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I Hung Out with Ira Glass and Mike Birbiglia

By Adam Bush on January 24, 2019

So, here’s a crazy story. Mike Birbiglia is my favorite comedian of all time. I started listening to him about 10 years ago when I heard him tell a story of sleepwalking his way through a second story window at a LaQuinta Inn in Walla Walla, WA. Mike is a contributor to my favorite radio show of all time, This American Life hosted by storytelling icon Ira Glass and he (Mike) has several specials on Netflix (my personal favorite is Thank God for Jokes).

Currently, Mike has a one-man show on Broadway called The New One and last month he announced a contest. He called it the #BirbigsUnderstudy contest. The idea was that he can’t, obviously, have an understudy as he IS the show, but wouldn’t it be funny if he did? So, here were the contest details: upload a video of yourself doing one of his older monologues, if you’re chosen he’ll fly you up to New York for one day, Ira Glass will introduce you and you’ll open Mike’s show in front of a live, Broadway audience.<>

Here’s the crazy part: I, Adam Bush, totally won.

So, last week my wife and I flew up to New York and I hung out with Ira Glass and Mike Birbiglia and it was surreal and totally amazing. I’ve attached some photos of the event and us hanging out, and if you want to watch the performance, it’s here, too. (Small warning, I do say the word, “hell.” I don’t have a problem with the word, but if you do, totally understandable. Just wanted you to know.)<>

Being that I got to hang with two storytelling legends, experience a rehearsal with them, and just talk for a while, I thought I’d share three things I learned that can help all us storytellers. So, from Mike and Ira’s mouths to my ears and your eyes, here we go.

1. Details Matter

We had two rehearsals before the show and they consisted of Ira walking through what he was going to say about each performer (there were three) and then each of us going through our monologues. Ira really walked through his details pretty thoroughly. There was NO winging it. He’d say, “Okay, this was how I was going to introduce Adam. I wanted to point out these things. How do you guys feel about that?” The producer responded and then Ira said, “Okay. Great. I’m going to go through this again.” And he did. At one point he asked one of the performers, who’s last name was Italian, how to really pronounce her name. He said it back to her and then said, “I don’t feel like I’m saying it the same way as you. Am I?” One of the performers was singing to a track and Ira asked, “Who’s playing piano on that track?” It was her husband. “Should we give him a shoutout, too? What’s his name?” he asked. If the Devil is in the details, Ira is in it with the Devil. I mean. Wait. Okay, you understand.

2. Encouragement Was the Real MVP

Here’s the thing. Working in the church world can be, at times, a little discouraging. Whether you’re a storyteller, actor, videographer, worship leader, whatever your job, there’s a good chance that you’ve been subject to some (at times) pretty harsh public critique. I get it. We all want the experiences, services and art to be great, but maybe, just maybe, the church world could use a little less critique and a little more ENCOURAGEMENT?

Whether or not that’s going to happen in our workplaces, it IS HAPPENING ON BROADWAY! At least, it happened the night I was there. From the moment I arrived the encouragement from Ira, Mike and the show’s director Seth Barrish was flowing. I’m so serious. After rehearsal, Ira told me how great it was, Seth encouraged me to take more time and make room for the laughs and Mike just kept telling us all how funny we were. Then, Ira set us up live on stage in just such a great way! He said such nice things to get the crowd on our side. After the show, the first thing Mike said to us was, “You guys were so funny.” THAT ENCOURAGEMENT made me perform better! Whatever nerves I had leading up to the show, they were obliterated by the fact that I felt like these guys were for me and believed in me.

3. “You can’t do anything wrong.”

Right before we went on, Mike came backstage and just as he was walking to his seat to watch us, he turned and said, “Hey, you can’t do anything wrong.” I asked him what he meant. He said, “Whatever you do. That’s the show. So, it’s not wrong.” You know, for all of us who make art, it’s easier to look at the final product and think about what could have been, but Mike Birbiglia, he says to change your perspective and consider the final product as the “right” product, because, well, “whatever you do, that’s the show.”

There were a plethora of other things I learned from the experience, and I bet we’ll talk about them on the podcast, but for now, I’ll leave it at that. Enjoy the photos, watch the performance, and let me know what you think.

Happy storytelling.

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