Towards the end of Amy Schumer’s Leather Special, I found myself questioning not only ‘what it is that makes a good comic’, but also if I would ever laugh again.
Listen: Mia Freedman unpacks Amy Schumer’s latest comedy special with Jessie Stephens and Monique Bowley, Mamamia Out Loud.
Don’t get me wrong. Schumer’s ethos is great….
She is a woman for women; a voice of reality and honesty in a post-porn world otherwise filled with filtered Instagram feeds and undiagnosed body image issues.
I suppose you could say being ‘real’ is her thing. Much the same as ‘saving people’ is Spiderman’s.
But her latest special felt nothing like the raw, real Schumer we’ve come to love. Nothing like the gritty truthful comedy for which she’s become so well known.
It felt dumb; contrived; easy.
In my (largely irrelevant) opinion, snaffling up the title Trainwreck for her far more successful film seems… well, it seems somewhat ironic.
In term’s of her reputation – as a comic, as a feminist, as a voice of truth – her Leather Special was everything I hoped it wouldn’t be. It was self-degrading. Smutty. Sad.
Most importantly, it wasn’t all that funny.
What followed after watching it was half an hour in which I began to doubt the stand-up community: are there any comics left who don’t rely on shock value? Who don’t degrade themselves by comparing the smell of their vagina to that of a barnyard animal? Whose acts are clever and forward-thinking, yet retain the most important element – humour?
Well it turns out there is absolutely is.
It's not often you come across a white, middle-aged male who outwardly speaks against casual sexism. And also happens to be in the public eye.
Side note: he's hilarious too.
Mike Birbiglia's Thank God For Jokes is everything Amy Schumer's Leather Special was meant to be: clever. Intricate. Honest.
And of course, devilishly funny.
Birbiglia, 38, is known for his previous stand-up specials Sleepwalk with Me (2008) and My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (2013), as well as regular appearances on NPR's This American Life podcast discussing his comedy career and life-threatening sleep disorder.
In Thank God For Jokes, which came to Netflix earlier this month after touring late last year, Birbiglia leads the audience down a seemingly disconnected series of garden paths. Then, as is now his signature, he brings the show to a climax with an anecdote that not only shares a pivotal moment in his life... but that connects them all.
The ease with which Birbiglia turns a non-event - two late-coming members of the audience - into a 15-minute set about being on time, and 'late vs. early' personalities, is admirable.
Not only does he regularly break script to weave humour off-the-cuff... but he does it well. There are few comedians - heck few PEOPLE - in the world who could have me in stitches over a lame pun like 'Catsachusetts'. But Birbiglia... Birbiglia had me howling.
The special - through a series of brilliant anecdotes - explores the 21st Century issue of being 'triggered' by jokes: that essentially, every joke offends someone. Every joke has to be about someone and the fact people have such a low tolerance to being the object of a joke is bringing about the death of humour.
Between childish cackles, I found myself nodding along with everything he said.
When Schumer self-degraded, Birbiglia self-deprecated. When Schumer went shock, he went subtlety. And when Schumer overkilled, he understated.
One moment, however, stood above all.
In the midst of telling the audience about a time he was arrested for a traffic violation, he poses a question to the audience:
"Has anyone been arrested? Round of applause if you've been arrested."
Birbiglia de-mounts the small stage, making his way over to a young, short-haired male clapping loudly.
"Can I... Can I ask..." Birbiglia stutters, "...what have you been arrested for?"
"I got arrested by a woman-cop...", the man responds, disregarding Birbiglia's actual question. His smile oozes a certain smugness.
Without missing a beat, Birbiglia pulls the microphone away from the man's mouth and back to his own.
"I don't like how you said woman cop."
With that sentence - without being abusive, or rude, or loud - rather with basic honesty and a pensive smile, Birbiglia turns the audience on the man.
Whereas the man was previously a member of their collective, he is now an outsider.
He's the butt of the very jokes he came to laugh at.
And it's a little bit fabulous.
With that one line - with one fell 'Birbiglia' swoop - I lean back with the feeling his most recent show is doing far better things for equality than Schumer's is.
As I said previously... Schumer's ethos is great. She's a woman for women. An image of honesty. Right?
If that's so, however - and perhaps it still is - how come I walk away from her Leather Special feeling sick at the thought she's portrayed as a role model for young girls?
Maybe they should cast a quick glance towards Mike Birbiglia instead.
You can watch Mike Birbiglia's special, Thank God For Jokes, on Netflix, here.
Have you seen any of Mike Birbiglia's comedy? Do you think he's as brilliant as I do, or am I completely wrong? Voice your thoughts in the comments below...