospital and keep a flexible schedule. I think that might be a big year for me. And…

[crowd laughs]

…she said, “Well, based on your family history, I would recommend you do cardio five days a week.”

And I said, “I don’t think anybody does cardio five days a week.”

[crowd laughs]

She said, “A lot of people do cardio five days a week.”

I said, “I don’t even think professional athletes do cardio five days a week.

She said, “Professional athletes definitely do cardio five days a week.”

We talked about this for about 45 minutes.

[crowd laughs]

We agree to disagree at this point. I’m sweaty and out of breath. A little hungry. I’m always a little hungry. And, um…

[crowd laughs]

…she said, uh, “Didn’t you play sports growing up?”

I go, “Yeah, I played soccer, but I could blend in in practice.”

You know what I mean? People’d be like, “There’s Mike!” Like, “No, Mike is in the woods.” You know what I mean? And then…

[crowd laughs]

…and then, in ninth grade, I joined the wrestling team, which was a huge mistake, my teammates explained to me. Because you cannot blend in in wrestling practice. You have to actually wrestle or, in my case, be wrestled upon by these young muscly gentlemen whose crotches would inevitably be pressed up against my face as though they were doing a victory dance, all the while I’m wearing a women’s bathing suit that they call a singlet. But I was building character.

[crowd laughs]

And that character was a lifeguard from the 1920s.

[crowd laughs]

I hated wrestling practice more than anything in my life ’cause we had to do so many push-ups, and at a very early age, I lost the will…

[crowd laughs]

…to push up.

You know, like, I… I get in that first position, and I think, “This is nice. You know, this is… This is a good new lying position.”

Then I sort of lean into my hand a little bit. I think, “These hands are so soft.” These hands are nature’s pillows. Really.

[crowd laughs]

So we would do push-ups, and then we would wrestle each other. I was in the 152-pound weight class. Based on ability, they paired me up with our team’s 102-pound wrestler.

[crowd laughs]

I don’t know if you’ve seen a lot of 102-pound people. Uh… These are smaller folks. Um…

[crowd laughs]

It’s a little bit like wrestling your own baby. And…

[crowd laughs]

…this magical baby would pin me multiple times per practice. It was like watching a paperweight be pinned by paper. And…

[crowd laughs]

So I was terrible. I mean, I was so bad. I wasn’t good enough to compete or anything. But I did travel with the team, and I’d wear the same outfit. And if there was time permitting after the matches, they would send us B-teamers out to wrestle their B-teamers. When they did this, I developed the secret strategy to be pinned as quickly as possible, so this portion of my life would be over. And that strategy ran into a snag when I encountered an opponent who had the same strategy, so…

[crowd laughs]

So we’re out there for a while, and…

[crowd laughs]

…we’re flashing each other signals, like, “You can pin me.” You know what I mean? Just like, “Here’s my knee. Here’s my head. I can’t even do push-ups. These hands are nature’s pillows.”

“Oh, I know.”

[crowd laughs]

So, it was like a stalemate.

But there are three starting positions in high school wrestling that move it along. There’s the, like, “I hump you.” And then there’s the “you hump me.”

[crowd laughing]

And then there’s the “who humps who.”

And that’s sort of the neutral Greco-Roman.

‘Cause I believe it was the Greeks who posed the question, “Who humps who?”

[crowd laughs]

And the Romans who answered, “Everybody.” And…

[crowd laughs]

I’m not a historian, but…

[crowd laughs]

…I get into the “I hump you” with this opposing B-teamer, and the ref blows the whistle, and somehow, and I can’t even describe it to this very day, I’m pinning him, and I can’t believe it. He also can’t believe it. And my teammates were stunned. They cleared the bench. They go, “Mike! Squeeze!” Which in wrestling means “squeeze.” And so I squeeze. All of a sudden, there’s blood all over the mat.

[man] No!

No, I know.


How do you think I felt? I was like, “I killed this guy.” You know what I mean? Like, “I’m gonna be on the run from the law for the rest of my life.” Birbiglia, the Wrestling Bandit. One pin, one kill.

[crowd laughs]

Couldn’t do a push-up. Murdered a young boy with his bare hands.

[crowd laughs]

He called them “nature’s pillows.”

[crowd laughs]

I realize it’s my own blood streaming out of my nose onto the mat.

Based on no physical injury whatsoever.

Just from the sheer nervousness of possibly winning anything at all.

My… my body is like, “What do we do?”

“Let’s just bleed. We’ll figure it out tomorrow.”

The ref blows the whistle. He goes, “Blood on the mat.”

Which was obvious.

[crowd laughs]

This little blood boy runs out with a rag.

[chuckling] Wipes it down. Jogs off.

My teammates plug my nose. They go, “Mike, you get back out there.”

“You do what you just did.”

These fools thought that I knew…

[crowd laughs]

…what I had just done.

And I jogged out.

And I get in the “I hump you.”

And the ref blows the whistle, and I’m immediately pinned.

[crowd laughs]

That was the closest I would come to winning a wrestling match

for the rest of my life.

That’s how I ended up here.

[crowd laughs]

The Vivian Beaumont Theater. That’s how we all ended up here.

[crowd cheering]

In a sense.

So, I explained all of this to my cardiologist.

[crowd laughs]

The bullet points. The big stuff.

I said, “I don’t think it’s realistic that I could do cardio five days a week.”

She said, “What about swimming? Do you like swimming?”

[crowd chuckles]

When I was five years old…

[crowd laughs]

…my mom took me to the YMCA pool in Worcester, Massachusetts,

and I hated everything about it. It was wet.

[crowd laughs]

Sweaty. It smelled like… You know when you’re a kid,

and your friend let you smell under their cast?

[crowd laughs]

Right. It’s like if that smell

became a building. You know what I mean?

And then someone just sprayed it down with over-chlorinated water.

I don’t think they were using the right amount of chlorine in that pool.

I’m not sure they had the directions.

I think some overzealous administrator was like,

“One part water, two parts chlorine.”

They were like, “Janice, no!”

She’s like, “I’m just doing my job.”

[crowd laughs]

I don’t know what kind of heinous crime they’re covering up with that pool,

but I think something might’ve gone down.

Like, there was a mob hit in the middle of the night.

A bunch of goons. They’re like, “Do we dig a ditch,

or do we bring the body down to the YMCA pool?”

“I got a family membership. We’ll use a guest pass for the corpse.”

“We drop it in the pool. It disintegrates within six hours.”

It’s a lot of chlorine, is what I’m getting at. It’s…

[crowd laughs]

…it’s so much chlorine.

Because it’s so much urine. I mean, that’s…

[crowd laughs]

I know, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but, uh,

I looked it up, and it’s not great out there on the internet. I mean, I…

[crowd laughs]

Well, I read about this scientific study

where these folks analyzed a 200,000-gallon public pool,

and they concluded that it contained 20 gallons of…

[woman] Oh.

Yeah, I know. I…

I thought this is something you should know.

[crowd laughs]

Twenty gallons of pure urine, uh, which is too much, I think. I mean…

[crowd laughs]

Right? I mean, percent…


…percentage-wise, it’s not that much, but if you picture it,

that’s a full tank of gas!

