Stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia said his only worry when he performed in Woolsey Hall on Friday as the headliner of this year’ Fall Show was that he would be to comedy what Kenny G is to jazz: terrible.
But despite a delay in contracts and a slow start to ticket sales, many Yale students and staff said they consider this year’s Fall Show to be the best of the last three years. Birbiglia, who performed at the show as part of the Comedy Central Live Tour, was preceded on stage by two Yale undergraduates and three professional acts. Although students said they still consider Birbiglia to be a little-known comedian, many audience members interviewed said they enjoyed his performance, appreciated the variety of professional and student performers and hoped to see such variety in future Fall Shows.
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Birbiglia — who was hired for the Fall Show by the Yale College Council and the Yale Student Activities Committee — began his act by poking fun at the grandeur of Woolsey Hall.
“Thanks for having me here at your church,” he said. “Is this the place where you do those rituals? I heard about that. I knew that you guys ruled the universe, but I didn’t know you did it formally.”
During his routine, Birbiglia commented on two articles the News published previewing the show. Reusing several jokes he included in a letter to the editor published in the News on Friday, Birbiglia commented on the perception that he is not well-known among students. As part of the joke, he compared himself to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who spoke at Columbia University in September.
“As though my self-esteem isn’t low enough, I’ve been invited to your school and now there’s an article dedicated to the fact that you’ve never heard of me,” he said during the act. “Suddenly, I felt like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — invited to speak and then introduced with a list of reasons why I’m a jackass.”
Birbiglia then addressed the News directly, making a joke that questioned the News’ commitment to presenting a balanced cross-section of opinions in its articles.
“I think the show’s going pretty well, and I’m sure there is someone on campus who doesn’t think it is, and you will find that person,” he said.
Birbiglia said in an interview after the show that he thought he had ultimately reached an understanding with the audience.
“Coming in, I felt I was misunderstood by Yale,” he said. “And I came and now, I’m friends with Yale, and now I’m OK.”
YCC President Rebecca Taber ’08 said YSAC and the YCC worked hard to prepare for the show, coordinating with the Yale College Dean’s Office and Mills Entertainment to finalize a contract with Birbiglia. Taber said she thinks the show was a success despite delays in finalizing the contract and criticism from some students for not choosing a better-known comedian.
“I know we came under fire for the show for perhaps not selecting someone with better name recognition, but our primary objective was to put on a really great show, and I’d like to think that we delivered,” she said.
Many students interviewed said they think the atmosphere at the show better captivated the audience than the Fall Shows of the last two years. Dan Schwartz ’09 said he enjoyed Birbiglia’s laid-back delivery style.
“He was really comfortable and he wasn’t on edge at all,” Schwartz said.
But students interviewed had mixed reactions to the opening acts.
YCC Treasurer Harrison Marks ’10 said he was impressed by Kris Baxivanos ’10 and Roberto Velez ’08, who opened for Birbiglia.
“I thought both did incredible jobs,” he said. “I can’t even imagine how nerve-wracking it must have been for them to perform in front of such a great number of people.”
But some students said they did not feel engaged by the professional comedians’ opening acts, which featured comedian Jacqueline Novak and the spoof folk music group God’s Pottery. Daniel Kang ’10 said he was not impressed by Novak’s routine about the sexual allure of confidence and the first time she had sex.
Several in the audience said they think the act by God’s Pottery may have been inappropriate.
Jesse Storbeck ’11 said he thinks the songs the group played — including “The Pants Go Off When the Ring Goes On” and “Jesus, I Need a Drink” — may have been offensive to some students.
“I could understand that maybe some people who are really big Christians might have been offended by God’s Pottery, but I thought it was hilarious,” he said.
YSAC has not yet determined the total number of people who attended or how much money the event raised, YSAC Chair Tom Hsieh ’08 said.
Stand-up comedian Lewis Black DRA ’77 performed at last year’s Winter Show, which YSAC officials put on in February in lieu of a fall show because they said Black could not make it to Yale in the fall. “Saturday Night Live” cast member Horatio Sanz and comedian Ed Helms headlined the 2005 Fall Show.