Written, directed by and starring comedian Mike Birbiglia, “Sleepwalk With Me” opened this summer to critical acclaim and a hefty chunk of change at the box office.
The autobiographical film is based off Birbiglia’s own experiences as a stand-up comic, his initial struggle committing to a relationship, and the serious but often-comical hurdles that accompany his sleepwalking disorder.
Birbiglia, who has been featured in a number of Comedy Central specials and NPR’s “This American Life,” has also recently starred in the films “Cedar Rapids,” “Your Sister’s Sister” and on HBO’s “Girls.”
His new one-man show, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” opened off-Broadway in 2011 and is on a worldwide tour after winning numerous awards in New York. Before he brings “Boyfriend” to the Ikeda Theater at Mesa Arts Center on Friday, Sept. 21, Birbiglia took some time to chat with The East Valley Tribune about the show, his most awkward stand-up experience and his third-grade aspirations.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your show, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” and how the material may differ or be similar to what audiences see in your new film, “Sleepwalk With Me”?
A: What’s funny is that, tonally, it’s very similar to “Sleepwalk With Me”, that it combines a dramatic story with a lot of jokes, but the result of it is entirely different, in that it’s about how I got married as opposed to didn’t get married. In some ways, it’s kind of a sequel to “Sleepwalk With Me” in the sense that my character’s in denial about his relationship, where as “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” is about how I’m excited to get married despite not believing in the idea of marriage. So in that way, it’s like, tonally very similar but a completely different story.
I’m adapting it for my next screenplay, actually; I’m working on the screenplay now so it’s kind of a sneak preview for people. It’s on an international tour right now, like we’ve gone to Australia, London, Canada and, you know, like 70 cities in America, it was off-Broadway for 4 months, it won awards in New York, it won off-Broadway awards for “Best One-Man Show Off-Broadway,” so it’s been on a trip, it’s been on a 3-year trip, basically.
People should know two things: one, that it’s a great date show, with your husband or wife, or boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s kind of like a romantic comedy, in a way, like a one-man romantic comedy, which kind of sounds like it has dirty implications, perhaps. You can kind of bring all ages, too, like not toddlers, and not 9-year-olds, and not babies – although I have had babies in the audience before, I think you actually can bring a baby – but definitely like, teenagers, college kids, adults and even grandparents. I normally don’t really curse in the show, but yeah. It’s a show I’m really proud of, I love doing it.
Q: How would you describe your overall experience getting “Sleepwalk” to the screen, and are you surprised by the film’s overwhelming success?
A: I have to say the past 12 months have just been, entirely unexpected and strange and surreal, but in like the, you know, in the best possible way. I shot this movie last summer, we edited it all fall, got it into Sundance, we won an award at Sundance, got a distributor with IFC and now we’re in theaters. We were going to be in 34 theaters, and then Ira Glass, who co-wrote “This American Life” and produced the film, he and I decided to make this campaign, to get it into more theaters, so we used a Twitter campaign, which is #BringSleepwalk. Now we’re in over 210 theaters, which is crazy.
We’re just really glad that people are liking it. One thing that was cool was that in the first weekend, we opened in New York and I did 35 live Q&A’s in New York City, and we ended up having the highest per-screen average for a first-time American filmmaker in history, but… we were on one screen, so the per-screen (average) is kind of a ridiculous concept because you’re only dividing by one.
Q: As a comedian who’s had his share of good and bad shows, what would you say is the most painfully awkward or embarrassing experience you’ve had doing stand-up?
A: I was asked to perform at a charity golf tournament and then I had to perform comedy after an 11-year-old boy who survived leukemia gave a speech... I was just so awkward and horrible because people were literally crying, and myself included, we were all crying and then I had to go up and tell jokes and I just completely bombed. I felt bad for bombing but I also felt bad, I felt I was just ruining the whole event, basically.
Q: What bits of pop culture – such as movies, music or TV – have you been obsessing over lately?
A: I’m a big podcast listener, so I’ll listen to Marc Maron’s podcast, “WTF”. He’s another one of my favorite comedians, Marc Maron, his podcast I listen to obsessively. You know, I listen to “This American Life” pretty obsessively.
I’ve just been seeing a ton of movies. I’m hosting the Gotham Awards, which is the independent film awards in New York, so I’m trying to phone up on pretty much every independent movie right now. There’s this film called “Hello I Must Be Going” that just came out, there’s a movie called “Beasts of the Southern Wild” that came out, it’s great. Yeah, just kind of catching up on all that stuff, but you know, there’s a lot of great movies. “Celeste and Jesse Forever” — that’s a great movie that’s out right now.
Q: At the end of “Sleepwalk With Me” we see your character in a sleeping bag wearing mittens as to avoid any more sleepwalking incidents (such as jumping out a two-story window). Do you sleep like that to this day?
A: I sleep in a sleeping bag but I do not wear the mittens because they’re uncomfortable, and I’ll have dreams about things that are hot, like doing hot activities. Like I’ll be in a sauna or taking a shower, things like that. But yeah, I do, I sleep in a sleeping bag and my wife calls it my “pod.” When we’re getting ready for bed, she’ll be like, “Get in your pod!”
If you go
What: Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21
Where: Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St.
Information: (480) 644-6500 or www.mesaartscenter.com