Mike Birbiglia: Thank God for Jokes (2017) | Transcript

"Thank God for Jokes" by Mike Birbiglia is a humorous exploration of comedy, celebrity anecdotes, and the nuances of joke-telling
Mike Birbiglia: Thank God for Jokes

In “Mike Birbiglia: Thank God for Jokes,” Mike Birbiglia humorously shares his experiences and insights on the essence of jokes, their impact, and the delicate balance of comedy. Opening with an introduction by Jimmy Kimmel at the 22nd Annual Gotham Awards, Birbiglia sets the tone with light-hearted banter about Matt Damon, leading into a night filled with celebrity interactions and the complexities of being a comedian. Through stories from his life, including the challenges of being punctual and the serious considerations surrounding comedy highlighted by the Charlie Hebdo incident, Birbiglia examines the power of jokes to connect, challenge, and sometimes offend. His recounting includes personal anxieties about performing, the art of joke-telling, and encounters with notable figures, offering a thoughtful exploration of how humor can bridge divides, provoke thought, and tread the line between laughter and controversy.

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[crowd chattering]

Hi, I’m Jimmy Kimmel. Can I get everyone to be quiet, please? Can everyone be quiet? Please? Everyone? John. Where is John Krasinski? John, please tell everyone to be quiet and pay attention. Could you do it a little bit louder, please? Thank you, John. Good evening and welcome to the 22nd Annual Gotham Awards. You are there tonight to celebrate the best independent films of 2012 and Matt Damon, whom we know from such influential independent films as Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, Ocean’s Thirteen, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Hypocrisy, and The Legend of Bagger Vance. No one embodies the spirit of indie like Matt Damon. Anyway, I know you’re eating and telling your friends about how much other people’s money you lost this year. But we’re about to get started, and I would like you to pay attention because I think you will be happy you did. The man you’re about to enjoy is very funny. He, too, is an independent filmmaker. He made an excellent movie this year called Sleepwalk with Me, and he is here tonight to entertain you more than Matt Damon could ever dream of doing, quite frankly. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your drinks down for five seconds and give a very warm welcome to Mike Birbiglia.

[cheers and applause]

So… Okay. Thank you. Thank you, guys. Well… That was four years ago.

[audience laughing]

And the reason I show you that is ’cause that video played before what ended up being one of the strangest nights of my life. Because when Jimmy Kimmel said John Krasinski’s name, John Krasinski was there, and he stood up, and he told everyone to be quiet. And by “everyone,” I mean, Matt Damon. And Amy Adams and Claire Danes and Harvey Weinstein, all these fancy people. And somehow, I was hosting this event. I’m not being falsely modest. I get that we’re all here right now. [chuckles] But I also know, at some point this week, you told someone where you were going tonight and that person said, “Who?” And you said some things I’d done. They said, “What’s that?” You said, “Go back to bed, Grandma,” ’cause she’s sleeping, but… I’m a niche, I understand that. But… this is a really big deal for me, and I was so anxious for the week leading up to the event. And I couldn’t sleep, I was short of breath. The night before, I said to my wife, “Clo…” Her name is Jen. I said– I said, “Clo… I think this might be a disaster.” She said, “Mo… why do you think that?” I said, “I’ve been a comedian for 15 years, and what I’ve learned is that you should never tell jokes to the people who the jokes are about.” My wife had the perfect answer for this, and I’ll tell you what it was later.

But jokes are something I think about all the time. They’re a volatile type of speech. Just look at the news. The Charlie Hebdo incident two years ago where these ten satirists were killed for drawing a disrespectful cartoon of Muhammad, who the killers believed to be the prophet of Allah, their lord and savior, which, by the way, he might be. I have no horse in that race. Muhammad seems like a nice guy. Jesus was popular with 12 dudes. Buddha’s confusing. I’m pretty sure he’s an elephant or a sumo wrestler. The point is… that these were comedy writers like me, and they were murdered. I was so shocked by this. At the time, I remember talking to everybody about it. And my mother said to me, “Can’t these writers just write jokes that aren’t offensive?” And I thought about it. I said, “I’m not sure that’s possible, because all jokes are offensive… to someone.” I’ll give you an example. My wife does this thing that drives me crazy. She’s late for everything, and I’m an on-time person. Round of applause if you’re a late person, typically. Few people. So, what late people don’t understand about us on-time people is that we hate you. And… the reason why we hate you is that it’s so easy to be on time. You just have to be early, and early lasts for hours. And on-time just lasts a second, and then you’re late forever.