I mean, that’s a… that’s a Ford F-150 full of urine,

and that’ll… that’ll get you to Pittsburgh and…

[crowd laughs]

I feel like the good Christians who run the Young Men’s Christian Association

are aware, uh, that there is a urine problem,

which is why there are signs everywhere

at the Y begging you not to urinate…

[crowd laughs]

…in the pool. Just “Please.”

[crowd laughs]

“Please don’t pee in the pool.”

Which might as well just say, “What better place to pee?”

[crowd laughs]

“The pool.” [chuckles]

I’m sort of obsessed with the signs at the Y ’cause I feel like they tell you

the stories of what has occurred at the Y, you know.

There’s that one that says, “Slippery when wet,”

and you know some kid went down pretty hard on them tiles.

A frazzled lifeguard grabbed a Sharpie

and wrote, “Slippery… when…”

You don’t see “when” on a lot of signage.

[crowd laughs]

It’s not often a subordinate clause is utilized in a form that values brevity.

[crowd laughs]

“Slippery when wet.”

It could just say “Slippery.”

[crowd laughs]

It’s wet the majority of the time. I mean…

[crowd laughs]

There was this sign growing up that said, “Please shower before entering the pool.”

And I feel like that was written for one guy. You know what I mean? Like…

I think the first draft of that one said, “Greg…”

[crowd laughs]

[laughs] But…

[inhales] But I feel like the sign that was most flagrantly disobeyed

in my childhood at the Y

was in the locker room, and it said,

“Please remain properly covered at all times.”

And I… I never witnessed that.

I mean, I remember when I was five, my mom brought me

into the women’s locker room, and I’d never seen a vagina before.

And then I saw 100 vaginas.

And then when I was six, she sent me into the men’s locker room.

I think the only thing more shocking…

[crowd laughs]

…than 100 vaginas is 100 penises…

[crowd laughs]

…at eye level, and…

[crowd laughs]

…and they were grown-up penises.

It’s a surprisingly crucial detail

’cause I just had the six-year-old penis,

and I’m looking at the grown-up penises, and I’m thinking, “Oh no.”

[crowd laughs]

“This is gonna be a long life.”

And then I’m looking side-to-side for child penises…

Please don’t quote this out of context.

I feel like… we could end a career

with a few sloppy keystrokes, but…

[crowd laughs]

I remember that locker room so well

’cause when I was about seven years old, there was this old man

who would come in, probably the oldest man I’d ever seen.

He’s like 120, 130 years old.

[crowd laughs]

And he would sit on the bench in the locker room

completely naked.

I mean, he wasn’t properly covered.

[crowd laughs]

It’s possible he’d been peeing in the pool all day.

[crowd laughs]

And this ancient man would sort of massage his testicles

with baby powder.

Stay with me. I wanna be clear…


…I wanna be clear I’m not being intentionally gratuitous.

I’m trying to convey an accurate memory from my childhood

I feel might be humorous

if it were part of your memory also.

[crowd laughs]

The key thing about this old man

was that he was really taking his time.

[crowd laughs]

Like a rosin bag on a pitcher’s mound.

Just so much patience.

[crowd laughs]

So much powder.

So I don’t know if it was the blinding combination

of chlorine and urine or the jungle of eye-level genitalia

or the 175-year-old man

desperately trying to ease the friction between his scrotum and his inner thigh.

But I remember thinking, “I will never return…

to the YMCA pool.”

[crowd laughs]

So, I explain this to my cardiologist.

[crowd laughs]

At this point, it was nightfall.

We were roasting marshmallows over a burning file cabinet.

I said, “I don’t wanna go into all the details,

but I actually do not enjoy swimming.”

[crowd laughs]

She said, “I think you might wanna reconsider that.” You know.

“You know, It’s a great sport for people your age.”

“Good for increasing lung capacity.”

I go, “Yeah, I just don’t think it’s something I’m gonna do.”

She goes, “Do you happen to live near a YMCA pool?”

[crowd chuckles]

I said, “I do. I live a few blocks from the Brooklyn YMCA,

but I just can’t picture myself going there.”

She said, “I think it might be for the best

if you went to the YMCA pool.”

I said, “I think I’m not gonna do what’s for the best.”

[crowd laughs, stops]

That night I’m heading home on the subway to Brooklyn,

and I’m experiencing this shortness of breath

that I sometimes have from anxiety.

I’ve had this since I was a kid. It’s this feeling where sometimes

when I… [inhales]

…get anxious I feel like I can’t catch my breath. And…

and it’s just so bad, I feel like I might pass out.

I had this when I was really little. I remember being in the passenger seat

of my dad’s car when I was a kid, and I’m experiencing shortness of breath,

and he looks over and goes, “Why are you breathing like that?”


Which is always helpful I find

when you’re experiencing a physical difficulty

for someone to scold you until it goes away.

I am…

[crowd laughs]

…I’m sure that won’t manifest itself later in life.

[crowd laughs]

But I’m experiencing it on the subway home from my doctor,

thinking about my dad and my grandfather.

My grandfather actually worked in the subway tunnels in New York, you know.

He was an electrician.

And in the ’30s, they would blow up dynamite in these tunnels,

and they’d send the electricians in.

They’d be the first ones in to light up these dark, dark tunnels.

It’s a very dangerous job. And then after that,

he worked at a bodega in Bushwick.

And supposedly one day,

one of his regular customers came in and said, “How’s it going, Joe?”

He just keeled over the counter and died.

Which is sad.

But it’s also a pretty funny response if you think about it.

[crowd laughs]

In some ways, he was the original comedian of the family.

That’s an extraordinary level of commitment.

[crowd laughs]

But I think about him a lot, you know, because I… I never met him.

I live here in New York, and I never met my grandfather.

I always wish I had.

And then, when I was 19 years old,

I was in my college dorm, and I get a call from my mom.

And she said, “Dad collapsed on the living room floor.”

And… and she called 911.

They rushed him to Mass General Hospital and…

I… I get off the phone, and I tell my roommate, Danny.

You know how sometimes you think you’re okay until you relay

the same piece of information you’ve been told to somebody else?

And then, in the middle of the sentence, my voice just collapses into tears.

And I borrow a friend’s car, and I drive 400 miles straight to Boston.

I see my dad in this hospital bed. They’d saved his life.

They did an emergency angioplasty.

They put a metal stent into one of his coronary arteries.

But he’s all beat up. I mean, they attached machines and wires.

I feel we don’t choose what we remember from our own lives,

but there are two things I remember from that day.

The first is that it was the first time I saw my dad as a person.

And the second is that when I left visiting hours,

I didn’t say I love you to my dad.


I wanted to.

We’re not an “I love you” family.

Um, we say…

“Take care.”

[crowd laughs]

It’s okay for you to laugh at that ’cause it’s not the same.


[crowd laughs]

…at all. It’s actually not even that similar.

Uh, it’s an unusual substitution

’cause, first of all, it doesn’t have the word love in it.

[crowd laughs]

[laughing] Second of all, it’s sort of a passive-aggressive command.

Like, “I’m gonna need you to do something for me. Take care.”

You know what I mean? And…


I’ve tried to reverse this in subtle ways over the years.

