Mike Birbiglia is a comedian, a storyteller, and a sleepwalker. He is one of the only people on earth to keep a blog that others actually read. After this year's "What I Should Have Said Was Nothing" special, he will debut a new one-man show "Sleepwalk with Me" this month at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. Birbiglia recently co-hosted Friday Night Standup in Central Park with Stephen Lynch, which will air July 18th.
Unlike a lot of other comedians, your material isn't all that cynical. The most cynical you really get is about politics. Do you think that will change after this next election? Which candidate do you think would provide the best material?
That's complicated. Because I think I'm cynical just not cartoonishly cynical. As for politics, there will always be room for cynicism. Both McCain and Obama will be disappointing in some way, thus there will be comedy. Who would be more disappointing? McCain by a nose. An old, shriveled up nose.
What's your writing process like? Do you need to have a whole set written out or do you just find weird observations that you think would make for good material and riff off of those?
I just rip out pages of Reader's Digest "humor in uniform" and memorize. No, I actually write on my blog (or my secret public journal) and then refine from there into something worth repeating. Then I repeat it.
Your material is fairly clean, and then you'll go into a bit making light of funerals. Do you think there are any subjects that can't be made funny?
Not really. I hesitate because I fear that once I say that you will say something like, "what about baby graves?" and I'll be like, "Dammit, College Humor. You've made me look like a fool!"
Fart and breathe.
We have to thank you for adding special features onto your latest DVD instead of just throwing the special on it and calling it a day. For those who haven't seen it yet, there is a camera crew that follows you around on the road and hangs out with you when you're not on stage. It shows that being a comedian, even on your level, is not as glamorous as many would think. What is the worst experience you've had on the road over the years?
Ah the memories. I've had a lot of bad gigs. The worst is the story I tell on the DVD called "Celebrity Golf." It took shame to a new level. Even for shame. And thanks for noticing the DVD Extras. Some people don't even notice they're there and I spent a ton of time editing down that footage along with the help of comedians Ed Herro and Andy Secunda.
You performed at Bonnaroo last month. How did that differ from the audiences you usually perform in front of?
Bonnaroo is filled with drunk teens, and I'm used to playing for drunk adults.
What is "Sleepwalk With Me" about?
'Sleepwalk' is my next CD/DVD/Theater project. It's a new 90 minute show that I'm debuting in Montreal this month at the comedy fest. I believe it to be my funniest show to date. You can actually date it on Facebook. It's "single."
Why have you only begun to talk about your sleepwalking material now when much of it happened so long ago?
I think comedy is tragedy plus time and it's taken a few years.
How many dollars in damage would you estimate that your sleepwalking has caused?
$300. You'll have to see the show to understand that.
What made you want to do standup?
I love talking and I hate listening. No wait, I hate strangers and I love chicken fingers. No wait, I'll have to get back to you on this one.
Since you've performed on different levels (Comedy Central specials, college campuses, small clubs), how do you decide what material to perform when. It seems it'd be difficult to juggle material so that the audience doesn't get sick of older jokes, but at the same time still gets to hear the well-known classics.
This is always hard to figure out, because "classics" is a very subjective term. There are people who have listened to Two Drink Mike an absurd amount of times and people who don't know it exists. So lately I just do a whole new live show, and then if there's any down time like checks being paid or an awkward moment of silence, I'll ask people to shout stuff out as requests. The most common are "cracker please" and "joe bags." Oh, also "whiffle ball tony."
What kind of music do you like?
Right now I'm listening to Mates of State, Steel Train, Against Me, and The National. I also listen to Bob Dylan quite a bit.
Finally, do you have a worst on-stage moment?
When I was on Letterman for the first time, I forgot all my jokes and it put a fear in me like nothing I've ever experienced. Fortunately my brother Joe had requested they have a cue card for me with bullet points of my jokes. So I looked up and said to myself, "ah yes, marblevores."
"What I Should Have Said Was Nothing" is available in stores now.
Completed with Doug Kellner.