For Mike Birbiglia, there's something to be said for an old one.

Even as he brings us a "New One."

"What I always remember most about my favorite Bloomington is the theater there itself, and how gorgeous it is," the Massachusetts native testifies.

"In my old age (39), I've become very, very picky about my theaters. And to be honest, this one's actually the sort of perfect size for me: around 1,300 seats, where everyone is comfortable, and it's all very ornate," he says.

He pauses for a second to Google an image of the B-N theater in question, just to validate his memory's claims.

And he expresses further satisfaction.

"When you're in a theater like this, it really does change the experience ... it becomes more memorable."  

The well-chosen occasion is Birbiglia's return to a favorite Central Illinois haunt: the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, with his brand new show in tow.

Christened "The New One," it was first delivered up to audiences this past summer.

In the months since, "The New One" has come with a special request from Birbiglia: If you've seen it, please don't spill the beans about what he's up to with his fourth one-man show to date. 

The world we live in, says its author, has managed to practically nullify the concept of "fresh," be it his brand of comedy or someone else's.

"The New One's" widely acclaimed predecessors are "Sleepwalk with Me" (2008); "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" (2013), which was performed at the BCPA to a sold-out crowd in 2014; and "Thank God for Jokes" (2016).

Knowing that "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" is the last one we've seen live here, Birbiglia says that "The New One" is "the perfect place to pick up from where that one left off ... because of all my shows, that's the one that has the most similarity to the 'The New One.' If you like it, I KNOW you'll like this."

His approach to show-length storytelling tends to be rooted in what he terms, for lack of a more long-winded explanation, "intimate anguish."

"My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" charted the self-deprecating star's assorted coming-of-ages hurdles, his self-image vis-a-vis his sex appeal and, ultimately, the events leading up to his first date — the consequences of which are his first, and to date, only marriage (to Jen Stein).

So make of the "The New One's" title what you will.

"When I first came to Bloomington 13 years ago (a free student show at IWU), you would have seen me mostly telling jokes and not telling stories," he says of our first encounter.

That approach changed as Birbiglia fixated on the art of telling a single story — slowly, surely, with real narrative momentum — over the course of a single, 75-or-more minute show.

The game-changing result was 2008's "Sleepwalk with Me," inspired by his bona fide titular affliction, which reached its literal breaking point when he sleepwalked through a second-floor window at the La Quinta Inn in Walla Walla, Wash., and was left counting 33 stitches in one leg.

Luckily for his career, his sleepwalking affliction became a pitch-perfect metaphor for an array of life's other pitfalls.

Birbiglia's free-falling opus went on to success in virtually every medium: stage, screen, print, radio, television and home video.

Like fellow comedy traveler Jim Gaffigan, in town last weekend, Birbiglia has earned a reputation as a guy who can be funny without falling back on shock appeal.

"I know Bloomington runs the gamut in age demographics, so I'd like to think that this show can be seen by anyone from age 15 to 115 ... I really want to appeal to a broad range," he says.

So he's a bit taken aback when the word gets out that "I now use curse words in my shows, and I'm a dirty comedian, and the people that heard that aren't going to come to my shows anymore."

The criticism stemmed from something he'd written about "the nature of jokes, in which it was essential that I talk about language," including the dissection of "about three words that might violate FCC regulations."

At the end of the day, he says, "generally, my humor is for adults, but if you bring your 12- or 13-year-old along, they should be fine ... you know your kids better than me."

Enabling Birbiglia's comedy aesthetic has been a man he calls his mentor: Ira Glass, host of of NPR's "This American Life," the show where his student has found a home away from home as recurring guest.

"We're very close friends, and Ira knows a great deal more than I do about storytelling," Birbiglia said in a 2012 GO! interview describing how Glass ended up pitching in on the script of "Sleepwalk with Me's" film version, co-producing it and playing the cameo of the "wedding photographer."

Birbiglia's second stab at filmmaking, "Don't Think Twice," about life in a New York improv comedy troupe, was released a year ago to high critical marks, with Glass again co-producing,

"I want very much to make comedies where you laugh along the way, but are also made to feel something," says Birbiglia of his filmmaking future. "I'm trying to get better at it."

For the time, being, though, life is all about "The New One," and it's special delivery to us this weekend.

It comes with this one absolute/irrefutable assurance, says Birbigilia: "I promise it that it will be my very BEST Bloomington show of 2017."



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