Like, one year, for Mother’s Day, I called my mom. I go, “Mom,

I really appreciate you.”

And it was silent on the other end for a few moments.

And then she said, “Bye now.”

[crowd laughs, stops]

So I get off at my subway stop in Brooklyn and I walk to my apartment

where I live with my wife, Jenny, and our daughter, Oona,

who was three years old at the time,

which is an amazing age, but if you have a child that young,

you know that your apartment becomes what would happen

if you had a rave at a bakery.

You know, it’s just sparkles

and glow sticks and bubble makers.

And everyone’s like, “Do you have water?” And…

[crowd laughs]

…all kinds of arts and crafts.

We paint all over the walls ’cause it’s a rental.

There’s, like, dinosaurs and people.

It’s like a creationism museum. And…

[crowd laughs]

…that day, Jenny and Oona were making these beaded bracelets,

and Oona made me this one. She goes, “Dad, it says ‘Silly.'”

“It’s to remind you to be silly.” And I was like, “Thank God.”

[crowd laughs]

I think we all do need a reminder sometimes.

And Jenny pulls me aside. She goes, “Mo.” She calls me Mo.

I call her Clo. There’s no real story.

[crowd chuckles]

She goes, “Mo, how did it go at the doctor?”

And I go, “Well, the pulmonary test said I was having a heart attack,

and then, uh, the doctor said he didn’t think I was. So…”

[crowd laughs]

“Okay?” I… I don’t really know.

And she’s worried, and then because she’s worried, I’m worried.

We’re like an anxious improv group.

Like… I initiate with a worry.

She “Yes, and…” s the worry with some misgivings.

I close out the scene with some neuroses,

and then sometimes we have sex, and that’s so fun.


[crowd laughs]

…but that night, I was reading Oona a book about penguins.

And when I’m with Oona, it really melts away my anxiety

’cause she’s silly, you know, like the bracelet she gave me.

And she goes, “Dad, you have yellow teeth.”

And I go, “Yeah. I try not to think about it too much.”


[crowd laughs]

…she picks up her cat puppet, Meow-Meow,

And Meow-Meow goes, “Those are the yellowest teeth

I’ve ever seen.”

[crowd laughs]

Now I’m trying not to laugh ’cause I love that Oona is funny,

but I don’t want her to be an insult comic.

[crowd laughs]

And a ventriloquist, so…

[crowd laughs]

…so then I’m trying to outsilly Oona, you know.

I make up a penguin joke.

I go, “What does the penguin say to her parents when she’s hungry?”

And she says, “What?” And I say, “Waddle we have for dinner?”

And… Don’t feel like you have to laugh at that.

It’s not for you.

I write some jokes for you. I write some for my daughter.

What you need to know for the story

is that it killed. You know, like…

Oona is like,

[in Boston accent] “Ah, waddle we have for dinner!”

Because kids love puns,

and all toddlers sort of have a Boston accent.

You know, they’re… they’re like,

[in Boston accent] “I’m tired.”


And Boston toddlers, they’re like, “I’m wicked tired.”

[crowd laughs]

So… so we’re reading the penguin book,

and I say, “Mom’s gonna come in and brush your hair in a minute.”

And she said, “She’s not your mom.”

“She’s my mom.”

I said, “That’s what my therapist keeps telling me.” And…

[crowd laughs]

You like that joke. She didn’t like that one.

So everybody gets their own jokes.

That’s fun, you know, and…

I think there’s some truths to that joke.

Some people say we project onto our partner

the quality in our parent who is hardest on us.

I don’t think it’s entirely true.

I think the reason I married my dad is he loves me. And…

[crowd laughs]

…sometimes I wonder why ’cause I am a bad boy.

[crowd laughs]

So we’re reading the penguin book, and Jenny comes in to brush Oona’s hair.

And she… she goes, “Do you smell that?”

And I said, “Which thing?”

[crowd laughs]

And Jenny says, “Mildew.” And I say,

“I can’t really smell mildew ’cause I grew up in Massachusetts,

which is a state that’s made of mildew.”

[crowd laughs, stops]

But she’s worried about it. She goes, “I don’t think Oona can sleep in her bed

until we get the mildew situation resolved.”

I go, “Okay. Until we get it resolved, I’ll sleep in Oona’s bed,

and she can sleep in our bed.”

And to make me feel better about this,

Jenny and Oona started calling me “Mildew Man.”

[crowd laughs]

So that night,

Mildew Man is lying in his daughter’s mildew-scented bed alone,

and I’m… writing in my journal.

I like to write in my journal every few nights ’cause I find

if you write down what you’re saddest about

or angriest about, you can start to see your own life as a story.

And when you see your own life as a story, sometimes you can zoom out

and encourage the main character to make better decisions.

[crowd chuckles]

That night I wrote in my journal,

“My dad had a heart attack when he was 56.”

“His dad had a heart attack when he was 56, and today I realized,

when I turn 56,

Oona will be 19.”

The next morning, I wake up,

and I walk to the Brooklyn YMCA.

[crowd laughs]

I didn’t need directions. [sniffs]

[crowd laughs]

I followed the chlorine smell, and I walked up to the swim desk,

and I asked to speak with the director of aquatics.

And… they introduced me to a woman named Vanessa,

and I said, “Vanessa, I’d love to take a swim lesson if possible.”

She said, “I’d have to come down to the pool and evaluate your level.”

And I said, “No need.”

“You can write down zero or -20.”

“Drowning. Dead. Whatever the lowest is.”

[crowd laughs]

She said, “I would have to see it for myself.”

I said, “Is it a fetish kind of thing?”

“‘Cause I could do a sort of dry act out here at the desk.”

[crowd laughs]

I walk into the locker room. I put on my swim trunks.

I’ve never worn a Speedo. I wear sort of a speedless.

It’s bunchy and always damp, even fresh out of the dryer.

And I wear my speedless down to the pool.

The first thing Vanessa says to me is, “Where’s your swim cap?”

And I go, “I don’t have a swim cap.”

She goes, “It’s mandatory

unless you’re completely bald.”

And I said, “I don’t like how you leaned on the word ‘completely.'”


[crowd laughs]

Not even remotely bald.

I have four distinct tufts of hair that form a Voltron of hair

that lies artfully atop my head.

[crowd laughs]

This has been my hair since I was about 15.

When I was in high school,

my hair was like, “It’s stressful around here.”

We’re gonna lay off some strands.

[crowd laughs, stops]

Vanessa says, “You can borrow my extra swim cap.”

And then she pulls this little tiny swim cap

out of her bag, and she hands it to me.

It is significantly smaller than my head. Uh…

I have a deceptively large head.

When I was a kid,

the bullies nicknamed me “Mike Bigheadlia.”

[crowd laughs]

So I squeeze this tiny swim cap

onto a portion of my bigheadlia

and Vanessa points to the pool.

She says, “Hop in the instructional lane and show me your stuff.”


[crowd laughs]

I’ve established at this point I do not have stuff.

I mean, I don’t have a repertoire,

but I get in, and I just give it all I have, you know, I’m…

[crowd laughs]

…I’m pretty sure I may have been swimming towards the bottom,

and… I look like what would happen if you dropped a blender in a pool.