Welcome to the show. Thanks for being here. Thanks for coming. We were just talking about you. So, late people always try to re-brand “late.” They’ll say, “I’m fashionably late,” which is like saying, “I’m stylishly racist.” Which is another thing about late people. A lot of them are racist. And the reason these late racists drive me crazy… is they’re often so good-looking. I mean, you ever get ready for something with a late person? They look into their closet like it’s Narnia. Like it’s an infinite well of possibilities. On-time people are just like, “This is what I look like.” Sorry about that. The reason I’m an expert in this is that I was raised by late people. My parents are laties, and– When I was a kid, my mom used to pick me up from my swim class at the YMCA, 90 minutes after the class would end. I know. She was like the cable company. “I will pick you up between the hours of 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.” I was a ten-year-old child just standing on the street corner in a dripping wet bathing suit and flip-flops. My mom wasn’t on the way. She was at the book club talking about The Color Purple. I was like, “Mom, I am the color purple!” One year, we went on a family vacation, and we left for the airport 45 minutes before our flight took off. We lived 45 minutes away from the airport. My dad shouted at the security guard like it was his fault. This is the ’80s, when airport security consisted of a high-five and a pat on the ass. It was a different time for late people. It was the golden age. And then I married a late person, like I said, and it’s an issue. This week, we were heading to yoga, which is why I look excellent and feel excellent. I yearn for the day that doesn’t get a laugh. I’m not even sure why we’re laughing, but I’ll go with it. So… we’re heading to yoga. My wife says, “Wait for me, I’m not ready.” Which is silly ’cause you don’t have to be ready for yoga, ’cause all it is is trying not to fart while stretching. And that’s my life already without the stretching. And clearly… clearly, I don’t belong in yoga. It wasn’t designed for male humans. And you can tell when the instructor says, “I want you to reach your hand back towards your bra strap, and then lift up your leg unless you’re on your period.” I’m like, “I’m pretty sure none of that applies to me. I’ve only had my period once. I’m not even sure that’s what that was.” Some of the poses are outrageous. The other day, the instructor goes, “I want you to push your chest into the mat and your butt in the air, and then pull up the front of your mat like a slut.” I was like, “All right.” I was trying to be a team player. I was like, “I’m a bad girl. I’m a yoga slut down on my luck… trying to forge a mind-body connection.” And then she goes, “That’s right, pull up the front of your mat like a sled.” Minor adjustment. Let me just close my butt. So, my wife says, “Wait for me, I’m not ready.” And I held my ground. I go, “I’m not gonna wait for you ’cause you’re a late person. I’m an on-time person. I don’t want that entering into our marriage ’cause I feel like it’s going really well so far.” Try to put a positive spin on it. And she goes, “Fine.” Passive-aggressive– classic for late people. And then she says, “Save a mat next to your mat, for me, in class.” I said, “Clo, I’m not gonna do that ’cause I have more allegiance to my fellow on-time people than I do to you, my own wife.” And that didn’t go well. And so– So, I felt bad. And then I get to class, and I put down my mat. Then I put down a mat next to my mat for my wife. And this woman comes up, she goes, “Do you mind if I put my mat right here?” I was like, “Actually, my wife is…” [mumbling] Sometimes I’m so polite, I don’t even finish sentences. This other woman comes up, she goes… [mumbling] I was like… [mumbling] We were like deferent whales. Which is another pose I’m working on. Class fills up, 100% full, wall-to-wall sluts. Except for the empty mat next to my mat, because my wife decided, arbitrarily, she just wasn’t gonna come to class that day. I know! The ultimate late person move! Absence! Class– class ends. Empty mat. All that people are gonna assume is that my wife is dead. Or I’ve invented the fictional concept of having a wife so I can have this weird double-wide super mat. The most selfish possible move in the most socialist of exercises. And this woman comes up. She says, “I hope your wife is okay.” Which is the yoga way of saying, “We hate you.” But that’s just my side of the story. In fairness to my wife, if she were here tonight, she’d be like, “Yeah, but you’re not telling them…” And I’d be like, “Excuse me, ma’am. There’s a show going on.” She’d be escorted out of the building. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again.

That’s what I love about jokes. They’re just your side of the story. They’re your opinion, which isn’t to say they’re always just opinions. Sometimes they’re an externalization of your inner thoughts, and often your inner thoughts are inappropriate. I was at my urologist recently. Just chillin’. No, I had a– I had a symptom. Don’t repeat this. I had a symptom where– This is hard to say. I had a thing where, when my wife and I would have sex, I would have a pins-and-needles sensation in my urethra the moment I would ejaculate. Which at first was exciting. At first, I thought, “Ohh. Maybe this is a new type of orgasm. Maybe I’ve broken through.” But then the pain didn’t go away. I was like, “Oh, no!” It’s like when you’re eating spicy food and you’re like, “That’s hot. That’s hot! That’s too hot!” But it was with my penis. Which is much higher stakes than your tongue, which is your mouth penis, in a way. Nobody calls it that, but– So, I explained this to my doctor– not in these words– and he’s unfazed by it. He goes, “It’s not a big deal. It’s probably a muscular thing. You’re just trying too hard when you have sex.” And I said, “You’re telling me.” But I didn’t– I didn’t say it. I just thought that. I was like… [grunts] He was like, “Is there something wrong with your head?” And, uh… ‘Cause I don’t say a lot of jokes offstage. I just think them. He was like, “Is there something wrong with your head?” I go, “No, I’m a comedian.” He goes, “You’re a comedian?” I go, “You’re a doctor?” But I didn’t say it. I just thought it. I was, like… [grunts] You know? He really didn’t believe me, he goes, “If you’re a comedian, how come you’re not funny now?” What I wanted to say was I’m gonna take this conversation we’re having and then repeat that to strangers. And then that’s the joke. You’re the joke… later. But I didn’t say it. I just thought it, and, uh… I could say these jokes. But when you have your pants at your ankles and a rectal thermometer in your butt, you’re thinking, “This might not be the right time.”

