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The most exciting thing about the recent explosion of stand-up comedy into the mainstream has been the shift away from the conventional hour of arbitrarily strung together bits and towards long-form narratives where each joke contributes to setting up a climactic punchline. With his 2023 special The Old Man and the Pool, Mike Birbiglia added his name to the list of comedians at the vanguard of this new movement alongside such juggernauts as John Mulaney (Baby J) and Neal Brennan (Blocks). Having seen and enjoyed The Old Man and the Pool, I went into the Chicago Theatre on April 26 expecting the same level of structural cohesion and a clever through-line that would linger in my mind for a while thereafter. Unfortunately, Birbiglia’s latest show, Please Stop the Ride, didn’t fulfill this expectation, but the experience was nonetheless a rewarding one.

Like Birbiglia’s previous specials, Please Stop the Ride deals mostly with the comedian’s experiences as a husband and a parent. Whether chronicling his preteen’s misadventures at the Urban Air indoor trampoline park or the crisis of masculinity instigated by his inability to repair the heating system in his family home, Birbiglia brings a keen eye and an endearing, dad-like goofiness to his X-ray of middle-class American life.

At one point Birbiglia asked the audience whether dishwashers sterilize dishes that are already fundamentally clean or actually clean dirty dishes. What do you think? There aren’t a lot of comedians who can pinpoint something so basic, so obvious as to be right under our noses, and yet of inexplicably profound significance. Jerry Seinfeld’s brand was built on precisely this kind of observational acumen, but Birbiglia has refined the formula for 21st-century audiences and injected it with a healthy dose of millennial angst.

What Please Stop the Ride lacks, for all its redeeming qualities, is a coherent narrative arc. Beyond the running theme of male incompetence, there is little that ties this collection of jokes together. Perhaps I’m asking too much of Birbiglia — perhaps the existence of a ‘big picture’ isn’t really of crucial importance to the making of a good stand-up special. But even setting aside the issue of narrative, the good ol’ family-friendly observational comedy struck me as a little passé.

There were certainly moments that broke the PG-13 veneer: “Jesus had the original martyr complex,” had me doubled over in my seat, as did, “I’m a comedian and my wife is a poet. Together we know nothing.” But these moments were the exception rather than the rule.

Please Stop the Ride is good, solid stand-up comedy, and if it had been a lesser comedian I would have little to object to. It’s only the high bar set by Birbiglia’s earlier work that leaves me wishing for more.