You know, where I’m blending the water

into a chlorine smoothie and…

[crowd laughs]

…the instructional lane is also the walkers’ lane.

So, as I’m blending,

these elderly aggressive walkers are blowing past me.

I think one of them tried to dunk my head a little bit.

And… and it’s packed.

Only in New York City is there traffic in the pool. [grunts]

I said, “Vanessa!”

“Is it always this crowded?”

She says, “No. It’s springtime. Everyone’s getting ready for the summer.”

I go, “Oh, they wanna a body like this.”

Which was a joke.

It wasn’t a stage-worthy joke.

It’s nothing I would bring to ya

at a big show here at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

[crowd laughs]

It was sort of a conversational piece of witty repartee,

designed, uh, to create a personal bond

between me and my new swim instructor.

But she did not hear it.

Uh, she said, “What?” I said, “Nothing.”

[crowd laughs]

She said, “Mike, I can’t hear you. You have to shout.”

[crowd laughs]

[screaming] I said, “Vanessa!”

[crowd laughing]

[screaming] “They want a body…

like this.”

[crowd laughs]

A joke without proper context

or softness of cadence or comedic delivery

is often a statement of pure insanity

because all 200 members of the pool community

simultaneously swiveled their heads to see

the body…

[crowd laughs]

…attached to this flamboyantly confident voice, and…

I don’t have a swimmer’s body. I have almost a drowner’s body

where it looks like I’m drowning at all times,

even when I’m not near water.

Even shirtless and dry, people are like, “Are you okay?”

You know, it’s sort of a river corpse body and so…

so, I’m blending… I’m blending water for 90 seconds

until I’m convinced I’m on the verge of my own death,

and then I stand up.

It’s about four feet of water.

And… I get out of the pool.

I dry myself off with 15 or 20 of those dishrag-size YMCA towels.

I put one under each foot ’cause Vanessa explains

there can be fungus in the puddles.

And I think, “This place is a death trap. I gotta get the hell out of here.”

I’m trying to get some cardio in now, mainlining spores.

And then I walk over to the swim desk.

I go, “Vanessa, now that you’ve evaluated my level,

is it possible we could book a swim lesson?”

She says, “I just don’t think I have time for that in my schedule.”

[crowd laughs, applauds]

Which means I had auditioned for swim lessons,

and I didn’t get the part.

[crowd laughs]


Vanessa feels bad for me. She goes, “Look, Mike.”

“If you come in maybe Wednesdays at 8 a.m.

I could probably squeeze you in for 20 minutes.”

“But if you wanna take this seriously, I would recommend you swim on your own,

five days a week.”

And I said, “I don’t think anybody swims five days a week.”

[crowd laughs]

She said, “A lot of people swim five days a week.”

I said, “I don’t even think Michael Phelps swims five days a week.”

She said, “Michael Phelps definitely swims five days a week.”

We talk about this for about 45 minutes.

[crowd laughs]

We agree to disagree.

[crowd laughs]

I started swimming one day a week.

Uh, I got into it, you know. I got my own swim cap.

I got my goggles with a lifetime guarantee to never fit your face once ever.

I got flip-flops for the fungus puddles and a lock for my locker.

And a bag with a pocket for wet bathing suits and fresh produce and…

[crowd laughs]

Every Wednesday at 8 a.m. I’d swim.

Then I’d go to this juice place on the corner,

and I’d get a big juice, the size of a horse bucket.

And I started to think,

“This is who I am now. I swim. I juice.”

“I’m of the juice generation. I’m juicy. I should get those pants…

[crowd laughs]

…that say ‘Juicy’ on the ass.” That’s sort of who I am now.

I think people are starting to get it, and, um…

[crowd laughs]

My favorite part about swimming is no matter how bad you are at swimming,

when you’re underwater

and you kick off the wall…

for those first few moments,

you feel like an underwater explorer.

Or someone who knows how to swim.

[crowd laughs]

Then your body sort of floats to the top

’cause the human body has neutral buoyancy.

I love how in the pool, there’s no phones, there’s no emails, there’s no calendars.

In some ways, there’s no time.

I love how, sometimes in life, everything feels so heavy.

But when you’re in the water, it’s so light.

Sometimes everything in your life is so loud,

but when you’re underwater, it’s so quiet.

Sometimes you can even hear yourself think.

I remember one day, I thought, “I’m just so lucky

to be alive.”

So, for six months, I swim one day a week.

And then one day, there’s a torrential downpour in Brooklyn.

It was so bad it was raining in our kitchen.

I don’t know if you’ve been in a kitchen, but the weather is generally mild.

It almost…

[crowd laughs]

…it almost never rains in kitchens, and so…


…we were alarmed, and we called a friend who works in construction.

We said, “Is it dangerous for us to live in this building?”

It’s, like, a 100-year-old apartment building in Brooklyn.

She walks up onto the roof of the building.

She goes, “There’s holes in the roof and holes on the side of the building.”

And she walks into Oona’s bedroom. She goes, “I think that might be mold.”

We got it tested, and it turned out it was black mold,

which is the dangerous kind.

It’s tied to asthma and all kinds of problems. And they said,

“We’d recommend you move out immediately until this is resolved.”

So we move into an Airbnb, which, by the way, no breakfast…

[crowd laughs]

…which is one of the letters.

[crowd laughing]

[crowd applauds]

This is a wildly misleading acronym.

It’s like if you showed up to an AA meeting,

and they’re like, “We’re live-streaming.” And you’re like…

[crowd laughs]

“I had heard it was sort of a private thing.”

And they’re like, “Pop open a wine cooler. We’re gonna dish some goss.”

[crowd laughs]

I… I had found this Airbnb. I have a kind of an obsessive personality.

If you don’t know someone who’s obsessive, you need to know it’s a very sexy quality.

Like, your husband will disappear down an Airbnb rabbit hole for seven hours,

and when he comes up for air, he’ll eat a whole box of Triscuits.

And you’ll think, “I wanna bang this guy.”

You know, that’s… so that is what obsessive means. And…

But this place I found was no good, you know.

Like, it didn’t look like the photos.

It’s almost like they use one of those lenses

where they photograph a different apartment, and…

[crowd laughs]

…and there was no thermostat.

There was heat, but there was no way to indicate

how much heat you think might be a good idea

if you wanted to stay alive.

And so, it’s three in the morning, and it’s 90 degrees.

No, I know. 90 degrees.

And so, Jenny, Oona, and I are all wide awake.

And I’m desperate. I’m just wandering in the building,

trying to find a way to change the temperature.

Around 4 a.m. I find a communal thermostat in the back of the lobby,

but it is padlocked behind plexiglass.

And I’ve never done anything like this in my life.

I Hulk-smash the plexiglass.


[crowd laughs]

And then I change the thermostat to zero,

and… I save my family’s lives.

But… the point of the story is actually that the next morning,

I overslept, and I didn’t make it to my swim lesson for the first time.

And then the next week I didn’t go to my swim lesson again

’cause it was so fun not going the first time.

[crowd laughs]

And then I stopped swimming.

And I think about this a lot, like, in a general sense, like,

“Why do we stop doing the thing that we know we should be doing?”