I feel like we’re led to believe this false cliché from romantic comedies that we’re all just whipping off jokes all the time.
Like, we meet a girl in a coffee shop and we’re like, “What’s in your latte? Cum?” And she’ll be like, “You’re hilarious! We should be married in 90 minutes.” But in real life, that guy gets arrested. Or runs for president. Like, if you think about–

[cheers and applause]

If you think about jokes–
If you think about jokes, you can’t tell jokes in life, almost ever. Like, at work or school. Or the airport is a great example. I read a story where a guy sneezed on a plane, looks around and he goes, “I have Ebola.” Here’s why that’s not a good joke. They landed the plane. They landed the plane. And they’re met by the guys in hazmat suits. And his defense was, “I’m joking.” Which is always this catch-all defense when people say dumb things.
You can’t tell jokes at work, basically, because at some point in history, some idiot showed up at work, and was like, “Nice tits, Betsy!” And Betsy’s like, “What?” And that guy’s like, “I’m joking!” And the boss is like… “Uh… no more jokes!”
Jokes have been ruined by people who aren’t good at telling jokes. A joke should never end with “I’m joking.” Or “Git-R-Done.”

So, it’s the week before I host the Gotham Awards, and I start writing the jokes. And it felt like sort of a no-win situation: How do I make jokes that are relevant to the people in the audience but don’t make them hate me? And so, I started with jokes about myself. I wrote, “It’s an honor to be here, because 13 years ago, I was a coat check person at this event. And here I am hosting, and I made more money checking coats.” Which is true. Yeah, I remember that period of my life so well. I was so broke, and I was actually living on an air mattress in Queens, and I couldn’t afford a dresser for my clothes. When you’re broke, everything is just low to the ground. You know? You– You roll off your air mattress in the morning, grab pants from the floor, you cook noodles on a hot plate. One falls out of your mouth, you’re like, “It’s not too far.” The only way you could get lower is if you died. And I moved to New York ’cause there’s all these comedy clubs here, but they didn’t want me ’cause I wasn’t good at it. So, what I did was I drove my mom’s station wagon around the country to areas of lesser comedy concentration, places like Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, and…

[audience laughs]

Not a joke, but thanks. [laughs] And, actually, I bought my mom’s car. I always like to point that out because I found out recently that sometimes when parents have faith in their child’s dreams… they’ll give them their car. My mom got the full Blue Book value. She was like, “This guy just doesn’t have it.” And… I remember this rock-bottom moment where I’m driving back from a comedy club in New Jersey to my air mattress in Queens, and this cop just points at me and waves me over. When you’re broke, cops will pull you over if you have a crappy car just to see what else you got going wrong, you know? Yeah. And he says, “License and registration.” As I’m pulling out my license, I’m realizing it’s expired by three weeks. And I had that moment where I think, “Should I preface this conversation with this key piece of information?” Like, “You’re not gonna like this.” You know what I mean? “Same team. We both think I’m an idiot.” And… It was actually worse than just that. He came back and goes, “Did you know that your license is suspended?” Yeah, I didn’t even know what that meant. I was very naive, and so I– I had an unpaid speeding ticket from high school. So I said to him, and I quote– I said, “Yes. No. Wait. What does ‘suspended’ mean?” And he said, “Please step out of the car.” And I get out of the car. He says, “You’re under arrest.” I said, “No, I don’t think so.” He says, “I’m sure of it.” And then he cuffs me to prove the whole thing. And– Round of applause if you’ve been arrested. Has anyone been arrested before? Few people. What did you– Can I ask, what did you get arrested for? I got arrested by a woman cop and put in a headlock. I don’t like how you said “woman cop.” That was very obnoxious. It really was. I don’t– I’m fine with it. It’s a comedy show. Anything can happen. We’re all friends here. But it just did rub me the wrong way. You know, women can be cops. It’s sort of part of the whole thing. You said you’re– You’re saying it like it’s an anomaly. And it’s, like, a whole thing. I only said it like that because I’ve been getting my balls busted for the last ten years over it. Oh, okay. Well, that doesn’t make sense also. But, uh– but sure, yeah. So– So, this crazy, out-of-nowhere, woman cop shows up. Well, get this: she’s a lady. Badge and everything. And I said, “Cook me dinner!” You know what she said? She said, “No, you’re under arrest for a crime.” So… Unbelievable. You’re really buried in this point. I mean, there’s nothing– There’s nothing you could say that would vindicate you. She put me in a headlock. You already said that. I feel like your talking points are all wrong. She put you in a headlock? Why? First of all, what was your crime? I got to a keg, and I got my cup of beer, and I was waiting in line for the beer. -And… -You’re leaving out so many details. Where?! Basic details! We don’t all have to be Ira Glass, but come on! Where– where was this? It was in the woods. So– So– [laughing] So– No further questions, Your Honor. It was in the woods. It was in the woods. I didn’t even know ladies went in the woods. It was like seeing Bigfoot. I will say this about being arrested. It’s a shocking experience if you’ve never had it happen, because they cuff you, and the cuffs hurt. And the cops don’t have to take you to jail right away. Like, I was cuffed in New Jersey and sitting in the back of the cruiser. I’m looking through the windshield, the cop was just hanging out with his cop buddies. And they’re laughing, making jokes, like, “I arrested this guy for nothing.” You know, just like, “What does ‘suspended’ mean?” And… I’m having the most traumatic moment of my life. It’s like, “I never knew I would be arrested. I wear New Balance shoes.” You know, and– And I’m nervous ’cause I’m afraid of cops. I always thought I was most afraid of bears, but at least if a bear kills you, everyone gets mad at the bear. If a cop kills you, 30% of Americans are like, “It’s a hard job.” You know what I mean? If a bear kills you, they don’t have a bear press conference where all the bears stand behind the murderous bear in solidarity, and the bear commissioner steps forward, and he’s like, “He’s usually a pretty good bear. He usually just eats honey and is unaware of bees.”

