Recently, I went to see comedian Mike Birbiglia’s latest one-man show, “The Old Man and the Pool.” Pool-based humor? Sign me up!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I laughed a lot. Birbiglia is a master storyteller with expert comedic timing and an appealing, self-deprecating style. His show was a reflection on the indignities of aging and the changes he’s made to his life in an effort to take better care of himself. Serious stuff, true, but ripe for mining comedy gold.
One of the lifestyle changes he made was to engage in more physical activity. His doctor strongly recommended swimming since Birbiglia is not made of the stuff of athletes. I won’t spoil the entire show for you, but he goes on an extended story about his experience learning to swim as a child at the local YMCA, and his return to the Y as an adult to reacquaint himself to the sport.
At the pool, he notes all the required signage, for example, “Slippery When Wet.” He further observes that for every sign, there must have been a person who died doing the thing that the sign warns you not to do. So when he gets to one that says, “No Breath Holding,” he plays it hard for laughs. How on earth does one swim without holding your breath? The audience roars over the obvious irony and he asks repeatedly for a moment of silence for the silly person who had to have died holding their breath underwater.
I didn’t laugh. In fact, I was pretty uncomfortable. I wish Birbiglia had dived a little deeper into why that sign exists. We, as aquatics professionals, know that the sign’s purpose is to warn swimmers against hypoxic blackout, also known as shallow water blackout. It happens when your brain is deprived of oxygen from hyperventilating, causing a loss of consciousness while underwater.
It’s not an entirely an uncommon phenomenon. In fact, just recently, the mainstream media reported on a man who fell victim to hypoxic blackout while swimming in his backyard pool. He was saved by his two young, quick-thinking sons who pulled him out and administered CPR by imitating what they had seen in the movies. He’s extremely lucky to be alive. Others haven’t been as fortunate; thus the requirement for aquatics facilities to display such warning signs.
Now, I’m not on any kind of Karen crusade to cancel Birbiglia. First of all, I’m under no illusion that I have that kind of power (or level of obnoxiousness). Secondly, I highly, highly recommend his show. If he’s in a town near you, go see it! He is hilarious! But I do hope that he will rethink that portion because, in the end, he has a meaningful opportunity — and I think, a responsibility — to bring awareness to this issue and help save lives.