For me, I prioritize the thing that’ll keep me alive in the short-term

over the thing that’ll keep me alive in the long-term.

‘Cause if I’m not alive in the short-term, I won’t be alive in the long-term.

[crowd laughs]

So I stop swimming.

But I still had the appetite of someone who swims.

[crowd laughs]

Which is to say I was eating quite a bit. And I was, uh, juicing.


[crowd chuckles]

…and I went for my annual checkup,

and Dr. Walsh asked me to step on the scale,

which, for whatever reason, is still the old-fashioned abacus thing.

Like, you’re not 1,000 pounds. You’re not zero pounds.

[crowd laughing]

You’re not 970 pounds. You’re not 21 pounds.

You’re not 662 pounds. You’re not 58 pounds.

You’re not 411 pounds. You’re not 117 pounds.

I’m like, “What time is it?”

[crowd laughs]

He’s like, “It’s not two o’clock. It’s not six o’clock.”

“It’s not 2:15. It’s not 4:45.”

[crowd laughing]

Dr. Walsh was deeply concerned about my weight.

Uh, he said, “You’ve gained a lot of weight in the last year.”

I said, “That’s surprising ’cause I have been swimming…

[crowd laughs]

…as well as juicing.”

And… he took my blood,

and then I took his ’cause it was a sort of a sleepover theme. And…

[crowd laughs]

…he calls me about a week later. I was in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio.

He said, “I got your blood results back, and your bad cholesterol is bad.”

And I go, “That lines up.” And he said, “Your good cholesterol is bad.”

I said, “Nobody’s perfect.” And…

[crowd laughs]

…he said, “You have type 2 diabetes.”

When he said this, I had that shortness of breath I was telling you about earlier,

but there are few times in my life where I’ve experienced it to an extreme.

When I was 20, I was driving home from college for Christmas break,

and I pulled over at a rest stop to pee, and there was blood in my pee.

I had never seen blood look like this.

The moment it would hit the water, it would explode like fireworks.

And I was so worried I sped home, and I woke up my parents.

And my dad is a doctor. My mom is a nurse,

so they know bloody fireworks are not a good sign.

My dad takes me first thing in the morning to see a urologist friend of his.

And the urologist asked me to take my pants down,

and he’s looking around.

I start to chime in with my own theories ’cause I find doctors enjoy that

when you view the medical visit as sort of a collab.

[crowd laughs]

I said to my urologist, and I can never unsay this.

I said, “Is it possible that the blood

is from me masturbating too often?”

[crowd laughs]

So that’s something I said.

[crowd laughs]

Out loud.

[crowd laughs]

[screaming] To my Dad’s friend!

[crowd laughs]



…so based on his reaction,

I would venture to guess that if a urology drinking game exists,

that might be The Phrase That Pays because

he was entirely unfazed by this question. He goes, “No, that’s not it.”

And then he pounded a tumbler of whiskey

from behind his desk, and…

[crowd laughs]

…and he said, “But I’m worried about the blood.”

He goes, “I’ll have you come into the hospital tomorrow morning

and give you anesthesia for a cystoscopy.” I didn’t know what this meant.

It’s when they take a camera, and they stick it through your penis

to look into your bladder.

You’re probably thinking, “Mike, a camera can’t fit…

[crowd laughs]


…through a penis.” Good news and bad news on that front.


[crowd laughs]

The good news is it can. The bad news is the same.

[crowd laughs]

So the next morning I wake up at 5:30 a.m.

My mom drives me into the hospital, and I’m…

I’m shivering, you know.

I’m in the cloth smock on the surgical gurney.

And the nurse puts the IV in, and I fall asleep.

I have to say. Even shivering and on drugs at the hospital,

I still always enjoy a nice nap.

[crowd laughs]

So, while I’m under,

the urologist finds something with the scope

and decides he’ll keep me under longer so they can take it out.

So as I’m coming to, the urologist explains

that they found something in my bladder, and it could be cancer. They don’t know.

And they’re gonna do a biopsy on it, and they should know in a few days.

So, from December 22nd, 1999,

until December 27th, 1999, I just thought the worst.

I just thought, “I’m gonna die.” [inhales]

And I… I went into my bedroom at my parents’ house,

and… and I had the shortness of breath,

but… in a way that I’ve never experienced.

Like… like I didn’t even talk to anybody.

Like, I didn’t talk to my parents. I didn’t call my friends.

I’m someone who talks quite a bit. I mean, I gathered you here.

[crowd laughs]


But when I thought I was gonna die…

[hesitates] …it just silenced me.

The biopsy came back a few days later, and it turns out it was cancer.

It was a malignant tumor in my bladder, but I actually was very lucky

’cause they caught it early enough, so they decided they wouldn’t do

chemo or radiation because maybe it was an anomaly.

And maybe it was ’cause I go for a regular cystoscopy to this day,

and it hasn’t come back.

But when Dr. Walsh tells me I have diabetes,

it flashes me back to this moment.

Not because cancer and diabetes are the same,

but they’re both comorbidities, and the thing about comorbidities,

sometimes they team up

to form a single… [chuckles]

…morbidity, you know.

It’s, “Cancer to diabetes!”

“Diabetes to heart disease. Score!”

And they all high-five.

[crowd applauds]

And then I’m dead.

And… when Dr. Walsh tells me I have diabetes,

I’m actually walking from my hotel room to the front desk of the hotel

to pick up a pizza I had ordered for delivery.

And… I’m not proud of that.

I mean, I have bad habits.

Like, for starters, this is my job.

I mean, I do this usually in cities where I don’t live.

I get up here. I work up an appetite walking over here.

Sometimes I go over here.

I slide down that thing.

[crowd laughs]

I pretend to wrestle.

[crowd laughs, stops]

Typically I get back to my hotel around eleven o’clock at night

and the thing about healthy food

is it goes to bed early.

[crowd laughs]

Healthy food’s like, “I’m heading in for the night.”

“I got a big morning providing nutrients.”

Unhealthy food is like, “I’m gonna hang.”

“I saw a microwave on the corner. I’m gonna pop in and see what happens.”

[crowd laughs]

And pizza stays up all night. Pizza loves to party, and I love pizza.

Like, my problem with pizza is when I see a pizza,

I can only view it as a single serving.

And more often than not, it was designed for a group,

and I’m physically drawn to it. It’s almost sexual.

Like, I wouldn’t have sex with a pizza,

but if I ate a pizza alone, I wouldn’t mention it to my wife.

Does that make sense? Like, I…

[crowd laughs]

…I love pizza so much I get excited when I see the word “plaza.”

[crowd laughs, applauds]

‘Cause the word “pizza” itself is pretty exciting.

It has pizza slices in it.

Each of the Zs is two slices.

The A is a slice. It’s five slices in one word.

Which is a rarely used literary device that I invented…

called “onomatopizza.” Now…

[crowd laughs, applauds]

Dr. Walsh made a series of recommendations.

He goes, “I’d like to put you on a statin for your cholesterol

and a diabetes medication.”

I said, “I’d prefer to deal with this without medication

’cause I’m a doctor also, and…”

[crowd laughs]

I said, “I prefer to just sort of try to lose weight on my own

and see if I can reverse the diabetes.”