But cops will kill you. That’s, like, on the news and everything. And so– So, I’m nervous and I’m sweating. I’m itchy. I had an itch on my face. But I didn’t have any extremities available. So, I’m looking around like the character from No Country for Old Men. And I see a door handle. I’m like, “That’s pointy.” And I reach over. I’m scratching my face on the door handle which creates more itchiness on my cheek and my shoulder. And then I’m just sort of writhing around in circles, like a dog trying to shake off a medical cone. And the cop looks back. He’s like, “We got a live one! What the hell are you doing?” I’m like, “Will you scratch my face?” Apparently, they never do that. Not once, ever. As it turns out, no one’s even asked, which is crazy to me. ‘Cause that’s the itchiest backseat I’ve ever been in. It’s like a tickle fight back there… with lice. I would have done anything for a scratch. I’d be like, “I’ll let you use your gun,” you know, which is pointy, but obviously dangerous. And so… the officer books me at the Weehawken, New Jersey, jail. He even took the shoelaces out of my shoes ’cause apparently, it’s a very common thing when people’s licenses are suspended… is they’ll hang themselves. I don’t like to joke about it. It’s called suspension post-suspension. It is… all-too-common, under-reported. And then– And then he took a mug shot of me. He knew I’d performed at a comedy club that night. So, he took an extra one, and he put it in his pocket. He goes, “This is in case you ever get famous.” Which I thought was nice, you know? I was like, “At least he’s rooting for me.” Sure, he’s arresting me now. But long-term, this guy sees it. Which is more than I can say for my mom.

And so– So, I had this one joke about being a coat check person. But increasingly, I’m getting so anxious about hosting this event. And so I called Jimmy Kimmel, ’cause I thought that if I had a video like that, it might give me some credibility with the audience, where it felt like every relevant topic would be a minefield. Which is always, by the way, somewhat the case in comedy when you perform for a specific group of people. Like, I remember the most extreme example I’ve had. I was performing at a Christian college, and, uh… It was a weird show. It was in a giant gymnasium, and there was a 30-foot crucifix on the wall. And I thought that was funny, because I was thinking, like, if Jesus were there, what would he say? Like, “Use the elliptical!” You know, because– Because I think about Jesus a lot. I went to Catholic school for nine years, and they teach it to you when you’re so young, you’re seven. They’re like, “There’s this guy Jesus, and he loves you. And you love him, too, right?” You’re like, “Wait. Do I know this guy?” And they’re like, “Oh, yeah, there’s this guy Jesus, who everybody loves ’cause he loves everybody. And a long time ago, he died, and it’s not totally your fault. So… don’t be scared or sad ’cause he’s in heaven now with his dad, who is also God. There’s this other thing called The Holy Spirit that no one really understands. All three of these things are a cluster… that are staring at you all the time.” If you have any questions, just pop into that strange broom closet in the corner with Father Steven, who no one’s done a background check on. Don’t forget to mention if you’ve been masturbating, ’cause he’s fascinated by that. And angry, but mostly fascinated, and– Starts innocently enough, as innocently as man-boy love can start. You sort of accept there’s this guy Jesus, and he loves you, but he’s dead and he’s bleeding, but he’s in great shape, and– And I actually really enjoyed church when I was a kid. My favorite part was the hymns. We’d sing this one that goes: ♪ Christ has died ♪ ♪ Christ is risen ♪ ♪ Christ will come again ♪ Thank you, guys. You know that one? It’s a hit. It’s been number one on the charts for 47,000 weeks in a row. Pretty sure it’s gone myrrh, at this point. Yeah, that’s right. That’s a rare myrrh joke. That joke is comedy myrrh. And– No, I love that song. Lyrically, very concise. You got Christ. He’s the protagonist, and then he died, which is sad. Then he’s risen, which is unexpected. And then he’ll come again, which– I don’t know, I’m– I’m not sure I’m rooting for that part. I feel like, you know, thanks for coming. Appreciate the books, but– Do we really want him to come again? If he comes again, he’s gonna be so mad. [imitating Woody Allen] He’s gonna be like, “I don’t understand. How come these people are so rich and these people are so poor?” ‘Cause he’s Jewish, right? He’d have a Jewish affect. “How come these people have thousands of loaves, and these people have half a loaf?” ‘Cause he’s a socialist. He’s a Jewish socialist. He’s the least popular modern demographic, especially with Christians. He’s the original Bernie Sanders. You know that, right? I mean, Jesus– Jesus would never win in the general. But– So, my brother Joe, who’s here with me tonight, he would– He really taught me what jokes were when I was a kid. He used to sing parodies of these hymns while we sang the actual hymns. He was like the “Weird Al” Yankovic of church. He’d go…

