Sleeptalk with Me: a chat with Mike Birbiglia


Lucas Koprowski

Mike Birbiglia motioning during his performance last friday at the Mac theatre.

James Kay, Sports Editor

Comedian Mike Birbiglia entertained his fans at College of DuPage on March 13. Birbiglia performed his routine, “Thank God for Jokes,” twice on the MAC stage. Courier Sports Editor James Kay talked with Birbiglia between shows to gain insights on the comedian’s tour plans, future projects and writing inspiration.

James Kay: How have you enjoyed the tour so far?

Mike Birbiglia: The tour has been wild. It’s been the most cities I have ever done; it’s 100 cities. My previous tour, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” was 70 cities. It’s been amazing and, you know, I’ve been to places I’ve never been. Glen Ellyn is one… In December alone I went to thirteen cities in California…which I didn’t know that there were (laughs). It’s been great.

JK: Besides Texas, where is the worst place you have ever performed?

MB: (Laughs) I don’t hate Texas…empirically, I like Austin. No, I’m pretty good with Texas. I think I have both misgivings about Florida and Texas. I have a love-hate relationship with Florida. As I say in my show… that show in Jacksonville is very indicative of my relationship with Florida. But, no it’s interesting in all parts of the country now. I think because of the Internet and cable TV, there’s pockets of people who are comedy nerds everywhere… and there are pockets of people who don’t like me (laughs). Those pockets are bigger those are huge pockets!

JK: What is the best idea Sleepy Carl has ever told you?

MB: I’ve been fighting Sleepy Carl a lot lately since I’m writing my next movie right now, and I find that I write best. It’s not out of a page of “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” which a lot of people think, but I’m writing an entirely different movie.

JK: Is that “Digging for Fire”?

MB: No, I’m in that. That comes out in August…it’s a Joe Swanberg movie. I’m in “Train Wreck” which comes out in July and I’m in “Orange is the New Black” which comes out in June. The next movie that I’m writing is a secret, and I’m not talking about it much. But I am hoping to shoot it this summer. I’ve been waking up very early to write because I find that if I write early in the morning, it’s before I fully woken up, and I don’t have any inhibitions. So I’ll put anything on the page which I think is sort of the goal; that you’ll write things that you are afraid to write on a page.

JK: So what do you hope to achieve for this movie?

MB: It’s a very different movie without getting too specific. It’s an ensemble movie…it’s not autobiographical at all, like “Sleepwalk With Me,” so it’s a very different movie. I hope, like you know with anything, you hope to get better, learn from what you did, and do what you did well again and get better at the things you didn’t do as well.

JK: In “Sleepwalk With Me” you mentioned that you went to therapy and that you dealt with depression. Do you use comedy to deal with that?

MB: I’m not clinically depressed, and I don’t want to minimize what other people go through because I’m not diagnosed depressive....To some degree yeah. I also go to therapy; that’s really how I would answer that (laughs). But, yeah, I think comedy is at its best when my favorite comedians are opening up and talking about things they are uncomfortable with in a way they figure out a way to make funny. Therapy on its own is not funny (laughs). I think it’s unrefined and has punchlines, and doesn’t have tags or beats to it. I think the deeper you dig into yourself the funnier things can be.

JK: I know earlier in your life you wanted to explore a rap career. Have you ever thought about going back to it?

MB: I feel like that ground has been covered so thoroughly. I feel like that if I ever were to be a rapper, it would have been along the lines of what The Lonely Island did. They’ve done it so well that all I can do is just get out of the way. Those guys are great.

JK: Do you ever change your routine on tour or do you adjust it at all?

MB: Every show is different actually. The ending of the show just now, I’ve only done that ending three of four times. It’s brand new.

JK: Out of how many shows?

MB: It’s like a hundred and something, like 120. When the tour is all said and done it’s probably going to be 125 to 130 shows in 130 cities or so. Every show is different, really. It doesn’t change a lot, there’s like 5 percent of it that’s always malleable and changing. Like I said tonight, the ending is brand new, and that might not be the end six months from now. It might not be the ending six days from now.

JK: Do you use your ability with improv and implement it into your shows?

MB: I’ve been trying that for years. I’ve always loved improv and stand up, and I’ve always tried to merge those two. It’s hard to do. It’s not the simplest marriage because stand up is really about the words and the rhythm, and improv is really about spontaneity so merging those two things is sometimes hard. But yeah, I try to.

JK: I’ve seen a lot of stand up comedians in the past, like Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Louie C.K…

MB: Are those guys funny? No (laughs). End of interview (laughs).

JK: (Laughs) What I have noticed what is different about you though is that you bring some seriousness to your show, like with “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” you end the show with this statement: “I don’t believe in marriage but I do believe in Jenny and I’ve given up on the idea of being right.” Did anyone inspire you to put that seriousness into your show?

MB: It had a lot to do with my collaborators and my interests. I’ve worked with Ira Glass a lot, from “This American Life,” and Seth Barrish , who is an acclaimed theater director in New York City. I really wanted to do something that was simultaneously dramatic and comedic. With these shows, I try to sculpt arcs for the show so that it adds up to something, hopefully.