And he said, “I’m just not optimistic.”

[crowd laughs]

He said, “It’d have to be so drastic. You’d have to cut sugar, fries.”

Then I started thinking about sugar fries, which apparently aren’t technically food.

Then I started thinking, maybe they could be a food.

It’s a beautiful combination of ingredients.

There’s an obvious theme song.

♪ Sugar fries, sugar fries Sug-sugar fries, sugar fries in my eyes ♪

Dr. Walsh says, “Are you listening to me?”

And I said, “Obviously I’m listening to you,

but I’m also listening to the song I just wrote in my head.”

“About vegetables.”

I thought it was too early to spring the sugar fries concept on him.

[crowd laughs, stops]

The next morning I fly home.

And Jenny and I take Oona to her first swim lesson,

and after the lesson,

they let the grown-ups come in the shallow end with the kids,

and Oona goes, “Dad, let’s talk underwater.”

I go, “Okay.”

Then we go underwater, and all I hear is “Blah blah blah.”

She says, “What did I say?”

I go, “I don’t know.”

She says, “I love you, Dad.”

[crowd reacts]

I said, “I love you too, Oona.”

That night we’re lying in bed.

We’re reading a book about the days of the week and…

sometimes when Oona doesn’t know a word, she’ll just say another word.

And she said, “The days… of us.”

And I thought, “That’s better.”

After she falls asleep, I…

[inhales, exhales]

…I started to have my shortness of breath, thinking about the diabetes diagnosis.

And I… I take out my journal, and I opened it up.

And I pick up a pen, and I write,

“I think I may die soon.”

And the next morning, I get a call from my mom

that my dad had another heart attack, and he’s okay.

Apparently he’s getting the hang of it.

[crowd laughs]

He was working at the hospital, and he felt it coming on,

and he walked into the emergency room, and he was like, “Hey.”

Uh, like… I mean, I don’t know exactly what he said,

but it’s like a fireman walking into the station, “I’m on fire.”

“We all know what to do.” And…

[crowd laughs]

So I said, “Mom, should I come home?”

And she goes, “No, he’s doing okay,

and you’re coming home next week for Christmas.”

So, about a week later, I’m driving Jenny and Oona home for Christmas,

which is always sort of involved, the family events,

’cause Jenny’s an introvert, and I’m an extrovert.

An extrovert is someone who gets energy from being around other people,

and an introvert doesn’t like you.


[crowd laughs]

…she might like you, but she’s gonna need me

to explain why we’re leaving. And…

it was Christmas, and Jenny’s Jewish, so I have to explain.

Like, there’s this guy, and…

[crowd laughs]

…he was born in a barn. That usually flies under the radar.

This one went wide. Kings showed up, wise men.

Uh, although they were Jewish. Could have been the Weismanns, you know.

So, there’s kings, the Weissmans, everyone is there.

They are kvetching, and kvelling, and… I don’t know why. It’s not God. And…

[crowd laughs]

…and I’m certainly no sort of authority in any of this.

Although I’ve got more interested in Jesus as I’ve gotten older,

which is why I brought you here this evening. Uh…

[crowd laughs]

There’s a pamphlet under your seat. No, it’s a…

[laughs, applauds]

No, the truth is that my family doesn’t even do a very religious Christmas.

I would say, if anything, the theme is just, like, Chicken Parmesan.

Like, we eat so much of it.

[crowd laughs]

And that year, it was a charged subject, you know.

My dad just had a heart attack, and the menu was the same, you know.

Chicken Parmesan and ziti and garlic bread,

which are all basically the same food in different shapes. And…

my father says, “Michael.”

“Please pass the Chicken Parmesan.”

And, of course, my dad just had a heart attack,

but he’d also already had a serving of Chicken Parmesan.

And so I’m holding it, but I’m not passing it

’cause it almost feels like I’m holding, like, a bowl of guns.

[crowd laughs]

And the tension is rising, and finally I say, “Vince.”

We call my dad Vince. I go, “Vince,

that’s enough Chicken Parmesan.”

Which I’m pretty sure is a deleted scene from The Godfather.


[crowd laughs]

…Vince had… [chuckles]

…Vince had the perfect response.

He said, “Michael.”

“I wanna talk to you about your type 2 diabetes.”

And I go, “No, I’m working on it.”

“I’m trying to change my diet like you are.”

And then my brother Joe goes, “You know, Mike, you should write a will.”

And I thought, “How did we get here?”

I mean, you have to be really close to someone

when you tell them you have a disease for their response to be,

“I’d love to have some of your stuff.”

[crowd laughs]


So that night we’re saying goodbye to my folks,

and I have a fear

when I’m saying goodbye to my dad that it could be goodbye, you know.

I said, “Mom, Dad.”

“Take care.”

[crowd laughs, stops]


I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to say I love you to my parents,

but… it is.

And sometimes I feel like we get so close to it.

Like, few years ago, I called my mom after a friend of ours died.

I go, “Mom, I’m so sorry about John Harding.”

And she said, “We were lucky because last week

he knew it’d be the last time we’d speak on the phone,

so we were able to tell him we loved him.”

[crowd laughs]

I… I thought maybe I’ve cracked the code.

Maybe all you need is the approximate date of your own death.

You… you just need a literal deadline.

So… I’m thinking about all this as I’m driving home late that night.

Oona is asleep in the back.

And I say to my wife, I say, “Clo,

should we write a will?”

And she doesn’t respond. Jenny and I don’t have this in common.

When people ask me questions,

I feel a social responsibility to reply,

and she doesn’t have that.

I mean, she ghosted me in person. And so…

[crowd laughs]

…so I just took matters into my own hands.

I called a lawyer who writes wills. We’ll just call him Will.

And Jenny and I are sitting with Will at our kitchen table,

and it gets very serious right away.

He says, “What happens if Mike gets hit by a bus?”

I said, “I don’t know. I guess Jen gets the money?”

He said, “What happens if you and Jen get hit by the same bus?”

[crowd laughs]

I said, “Our daughter Oona gets the money?”

He said, “Who’s in charge of Oona?”

I said, “The bus driver?”

[crowd laughs]

And then it was silent for about 40 minutes.

[crowd laughs]

And of course you can get hit by the bus. I mean, this isn’t an outrageous scenario.

A few years ago I’m in the back of an Uber here in New York City.

And the driver makes a left-hand turn onto the Manhattan Bridge

and hits a pedestrian.

[crowd reacts]

I know. She was okay, but she went down hard,

and then she popped up.

And said, “I’m good!”

You know, ’cause New Yorkers are resilient

and often drunk but…

[crowd laughs]

…but it was shocking. I mean, the first thing I thought was “One star.”

You know what I mean, like, I…


There’s an infinite number of ways any of us could die.

I read about a woman who died from a coconut…

[clicks tongue]

…falling on her head, which is the ultimate example

of “She did not see that coming.” And…

[crowd laughs]

…and my question is, with due all respect,

if you know someone who was killed by a coconut,

should we eat the coconut? You know what I mean?

‘Cause, well, it’s ripe.

I read about a guy who died… [laughs]

…during a cockroach-eating competition.