♪ Christ has lied Christ was imprisoned ♪
♪ Christ will come at ten ♪

By far, my favorite line– this idea that Christ will be arriving at a very specific time. Because Christ is an on-time person. That’s one thing you should know. He’s a punctual savior. So, I’m talking about all this on stage in this Christian college gymnasium, and… it’s not connecting, you know? And it was really sort of awkward backstage after the show between me and this guy who booked me. He was just like, “Why? Why would you talk about Jesus for ten minutes on stage?” And I didn’t have the best answer, but I feel like it’s good enough to share with you guys. I said, “Jesus died… so I could tell those jokes.” In fairness to the Christian college organizer, I’m a pretty safe bet as far as comedians go, I don’t curse gratuitously on stage, which has a lot to do with my mom. No, really. When I moved to New York, she was upset, and I’d go, “Why?” She said, “I don’t want you to become one of those dirty comedians.” And I said, “Okay.” And she said, “You don’t have to use those words to be funny. For example, Oprah’s very funny.” And I said, “Maybe to Gayle. Or even Stedman, when they let him in on it. But I don’t know– I don’t know if you understand my goals, Mom. I’m not trying to be the queen of daytime.” Because my mom and I are so close, I really tried not to curse a lot over the years on stage. At this point, I’ve released four comedy albums, and none of them have the explicit lyrics label on them. But sometimes, I feel conflicted about that ’cause a lot of comedians I admire most did curse on stage. Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor. And some of them who famously don’t curse are secretly criminals. This is fun for me, just watching 50 people mouth, “Bill Cosby.”

And then there’s this odd thing about not cursing, which is, sometimes you’re booked in places just for that reason. Like, a few years ago, I got booked to perform with the Muppets, which is a great honor. I grew up on the Muppets. It was a Canadian television special hosted by them, and I had to follow Fozzie Bear. I’ll tell you something about Fozzie Bear. He’s actually a pretty good comedian. I feel like I have to make that point because the joke of Fozzie, I guess, is that he’s a bad comedian who also is a bear. But Fozzie– Following Fozzie is nearly impossible. Like, he’s killing on stage, killing. Even when he’s not killing, he’s killing ’cause he’s got that joke parachute catchphrase: “Wocka Wocka Wocka!” Which is his “Git-R-Done,” by the way. I don’t know if you’ve thought of that before, but… I’m watching Fozzie from the wings, and it’s dawning on me, like, this show isn’t gonna go well for me, for a very specific reason. When people go to see the Muppets, they don’t want to see people. They just want to see more Muppets. When you’re watching Sesame Street and Gordon and Maria wander in the frame, and you’re like, “Out of there.” We want to see more of the creature who lives in the garbage. So, Fozzie’s killing, and then he’s heckled off the stage by Statler and Waldorf. That’s the gay couple that lives in the balcony. If that’s not the case, I’m very confused. They go to theater seven nights a week, and they bitch about everything. I mean, what– What are the clues here? And so… Statler and Waldorf heckled Fozzie, and then they introduced me, which is an insane precedent for hecklers– this idea that if a heckler defeats the comedian, they’re now in charge of the show? It’s like if a streaker ran onto Yankee Stadium, they just threw him a mitt. They’re like, “Third base!” “I don’t have a uniform!” You know? So, they introduced me, and they’re mean. That’s Statler and Waldorf’s thing. One of them goes, “This next guy walks in his sleep.” “Oh, yeah? I like sleeping during his act. Ha!” “Please welcome Mike Birbiglia.” And I jog onto stage. And I’m so flustered by being pre-heckled by these surreal puppets, that I forgot to bring my stool. I get to the center, and I look around. I go, “Ah, fuck!” I’ll tell you who doesn’t like the word “fuck.” People who have purchased tickets to see the Muppets… and the Muppets. The people in the audience were like… [nervous scream] The Muppets were like… I go, “Sorry about that!” And I jog off stage.

[cheers and applause]

And I jog back on stage, this time with the stool. There’s nothing I can do to get the audience on my side. Because not only am I the guy who cursed on The Muppets, as far as these people know, I’m the guy who curses exclusively on The Muppets, not even in the context of a joke. I’m just this guy… who jogs on stage, says “fuck,” and then jogs off stage. I’m like the villain of the Muppets. I’m, like, Fuck Monster. Which is what I’ve been trying to get my wife to call me for years. So, I’m bombing on The Muppets. It’s literally the opposite of my childhood dream come true. I remember as a kid thinking like, “Maybe someday, I’ll be on The Muppets.” But I never thought, “Maybe someday, I’ll be on The Muppets, and it’s not gonna go so well.” After ten minutes, I walk off stage– I’m not making this up. I was consoled by Kermit. He was like, “I thought you were good.” I was like, “Not now!” Threw him up against the wall. No, it was– I felt terrible. I just felt like I failed so profoundly. But then the more I mulled it over, the more I thought maybe I’m being overly prude on behalf of the Muppets. If you think about it, the Muppets, they’ve seen a lot. The Muppets are, like, 70 years old. Like, you think when the cameras aren’t rolling, Animal doesn’t curse? You think Animal’s never like… [screaming] “This fucking snare drum sounds like shit!” I’m pretty sure Janice has tried heroin. You know what I mean? You think Janice is never like, “Kermit, I am, like, so fucked up. Can I use your leg to tie off my arm?” That’s right. That’s a Muppets heroin joke. And I’m pretty sure if there was a line, I stepped over it right there.

