Montreal 2008: Flying Solo reviews

After running around the city on Wednesday night, I decided to make my Thursday much easier to digest by camping out at Theatre Ste-Catherine for three of the Flying Solo one-man shows, which just so happened to feature revered comedians Mike Birbiglia, Brendon Burns and Patrice Oneal.

It’s a narrow, intimate black box of a room with a small balcony, which makes it kind of a perfect space for Mike Birbiglia to test his upcoming Off-Broadway show, Sleepwalk with Me. Having seen Birbiglia dozens of times already this year in New York City, and heard pretty much all of these stories before, it makes it more difficult to process what he’s done here — although I can tell you the structure he settled upon for Montreal is a different non-linear approach from anything I’d seen before from him. Certainly, the sleepwalking stories resonate with me (I have sleptwalked my way out of my apartment twice and locked myself out, but had a more dangerous incident as a child falling down the stairs in my sleep) and Birbiglia manages to hit just the right dramatic and poignant notes. He goes off on tangents earlier in the hour-plus to include jokes about his ADD and his first time performing (seen previously on Comedy Central’s My First Time), wondering about bears, and a couple of times, he says "What I Should Have Said" which reminds you of his DVD. Anyhow. Two other comedians with me, who haven’t seen Birbiglia as often as I have, thought it was one of the best shows they’d seen. His final Montreal shows are on Saturday.

Brendon Burns is a guy who isn’t afraid to get in your faces, and literally will do so several times during his show, So I Suppose This Is Offensive Now. Burns, who won the top prize last year in Edinburgh, also will tell you at the Hyatt Regency that his is the best show at this fest, too. So, is it? Hard to quantify that just yet. He’s certainly one of the louder performers, every so often letting out a gutteral rebel yell that reminds one of Sam Kinison. And the format of his show, which includes a mindf$%k of an ending and a plea to audience members to return with their friends, would suggest that over the course of a monthlong run such as Edinburgh, would only gain momentum over time. Burns said he had to modify his show quite a bit for Montreal, although he still talks at length about U.K. attitudes toward terror and the Glasgow baggage handler who head-butted a terrorist at the airport. He also takes on race and sex. If you go to this show knowing the title of it and seeing his poster, please don’t end up being offended. As he said at one point last night, "I’m normally so much more endearing than this." Burns has shows at 9 p.m. tonight and Saturday.

One guy who certainly is more endearing in this intimate theater setting is Patrice Oneal, who in his show, Positivity, is positively brilliant. After a 10-minute opening set from Joe DeRosa (who ripped into fast food), Oneal takes his seat on a stool and tells it like it is, covering views on the comedy industry, Obama and McCain, how he likes dogs more than people, on being a black spokesman on cable TV, diabetes, attitudes toward the Asians in his daily life, and finally how men and women get along (or don’t). He notes upfront that he doesn’t think he can get any smarter now that he’s 38. He also acknowleged: "I believe what I say. That’s my niche. It doesn’t make me that much money." But it should win him many more fans. You can see Oneal working the road in comedy clubs, and every so often as a special guest in theater and TV shows. But this smaller theater really works to Oneal’s advantage, letting him ease back and work at his own pace, without having to deal with either the mechanics of a club show or the size of a large audience. Oneal performs again at 11 p.m. tonight and Saturday. I hope and trust someone works out a plan for Oneal to work venues like this more often.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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