No, I know. Which part of Florida was is it in?

It was Deerfield Beach. It doesn’t matter. The point is…

[crowd laughs]

…we’re sitting with Will at our kitchen table,

and we’re filling out the “death” questionnaire.

And the first few were easy. It’s like, name. “All right.”

Email. “Come on!”

Day you were married. “We gotta look that up.” You know, and…


…Will says,

“I’m gonna go,

but I’ll leave the death questionnaire here on the kitchen table,

and if you fill it out in a few days and get it back to me,

we’ll just be done with this.”

So, the death questionnaire sits on our kitchen table for a week

and then a month.

And then three years.

[crowd laughs]

That’s how much Jenny and I don’t wanna discuss that.

But we have to. I mean, at that point, Oona was six years old.

When I was six, my grandparents died.

The Challenger exploded. I mean, that happened…

I grew up in the ’80s. That was live on television at school.

The teacher strolled the TVs in the class and said,

“Today, seven brave astronauts are going to space.”


we’re gonna watch The Sound of Music, you know.

And we were six. We’re like…


…”Where did they go?”

[crowd laughs]

I went to a Catholic school, and so the teacher said,

“They’re in a better place.” And I was like, “Better than space?”

“I don’t know.”

[crowd laughs]

When I was a kid, when someone died, that’s what the grown-up said.

“They’re in a better place.”

And I always took solace in that until I started to feel like the people

who were telling me that were not as confident as I had originally thought.

So when I’m 21, one of our best friends dies.

Mr. Naples. He was like a second father. He was at every Christmas Parmesan.

[crowd laughs]

He was… [laughs]

When my parents went away on vacation once a year,

Joe and I would stay with Mr. Naples, and I loved it.

It was my favorite week of the year ’cause he was so fun and he’s funny.

And he was the first person who, in my life,

who would let me in on grown-up jokes, and he was sort of, like, rich.

You’d ring his doorbell, and it wouldn’t be, “Bing bong.” It’d be…

[mimicking loud doorbell]

[crowd laughing]

We were like, “This dude is rich.”

“That is how you spend money right there.”

You get yourself a good doorbell game.

[crowd laughs]

When Mr. Naples is 58, he dies suddenly.

It was devastating, you know.

I remember being at the church, looking at his body, and it’s embalmed.

And I don’t think I’d seen a body embalmed up close.

I’m thinking, “Is this the best plan?”

Just one last facial.

[crowd laughs]

Like, can we talk about the embalming thing?

Like, the person doesn’t look good, right?

They look puffy and…

If we’re gonna manipulate the body, why not taxidermy? Like,

“So sad about Mr. Naples. But he’s catching that football!”

You know what I mean? Something with a little energy.

Give him a win on the way out.

[crowd laughs]


So after the funeral, we went to a friend’s house,

and everybody started drinking.

I remember it so well ’cause my parents don’t really drink.

But two hours later, my parents just keep drinking.

An hour after that, my parents are drunk.

I mean, I’ve never seen them like this.

They’re spitting when they talk. They’re slurring their words.

It was the first time it hit me. I don’t know if anyone can handle death.

So Jenny and I never finished writing our will,

but I did start to see a nutritionist, which is not the same thing.

[chuckles] Uh, but I think it’s a positive step.

If you haven’t seen a nutritionist, you’re not missing too much.

They know the same stuff as us. It’s…

[crowd laughs]

Imagine your most annoying friend,

and then imagine they start charging you.

[crowd laughs]

She’s like, “You know what’s healthy? Vegetables.”

I’m like, “I had heard that

from everyone. Have you been talking to everyone?”

[crowd laughs]

But she was very encouraging. Her name is Christina.

And she got very granular right away.

She goes, “How soft are your stools?”

And I said, “I don’t have a point of comparison.” Uh…

“Softer than a dog, harder than a pigeon?”

“I mean, what… what’s the metric you’re looking for here?”

“I didn’t know we were supposed to keep track. Did I miss a meeting?”

I’m worried about the person who has a really good answer,

like, “Delicate.” You’re like, “Uh.”

[crowd laughs]

She said, “Do you have any pre-existing conditions?”

I said, “I had bladder cancer. I have type 2 diabetes.”

“I eat sugar fries.”

[crowd laughs, stops]

She said, “How is your sleep?” And I said, “Well…”

And that’s a whole thing. Like…

If you’re laughing, you know the larger answer to that one.

I’ve talked about that in some of the other shows.

And if you’re not laughing, the short version is

that I have a very serious sleepwalking disorder.

It got so bad when I was 25 years old,

I jumped through a second-story window of a La Quinta Inn

in Walla Walla, Washington.

When I say through, I mean through the glass.

I mean, I ended up in the emergency room.

They took glass out of my legs.

I was diagnosed with a rare thing called REM sleep behavior disorder.

So when I go to bed at night, I take medication,

and I sleep in a sleeping bag up to my neck.

And I wear mittens, so I can’t open the sleeping bag.

[crowd laughs]

The long version is…

[crowd laughs]

Fine. I don’t know.

Like, I got a bad case of the “jumping out the windows,” but…

[crowd laughs]


Christina asked a really thought-provoking question.

She goes, “When do you get your best night’s sleep?”

And I said, “When I read ’cause when I read, my brain is like,

‘I’m out.'” You know what I mean? Like,

I was under the impression there was a film adaptation.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

But it got me in the habit of reading every night,

but what happened was, I’d read a book, and then I would… fall asleep,

and my lamp would still be on.

And so I got an app on my phone, and it is called WeMo.

It’s like a simple thing where you set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes

to shut off your lamp or whatever is plugged into the wall.

So, I set my WeMo, and I get in my sleeping bag.

I take my medication, and I’m engrossed in the book.

Inevitably, I fall asleep.

While I was asleep, the lamp would go… [clicks tongue]

One night… I didn’t fall asleep.

So I set my WeMo.

I get in my sleeping bag. I take my medication.

And I’m engrossed in the characters and the story,

and as the plot is reaching its climax…

[clicks tongue]

In some ways, it was the closest I’ve come to experiencing my own death.

[crowd laughs]

I was thinking that WeMo could actually market themselves

as a sort of like a death simulator.

[crowd laughs]

They could call it WeDie.

[crowd laughs]

Or WeNoMo.

So, now… [laughs]

[crowd laughs]

…so, now I’m going to a nutritionist. I’m doing WeNoMo.

I’m monitoring my stools. [gulps]

I started to think about this quote that has stuck with me for a long time.

About 20 years ago, the great musician Warren Zevon

was dying of terminal lung cancer, and he knew it.

It was a very sad story,

and I was watching him be interviewed by David Letterman.

Letterman said to him,

“You know, experiencing this the way that you are,

what can you teach us about life and death?”

And Warren Zevon said,

“Enjoy every sandwich.”

I think for the year that I started to see a nutritionist,

I started to enjoy every sandwich. Like, when I would eat, I would just eat.

I’d still eat pizza, but I wouldn’t have the whole pie.

I’d have one slice or two slices. And in some ways, I enjoyed it more.

This idea that I could sip the nectar of the gods

but not drink the whole jug.