That’s what you always have to think about when you’re writing jokes, is sort of, where is the line? And you don’t want to cross it, but you want to go near it. You know, it’s subjective, sort of where the line is. That’s where it becomes complicated. And that’s what I was mulling over as I was flying back to New York the day before hosting the Gotham Awards. I was on the plane. I was writing jokes, and I was eating a chicken salad sandwich on walnut raisin bread. And I remember that because, actually, the flight attendant came over, and he was like, “Excuse me, are there nuts in your sandwich?” I knew it wasn’t gonna end well. Because that sentence never ends with: “‘Cause I love nuts! Nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts! They’re great in everything! Sprinkle them on your sundae! They’re the building blocks of pesto!” Which they are and nobody’s talking about it. And so, as– So, as I responded, I just kept eating the sandwich. I was like… “I think that there might be… walnuts in the bread.” “Actually, you can’t eat that on the plane ’cause the woman seated by the window… has a nut allergy.” “I won’t feed them to her. Or rub them on her face.” “Actually, she’ll have a reaction even if there are nuts in the air.” “Nuts in the air?” Which just so happens to be my favorite hip-hop song. I tried to be respectful. I said to the woman, “Are you serious? You’ll have a reaction if there are nuts in the air?” She said, “Yeah, I’ll have a reaction if there are nuts in the air.” “You shouldn’t leave the house. There are nuts everywhere.” And I was so hungry, I said to the flight attendant, I said, “Is there anywhere where I can finish my sandwich?” “You can finish it… in the bathroom.” “Okay.” And I head out. And I walked into a JetBlue bathroom, and I ate a chicken salad sandwich. I’m experiencing that great symphony of smells– just bathroom and antiseptic, mayonnaise, and I’m gagging. And I’m eating more of the sandwich, and I’m gagging. And I’m eating more of the sandwich. And I realized at that moment, that I have what is called a fecal airspace allergy. And– Well, you know, it isn’t just if I eat feces. It is if– It’s if the feces… are in the air. If the feces are in the air… I’ll have a reaction. All right. So, you know who doesn’t like this story, are people with nut allergies. And you know who does like this story? Everyone else. And… I feel genuinely conflicted about that, ’cause there’s almost a thousand people in this room together right now. And about 997 of us are like, “Ha ha! Nuts in the air.” And then three of us secretly are like, “That’s my life.” You know? And I don’t– I don’t want to be that to you, but jokes have to be about something. I told that story last year in San Francisco, and this kid came to me after the show, and he asked me if I would sign his EpiPen. ‘Cause he has a nut allergy. And if he has a reaction, his mom has to spike him in his leg so he doesn’t die. And I was really moved by this, ’cause that’s precisely my sense of humor. I have jokes on my albums about having a bladder tumor when I was 19, and how I was once hit by a drunk driver, how I have a life-threatening sleep disorder. And those are my best jokes. That’s sort of what I’m interested in. So, I said to his mom, “How many times have you had to spike him?” And she said, “Three times.” I thought, “Wow. This kid almost died three times… so I could tell that joke.” So I wanted to dedicate this show tonight to him. He’s dead. I’m joking. Wocka Wocka Wocka! Git-R-Done! I’m flying back to New York and writing jokes, and I’m researching the guests of honor at the Gotham Awards. And I see that David O. Russell is gonna be there. And David O. Russell is one of my absolute favorite directors, dating back to when I was in high school. I remember seeing his movie Flirting with Disaster in the theater. And I laughed so hard, and then he went on to have this illustrious Oscar Award-winning career– Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, Three Kings. And I’m reading about him, and this joke occurs to me on the plane, and I just start laughing maniacally, alone. Not the best look. You know, just like… [nervous laughter] “I have Ebola!” I’m laughing for two reasons. One, at the joke, and two, at the absurdity that I would tell this joke the next night when he would be sitting right there. And so the moment I land, I call my wife. I said, “Clo, listen to this joke.” And she laughed really hard, and I’ll tell it to you guys in a moment. But first, I just want to say one last thing about jokes, which is that I think jokes, at their best, have the ability to make us all feel closer to one another. I think one of the– My favorite things about marriage is that you can share jokes with your wife or husband that are funny to you and that person and no one else, other than maybe your cat. Because when you have a cat, your barometer for humor– out the window.

