Mike Birbiglia Walks His Way to Broadway
"It's funny," the comedian Mike Birbiglia muses as he stares at a Waitress billboard in Times Square, "that they have to advertise Sara Bareilles as the writer of 'Love Song' and 'Brave.' If people don't know who Sara Bareilles is, they sure don't know who Mike Birbiglia is."
But on this sunny Friday, Birbiglia managed to prove himself wrong. He was followed for roughly two-and-a-half miles by about 100 fans (from cities as far away as Houston) on a walk from the Cherry Lane Theatre, his frequent off-Broadway artistic home, to the Cort, where he'll make his Broadway debut this month in his latest solo show, The New One.
The idea for the walk was hatched — in part, at least — this summer, while Birbiglia was performing the comedy at the historic venue on Commerce Street. "In between shows, I would walk up Broadway and look at the theaters," he said. "I thought maybe it would end up there if I'm lucky, and then it did." On a more practical level, when producers suggested a splashy box office opening event at the Cort, Birbiglia suggested the walk from one theater to the other. "It's symbolic and nice, plus I'll get my steps in."
The Cort is a far cry from the Cherry Lane (nearly 1,100 seats compared with 179), but it's the perfect size for Birbiglia's comedic meditation on married life and parenthood. "It's my favorite type of theater to play," he said. "The orchestra is absurdly close, and the seats are comfortable. There are enough people to be a crowd, so the laughs are big and the silences are big, but it's small enough that everyone's in on it. There are certain theaters where I feel like I'm watching other people watch a play. This doesn't have that."
That The New One is on Broadway scares and excites him, but compared with his other works, like Sleepwalk With Me and My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, he admits that this one has a more universal appeal. "The show is about having a child and struggling with that, which is relatable," he said, "and I really try to get into the weeds of the taboo things you don't say in relationships. So this is the one that plays to the most age groups, which is sort of what Broadway has to be. You're doing 99 performances, which means 99,000 people have to come see a show by someone who most people haven't heard of. That's a tough sell."
Judging by the fact that The New One has sold out consistently in all of its pre-Broadway engagements in New York and across the country, it won't be that tough to fill the seats. And despite being nervous (and excited), Birbiglia is ready to go along for the ride. "The three biggest people who urged me to go to Broadway were my agent, Mike Berkowitz, and Nick Kroll and John Mulaney. Mulaney basically said, 'It will be the best experience you've ever had in New York City.' That was really meaningful to me."
As he and his fans approached his new Broadway home, Birbiglia made sure to give everyone a high-five. His director, Seth Barrish, passed around cookies, while two admirers who were too late to join the parade passed around boxes of donuts. Selfies were taken; autographs were signed. And with that, Birbiglia was whisked into the box office to sell some tickets on his own, making the day of some lucky audience members who were ready to fill the Cort to capacity.