The time I booked myself on Mike Birbiglia’s podcast
In honor of his new Netflix special, I pretended it were true…
Netflix, you’ve done my man Mike Birbiglia wrong.
If this Netflix email I’m reading is to be believed, they “just added a comedy special I might like.”
The Old Man and the Pool, by Mike Birbiglia.
I saw this show live, earlier this year, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, and I can’t recommend it enough.
But don’t be fooled by the three words Netflix used to describe it:
I mean, sure? This ain’t Lenny Bruce or Carrot Top. He’s an unassuming guy who walks out and tells stories. Hilarious, vulnerable stories. This is about as on-beat as it gets.
Again, sure? Witty is almost a word we use to insult people. Witty is what you call an aging newspaper cartoonist. Witty is what you call an uncle who loves puns (a puncle). It’s slightly better than “clever” but definitely worse than funny, which would be more accurate here.
This is the one that sent me over the edge. Inspired me to write this. “Blue collar?” This is a man who espouses about getting older, contemplating death, and learning to swim at the YMCA in New York. There’s no Larry the Cable Guy influence here, nor any “you might be a redneck” runs. Oh wait, then it hits me. The Netflix algorithms saw the thumbnail. He’s literally wearing a blue collar…..
I’ll say this, which hopefully convinces you to watch The Old Man and The Pool on Netflix.
I still, months later, think about the show.
Katie and I still say “take care” instead of “I love you.”
I still think about the insane discrepancy in the chlorine levels of pools.
I still think about ornate doorbells as a way to describe who in your childhood neighborhood had money, and who didn’t.
The Birbiglia Fan
Seeing the Old Man and the Pool locked me in as a Mike Birbiglia fan. I listen to his podcast and am disappointed that his new tour doesn’t yet have dates in Los Angeles.
So in honor of Mike Birbiglia’s new blue-collar Netflix special, and to partially serve my ego which believes that I will one day be a guest on his show, I’ll share a few of things in his podcast format for “Working It Out.”
“Working it Out” with Alec McNayr
Mike: “My guest today is reasonably successful businessman, advertising creative-type, and aspiring humorist Alec McNayr…..”
Chapter One: “The Slow Round” - simple questions to evoke a sense memory from your past
What do you remember of your grandparents’ home, from when you were a child?
My mom’s parents lived in Ashland, Oregon my entire childhood, and not only did we visit for holidays, but my brother and I were dropped off for a week or two each summer. So we got to know that place well. They lived on 20 acres of forest outside of town- a massive A-frame on a dirt road. They were from west Texas, and so they always had a few sheep and cows, which would disappear about the same time the garage freezer would fill up with steaks.
I also remember seeing all kinds of weird people on our trips to “downtown” Ashland every summer. It wasn’t like the downtown of my city. But as an adult, I learned that Ashland is home to one of the biggest Shakespeare festivals in the world.
But I remember two things from their house.
First, they were children of the Great Depression, so they saved everything. Everything. Never saw an orphaned ketchup packet they couldn’t rescue. But the thing that got me was that they saved… and washed… and then reused…Ziploc bags. The mania of opening up the dishwasher to a top rack full of steaming hot, soaking wet Ziploc bags. Imagine it. And the more they’d get washed, the scratchier and more opaque they’d become. And abrasive to the touch. Like a frisbee after a year of going to the beach.
And second, my grandfather was obsessed with trains. Photos of trains. Maps of railways. Every book about trains ever written. And to his credit, when he was born, cars were barely a thing.
One room of the house was dedicated to a giant working toy train set. Just like Will Ferrell’s basement in the Lego Movie, it was off-limits to kids. And it’s all we wanted to play with. We would sneak in there, look at all the custom painted trains and western train towns, and fight the urge to touch everything. We got in trouble many times, but it never ended up in reconciliation, like the Lego Movie. We were banished from the most fun room in the house.
Chapter Two: “Working it Out” - sharing work-in-progress stories and jokes.
I have a piece I’m writing, which seems too long and unwieldy right now. Maybe it doesn’t need to be written; it needs to be performed as the backbone of a story told on stage, or (checks notes) stand-up.
In 1978, the same year I was born, John Williams, fresh off of becoming famous for his Star Wars score, began performing every summer at the Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic.
About twenty years ago, my father-in-law began taking his young family to see John Williams at the Bowl, hearing his music made famous in films like Superman, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and yes, Star Wars.
This past summer, I carried on his tradition and took my family to see John Williams at the Bowl, and I knew something was wrong when the entire row behind us filed in 10 minutes after the show started. I already hated them, and I didn’t even know what was to come. The six of them, all in their 40s and 50s, so, not dumb 20s, were already drunk. Two women sat behind me, one immediately weeping uncontrollably over a breakup, the other attempting to console her. Not attempts to be quiet, you know, for an orchestral music show. I tried to have kindness for someone going through a divorce, but come on.
The soon-to-be-divorcee left, leaving her friends to be shushed and side-eyed for the rest of the show. They got the picture and quieted down for the second half, until I felt something hit my shoulder. It was the consoling woman’s head, which slumped off to rest on the cold wooden bench backrest beside me. Her hair clung over my ear. That’s how close she was. I turned to mime my complaint to her friends, but they didn’t even notice!
The song ends, allowing me time to voice my concern for this woman. “She’s just a little drunk,” they said as they pulled her back upright. She swayed like one of those dancing flags
The next score -one of John Williams’ masterworks - begins and I try to pay attention. And her head hits the wood again. Inches from my shoulder. This time, she starts to make gurgling noises, and I know what’s about to happen.
Now, which song - from all of John Williams 50 year career as a film composer would be the WORST song for Drunk Woman to barf during? Indiana Jones? Jaws? Lincoln? All too obvious.
Y’all, she blew chunks, right onto the floor underneath my bench, to the moving score to Schnindler’s List.
I know, I know, Mike. Ira Glass would say that yes, this is a funny story, but would ask, “what was happening with ME during this time?”
Chapter Three: “Working it out for a cause” - a non-profit to support
Thanks for asking, Mike, and with all due to respect to everyone who comes on your show and says LA Food Bank (great cause, no notes), I’ll share a less well-known organization tackling a big issue in a meaningful way. Anyone in Los Angeles knows that homelessness is seemingly everywhere- as pervasive as it is difficult to figure out a humane, and yet sustainable, solution.
My wife and I have supported Harvest Home for about a decade, a scrappy non-profit that provides housing and ongoing support for women who find themselves pregnant and without a home. Cant think of a scarier or more vulnerable situation. They provide a safe room for the duration of the pregnancy, and then enough time to transition to a stable living situation and classes and case work to help the mom get back up on her feet. Plus, you help the mom and the baby- it’s a 2-for-1.
Mike, thanks for having me on the podcast. It was an honor.
(And definitely check out Mike’s Birbiglia’s The Old Man and The Pool, now on Netflix.)