Step 5: Finesse with attention-grabbing asides. (A few from Birbiglia's repertoire: [Following a groan] "I know… I'm in the future also." / "Now, before I tell this part of the story, I want to remind you that you're on my side.")
MB: One of the ways that [latter] mechanism was formed was not out of some skillful writing. It's from the charity golf story where I was performing after an 11-year-old boy who had survived leukemia. I would tell that story without that qualifier, and people would just look at me like, “We hate you.” And saying “I know…” to the audience was another kind of necessity that came out of people gasping. There are certain kinds of things you don’t want to hear, and one of them is, “Uggghhh.” And also an “Ooooh.” That’s not good.
Those Birbigs lines always kill and do a great job of letting the audience know he's completely aware of how he's being perceived and what he's saying.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately. How master comics get away with saying dickish things yet still have the crowd like 'em. I think a big part of what makes people like Burr or CK great is the way they massage some of their edgier bits. You know CK loves his kids and spends lots of time with them and that let him get away with calling his daughter an asshole.
Here's Bill Burr in "Why Do I Do This?" after he jokes about a black swim team movie:
I'm not being a dick here either. OK? Just to clarify. I don't want anyone coming up to me after the show: "I was thinking it and then you fucking said it." I'm not saying black people shouldn't be able to put on a speedo and go for a dip.
And before he launches into a tirade on the demands of women, he says this:
I just find women, they're just like, uh, I think they're great. I don't want this to come off here like I'm some woman hater 'cuz, y'know, I know I'm a psycho. But I just find them to be relentless. Just every day they gotta come at ya...
Lines like those seem like toss offs. But I think they play a key role in letting a comic get away with saying edgier stuff. It's a way of keeping people on your side instead of just going full throttle with "tell it like it is" prickness.