[crowd laughs]

And after about a year of this, I went for my annual checkup,

and Dr. Walsh took my blood.

And I came back a few days later, and he said, “You know, Mike,

I’m surprised to report you actually have reversed your type 2 diabetes.”

“But I want you to blow into this tube.”

And… [laughs]

…and so I did it. I went… [blows]

…and he goes, “Do it again.” I went… [blows]

He said, “I wanna show you something.” He brings me over his computer screen.

He said, “When people your age

have healthy breathing and they blow into that tube,

the line goes a little bit like this.”

“And when people your age have obstructed breathing pathways,

it looks a little bit more like this.”

“And when you do it…

[crowd laughs]

…it looks like this.”

[crowd laughs]

And he said, “I don’t know what to tell you.”

“‘Cause in the short-term, there’s not much we can do.”

“We’ve already sent you to see a cardiologist,

but in the long-term, with your history of bladder cancer and diabetes…

it’s just not ideal.”

[crowd laughs]


I’d never heard my doctor sound so worried

but have no plan.

And that night, I’m lying in bed with Oona after she’s fallen asleep,

and I’m experiencing the shortness of breath.

Except this time, I’m thinking about how I’ll be thinking about my breath

for the rest of my life.

The same way since I was 20,

I’ve been thinking about the color of the water in the toilet when I pee.

The same way since I was 25, before I fall asleep,

I have a sinking fear that I might hurt myself in my sleep.

I take out my journal, and I open it up.

I pick up my pen.

I… I can’t write anything.

And the next morning, I wake up,

and I walk to the Brooklyn YMCA, and I start swimming five days a week.

And you’re probably thinking, “Nobody swims five days a week.”

I’m telling you, I swim five days a week.

You’re thinking, “Michael Phelps doesn’t swim five days a week.”

I’m telling you, Michael Phelps and I…

[crowd laughs]

…separately and at the same level, swim five days a week.

I picked up this book, uh, on breathing.

It’s called Breath. Sort of a simple start.

And, uh… I started practicing holding my breath

for increasingly long increments of time,

which is practiced by yoga instructors and middle-school bullies.

And… I got better and better at it.

Sometimes I would practice underwater at the Y.

And one day, I’m swimming underwater, two-thirds the length of a lane,

and as I surface, I see a sign that I’d never noticed,

and the sign says, “No breath-holding.”


[crowd laughs]

I thought, “That’s so odd.” I go, “Vanessa.”

“What does that mean? No breath-holding.”

She said, “Oh, there were these two guys last summer

taking turns holding their breath like as a competition,

and then one of them died.”

[crowd laughs]

I just want to stop you right there.



You know, we’re laughing about a lot of things this evening,

but right now, I think the appropriate thing

would be a moment of silence for this man who died holding his breath.

Okay, we’re just gonna stop the show for a second. Um…

[crowd laughs]

[man 1 laughing loudly]

I don’t wanna single anybody out,

but, uh, could we bring the house lights up for a second, please?

Sir… uh, sir.

[crowd laughing]


Sir, we’re doing something over here right now.

We’re having a moment of silence for a man

who died holding his breath in the YMCA pool.

And you’re doing something entirely different.

So, if you could just be more respectful

of this man who died…

holding his breath.

[man 2 laughs loudly]

Okay, you’re not helping.

[crowd laughs]



[woman laughing loudly]

You know who’s not laughing right now?


Do you know who’s not laughing right now?

This man who died holding his breath in the YMCA pool.

Let’s just do a hard reset. Um…

‘Cause I think this is a well-intended group of people.

And I think if we just

get together as a group and focus, I think we can do this.

Let’s just take a deep breath. [inhales deeply]

Not too long. If there’s one thing we’ve learned…

[crowd laughs]

…from this man who died, it is to be judicious with the length of one’s breath when holding one’s breath.

Uh, if you could just repeat after me.

We’re gonna have a moment of silence.

[crowd repeats]

Thank you.

For this man who died.

[crowd] For this man who died.

Holding his breath.

[crowd] Holding his breath. In the YMCA pool.

[crowd] In the YMCA pool.


Once we have achieved.

[crowd] Once we have achieved.

This moment of silence.

[crowd] This moment of silence.

We will be rewarded.

[crowd] We will be rewarded.

With one humorous detail about his death.

[crowd laughs]

[crowd stops]

After he died, his body disintegrated within six hours.

The point is… [laughs] …the point is after I surfaced from the YMCA pool, and I see the no-breath-holding sign, I dry myself off. I pull off my swim cap. I walk into the locker room. I pull down my swim trunks.

[crowd laughs, applauds]


[laughing] And I sit on the bench, and I’m reminded of the old man when I was a kid. And for the first time in my life, I thought, “Maybe he knew something I didn’t know.”

[crowd laughs]

He was the oldest man I’d ever seen. He’d lived a long life. He’d taken care of his body. He swam. He had sensitive skin.

[crowd laughs]

Here I was, this seven-year-old kid laughing at this old man, but maybe the roadmap to my own maturity was in the veins of this man’s testicles.

[crowd laughs]

[crowd stops]

The old man is dead, and we’re all the old man. We will be if we’re lucky. Any of us could be the man who died holding his breath in the YMCA pool, or the woman who died from a coconut falling on her head. Any of us could be diagnosed with terminal cancer. All we’re promised is this moment right now, together at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. These are the days of us. And what I wanna tell my pare…

[loud bang]

[crowd laughs, applauds]

[“Red Hearse” by Red Hearse playing]

♪ I’ll be better than I was before ♪

♪ A natural, about to burst out the door ♪

♪ I never let you go This all of our needs before ♪

♪ It’s getting deeper We’re caught up in the undertone ♪

♪ So come on ♪

♪ And if you can’t hold me ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it… ♪

[mouthing] Thank you.

♪ Like I’m riding in a red hearse ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it, head-first ♪

♪ Like I’m riding in a red hearse ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it, head-first ♪

♪ Like I’m riding in a red hearse ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it, head-first ♪

♪ Like I’m riding in a red hearse ♪

♪ Wake up in the midnight ♪

♪ Heavy heart, hit another red light ♪

♪ The last flowers, at the first sight ♪

♪ The first time I saw you Gave me half life ♪

♪ You the only one I really want now ♪

♪ You the only one to make me slow down ♪

♪ You the only one to make me slow down ♪

♪ I’ll be better than I was before ♪

♪ A natural, about to burst out the door ♪

♪ I never let you go This all of our needs before ♪

♪ It’s getting deeper We’re caught up in the undertone ♪

♪ So come on ♪

♪ And if you can’t hold me ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it ♪

♪ Head-first ♪

♪ Like I’m riding in a red hearse ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it, head-first ♪

♪ Like I’m riding in a red hearse ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it, head-first ♪

♪ Like I’m riding in a red hearse ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it, head-first ♪

♪ Like I’m riding in a red hearse ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it, head-first ♪

♪ Like I’m riding in a red hearse ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it, head-first ♪

♪ Like I’m riding in a red hearse ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it, head-first ♪

♪ Like I’m riding in a red hearse ♪

♪ I’ll dive in it, head-first ♪

♪ Like I’m riding in… ♪


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