A Couple Comedians to Spread Some Post-Holiday Cheer

Credit: amazon.ca

Mike Birbiglia’s latest comedy special on Netflix is entitled The Old Man and the Pool. The Hemmingway reference did not go unnoticed by this library worker, that’s for sure. I was drawn to see this latest offering based on a vaguely pleasant recollection of his film, Sleepwalk with Me, which was released in 2012. The film was based on his one-man show of the same name and a corresponding book. All three tell the true story of Birbiglia’s troubles with somnambulism (otherwise known as sleepwalking). Apologies, somnambulism is one of my favourite words — rarely do I find an opportunity to use it. I’ve always seen Birbiglia as someone on the forefront of what is possible in the medium. He seemed to be one of the first to incorporate extended, personal narratives in his comedy. In doing so, he creates an impression of extreme honesty and self-deprecation. Since his specials have often originated as one-man shows, they have a hybrid tone. He combines the earnestness and gravity of drama, with the rhythms of traditional stand-up. The set-ups and punchlines are all there — the pauses that indicate the audience should react to something that was said. All the artifice of the artform is present, but it’s balanced by the perilous reality of movement while unconscious.


The Old Man and the Pool sees that winning combination return. In his latest special, Birbiglia tackles even bigger topics: health concerns, mortality, and parenthood. It is moving, deeply personal, and hilarious. After receiving some pretty serious advice to start increasing his exercise from his doctor, the comedian embarks on a journey to become a swimmer. The curved wall that serves as a backdrop to his performance (reminiscent of the bottom of a pool) and the way he moves in the space remind me of plays with one or two characters. When there’s a limited cast and the sets are spare or non-existent, actors often use their bodies to create the illusion of a rich environment. Mike Birbiglia does this naturally, it seems. Drawing on his theatre experience to cover every inch of the stage, as he swims, talks to his daughter, and questions the possibility of exercising five times a week with his doctor. Sleepwalk with Me is available in our catalogue. In addition, we provide access to one of his specials on Hoopla called My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. We also have another one of his books that became a special called The New One. It’s a memoir that recounts the journey he and his wife underwent to realize they wanted to be parents. The text incorporates his wife Jennifer Hope Stein’s poetry as well.

Michelle Buteau


Netflix seems to be a hub for comedy nowadays. I binged Michelle Buteau’s new TV series Survival of the Thickest in a few days. It was exactly what I needed. We follow Mavis, played by Buteau, an aspiring stylist in New York who has just discovered her partner has been cheating on her. The premise is stereotypical of the romantic comedy genre, but it’s only there to serve a purpose: to get Mavis out of her comfort zone and on her own in the big city. You may recognize Buteau from her past supporting roles in romantic comedies, including the Ali Wong film Always Be My Maybe, the recent Jennifer Lopez flick Marry Me, the Rebel Wilson-centred Isn’t It Romantic, and Kristen Stewart’s Christmas romance Happiest Season. Buteau has spent the bulk of her career supporting other women’s performances; it’s nice to see others supporting her performance for once. She’s more than capable of holding our interest. She also co-created the series with Danielle Sanchez-Witzel.

The show finds its appeal in the charisma of the woman at the centre of it all and her quest to style women of bigger sizes. Both in her stand-up special Welcome to Buteaupia and in the show, Buteau refuses to make herself the butt of her jokes. Even when things go wrong, Mavis is never the clumsy, plain jane heroine we’re used to seeing. She wants to empower women with beautiful clothes so they feel like they can do anything. We get the sense that Michelle Buteau herself sees fashion that way. Body positivity does feel like something the creators talked about in coming up with the plotlines. As someone who still feels like we have a long ways to go in accepting the multitude of different body types in the world, I appreciated that. I also appreciated that she has handsome men in her life that see her for the amazing person she is. Mavis also has a lot of ties to the LGBTQ+ community that feel completely authentic and real. All of these things combine to make it a great show for me.

She’s an author too. Her book of personal essays available in our collection is also called Survival of the Thickest. Some of the inspiration for the show came from the personal stories she shares there. I for one am putting it on hold because I love her narrative voice, and I want to hear more about her life.

All this to say that comedy specials are often my go-to content when I need a little cheering up. The post-holidays landscape can be a forbidding prospect, so to cheer yourselves up (if needed) I recommend checking out either of these two comedians. If you do, please let me know in the comments what you think!

Happy New Year everyone!

About Claire

Claire is an Information Assistant at Vaughan Public Libraries. Avid cooker, concertgoer, coffee drinker, TV and movie watcher, washi tape enthusiast, and unabashed fan of romance in all its varieties (even Hallmark movies).  |  Meet the team