Last summer, my wife and I went on a trip to Massachusetts. And I called it “Catsachusetts,” which is not funny. But in our house, it was the joke of the year! I was like, “We’re going to Catsachusetts.” My wife’s like, “Aah!” I was like, “Aah!” Our cat was like, “Aah!” Because everyone loves a good pun when you have a cat. So, we drive to Catsachusetts. When we arrive, my wife has a headache, and she asks me if I’ll acclimate Ivan– that’s our cat– to the bedroom. ‘Cause he’s an indoor cat, and you can’t just put an indoor cat into a house because he’ll explode. I bring him in the bedroom, and while I’m there, my wife discovers that there were mice in the house. And it was worse than just mice. They were parasitic mice. They have toxoplasmosis, which means they have a parasite in them, and they want it in you. They’re unafraid of cats. They’re unafraid of people. We discovered this because my wife was watching TV on the couch, and she looked next to her, and there was a mouse, and he was watching TV also. And she screamed, and he just looked up at her like Stuart Little. Like, “Hey! What’s going on? I don’t like this show, either. I don’t know why all those women would want to marry that one guy.” She pushes him off the couch, and he doesn’t even run away. He doesn’t even scurry, which is a verb invented for mice. He just walks into the kitchen like a roommate. He was like, “Fine, I’ll go in the other room. I just think you’re overreacting.” Then he did a confessional into the mouse cam in the kitchen. He was like, “I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to win. I was here before they came. I’ll be here when they’re gone. I’m a mouse.” That’s from Real Mousewives of Catsachusetts. That night, I’m sound asleep, and my wife wakes me up by grabbing my face. She says, “Mo, Ivan found the mouse. You need to get the mouse.” And I said, “Clo… we have a cat. We do everything for the cat. We give him food. We give him an apartment that he thinks is the world. We set aside an area in the apartment for him to poop in that we clean more often than the area where we poop. We have a gentleman’s agreement that in the unlikely event that a mouse should walk through that door… [imitates Don Corleone] and that day may never come… that he will murder that mouse, and we will never speak of that mouse again, and that cat will receive protection.” That’s from Catfather. Clo says, “Mo, get the mouse.” And she hands me a cup. I take the cup, walk towards the mouse. Mouse walks towards me. I walk away from the mouse. I put the cup over the mouse. I put a magazine under the cup, and I take him in the backyard. I stick him in the forest, where I can only assume that he walked into the mouth of a wolf. The next day we drove home, and from that day forward, we have called that state… Mouseachusetts. So, I want to point out something special, that happened there at the end which is, a few minutes ago, I prefaced the story with a Massachusetts-based pun. Catsachusetts. Which we all agreed as a group: Not funny. Moments ago… I concluded the story with another Massachusetts-based pun. It was nearly identical. It was Mouseachusetts. But that time, we applauded. Which means… in a way… it’s like we’re married. I do. So, now that we’re married…

I’m gonna share with you this joke I told at the Gotham Awards. David O. Russell, like I said, is one of my favorite directors, but infamously, shouted at Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees many years ago. You might’ve seen it on YouTube because it was caught on tape, it was put on YouTube. It was seen by millions of people. If you haven’t seen it, there is nothing I could do to properly convey just how extreme this rant was other than typing out a transcript of what he said, printing it out and just reading it to you. So, they were on the set of this movie. They’re in this classroom area, and it’s Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin and Jason Schwartzman. And in between takes, David O. Russell comes out and he says to Lily Tomlin, and I quote, he says, “I’m just trying to fucking help you! You understand me?! I’m just trying to be a fucking collaborator! I’m just trying to help you figure out the fucking picture! Okay, bitch?! I’m not here to be fucking yelled at! I didn’t work on this thing for three fucking years to have some fucking cunt yell at me in front of the crew when I’m trying to help you, bitch!” So, I thought I should talk about that on stage because– because if comedy is tragedy plus time, this is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. So, I said, “David O. Russell’s here.” He’s about where you are, about third row. I said, “One of my favorite directors, known for going to extremes to get exactly what he wants. The great director Elia Kazan once said, ‘You do whatever it takes to get the shot.’ David O. Russell once said, ‘I’m just trying to fucking help you, you understand me? I’m just being a fucking collaborator. I’m just trying to help you figure out the fucking picture. Okay, bitch? I’m not here to be fucking yelled at. I didn’t work on this thing for three fucking years to have some fucking cunt yell at me in front of the crew when I’m trying to help you, bitch.’ Two great directors basically saying the same thing.”

[cheers and applause]

The audience enjoyed it. David O. Russell left. Which was unfortunate timing because he was just about to receive the lifetime achievement award. The woman who booked me came over to my table and she said, “Mike, David is very upset about your joke, and I think he might leave. Will you talk to him?” And I said, “Absolutely.” Because, worst-case scenario, it goes terribly. Best-case scenario, he makes me the lead in his next film. And so, I’m walking with this woman. She says, “It’s my fault. I never should’ve let you tell that joke. I should have screened your jokes.” And I felt so bad because I wanted to be like, “I never would’ve let you screen my jokes. I would’ve sent you decoy jokes.” I’d never hand someone a piece of paper with the word “cunt” written on it. I wasn’t raised that way.

♪ Christ has died, Christ is risen ♪

But instead, I was like, “Yeah, maybe it’s your fault. Who knows?” And then… we get to the men’s room. David O. Russell storms out to the exit. She follows him, and I follow her. He looks back at her and goes, “Give your fucking award to someone else!” And I was like, “Awesome. This is like we’re in the video.” I go back to my table and my wife says, “Mo, what’s going on?” And I say, “Clo, it’s a long story, and it hasn’t ended yet. But we’re not in Mouseachusetts anymore.” Sitting at our table was Jared Leto, but I didn’t know it was him because he was preparing for his role in Dallas Buyers Club. And so he’d shaved his eyebrows, and he hadn’t eaten in weeks. And he leans over and goes, “I haven’t eaten in 21 days. And that joke made me laugh my ass off.” I said, “Thank you, strange skeleton man. That means a lot to me ’cause I’m in a lot of trouble right now.” Amy Adams gets on stage to present the award to David O. Russell, or not. She says, “David is a wonderful collaborator.” Which is the exact language from the video, though she left out the “C” word, which was smart. And then David O. Russell got on stage, and he gave a really wonderful speech. He’s got a lot of wisdom. He sits down. The reporter said, “David, what did you think of Mike Birbiglia’s joke?” “Comedians are gonna make jokes about what they’re gonna make jokes about.” They came over to me. “Mike, what did you think of David’s reaction?” I said, “Whatever he said is fine.” And an article came out in Variety magazine that week about the event, and the opening line of the article read, and I quote… “Before any winners were announced at Monday’s 22nd edition of the Gotham Awards, one thing became clear: Mike Birbiglia will not be in David O. Russell’s next picture.” I’m the joke, later. And I think that’s fair. Because if David O. Russell were here tonight, he would say, “I was invited to that event to be honored by my peers. And then you, who I’d never heard of, got on stage and recited verbatim the most regrettable three minutes of my life, and everybody laughed.” And I would say, “Excuse me, sir. There’s a show going on.” He’d be escorted out of the building. That’s his side of the story. But I want you guys to know my side of the story, which is that I gave it a lot of thought before telling that joke. I ran it by comedian friends. I ran it by my brother Joe, who wrote “Christ Will Come at Ten.” I ran it by my wife the night before. I said, “Clo, can I tell this joke when I know he’ll be right there, and it will not go well for him at all?” And Clo said, “It depends on what you want from the night. If you want to be successful in show business, you probably shouldn’t tell the joke. If you want to be true to yourself as a comedian, then tell the joke.” And I told it… because I love jokes. I really do. I love jokes. Jokes are meaningful to me. Tonight’s show here with you guys is meaningful to me. And the Charlie Hebdo incident in France two years ago was meaningful to me and to a lot of people. After that incident, I read about this peaceful rally in France with almost four million people. It was leaders of Israel and Palestine, people of all religions, and they were gathered behind the idea that despite our differing jokes and opinions, civility is ultimately what matters. And increasingly it matters more, because now you can transmit images and jokes and cartoons and videos across the Earth in seconds. So, people in Russia are our neighbors. People in China are our neighbors. People in Texas are our neighbors. Which, to me, is most worrisome. But it really does beg this question: “What does it mean to be a decent neighbor?” I think part of it is just listening to people in the context in which they intend their words. You guys could leave here right now and say, “Mike Birbiglia got on stage and said Jesus was a Jewish socialist who talks like Woody Allen. Then he said, ‘Nice tits, Betsy,’ which is sexist. Then he said, ‘Statler and Waldorf are gay,’ which is homophobic. Then he called his tongue his mouth penis, which is offensive to mouths and penises. Then he made fun of that guy for saying he was arrested by a woman cop. Then he said, ‘♪ Christ has died, Christ is risen ♪’ which sounded phenomenal but was also offensive. Then he told cat puns for an hour. Which I don’t enjoy ’cause I’m humorless. Then he didn’t tell one joke about Muslims ’cause he loves ISIS! Then he said, ‘I’m just trying to fucking help you, you cunt!’ And then he left.” And all of that’s true. Which is why I’m cautious when I tell jokes on stage, because anything can be taken out of context. People’s careers are taken down instantly, and some people… are killed. So, I’m putting this in your hands. You can choose to leave here and quote me out of context, or you can choose not to. But I trust that you won’t. Because we’re neighbors. And whether you like it or not… we’re married.

[cheers and applause]

[choral music playing]

Thank you. Thank you so much for being a part of this.


♪ Christ has lied Christ was imprisoned ♪
♪ Christ will come at ten ♪

Thank you very much. See you next time, everybody. See you in the neighborhood.

[man] Wet Money exclusive!

[man 2 laughing]

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! Pesto. Wet Money. Check it out!

♪ We had to make a flight, yeah Didn’t have time to eat ♪
♪ Threw my stuff in the bag As I jumped onto my feet ♪
♪ The bag was filled with nuts Some bread around cold cuts ♪
♪ I didn’t know it was a thing Until a lady started to sing ♪
♪ Nuts in the air, nuts in the air ♪ ♪ Everybody wave your nuts in the air ♪
♪ Nuts in the air, nuts in the air ♪
♪ Everybody wave your nuts in the air ♪
♪ Boy, get off the flight I didn’t want to fight ♪
♪ Snuck into the end So she wouldn’t use her EpiPen ♪
♪ I tried to calm her down Examples from around ♪
♪ Nuts in muffins Nuts in her bread now ♪
♪ Nuts from on the ground ♪
♪ Nuts in the pesto Nuts I ingest-oh ♪
♪ I said, “Hey Don’t she got that thing?” ♪
♪ Where the hell did my sandwich go? ♪
♪ Hey, hey ♪
♪ I swear I just pulled it out Pulled it out ♪
♪ Yeah, and now It’s in that lady’s mouth ♪

This is a Mike Birbiglia comedy special! Greatest comedian in the world! He didn’t tell me to say that. It’s just a thing I think. He would never say something like that about himself. He’s very humble. Thank God for jokes, motherfuckers.

[air horn sounds]


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