Saturday, December 04, 2010

Comedian Mike Birbiglia on His New Book, 'Sleepwalk With Me,' and One-Man Show, ‘My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’ -- New York Magazine

Stand-up as storytelling as art:
Birbiglia road-tests his material with a trio of trusted advisers: older brother Joe, who serves as his manager and co-writer; Seth Barrish, director of Sleepwalk With Me; and Ira Glass, host of “This American Life.” “If a minute goes by without laughs, Mike’s learning to quiet the part of him that says, ‘This is sucking’—those minutes in a story that are there just for the feeling you’re not going to get a laugh,” says Glass, who discovered Birbiglia through the “Moth” storytelling series. The two are working on a film adaptation of Sleepwalk With Me. “He’s learning the more specific and personal a story is, the more universal it is,” adds Barrish, who speaks to Birbiglia several times a day, “so he can say, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking.’ Mike thinks and dreams big, but not in a way that’s remotely obnoxious.”

In 2008, Birbiglia wrote a script for a CBS sitcom loosely based on his blog, Mike Birbiglia’s Secret Public Journal. It had a Seinfeld conceit, only this time the comedian lived in Brooklyn with his girlfriend. It got as far as the pilot stage. “I can’t even begin to describe the degree to which I had no control; it’s the reason I haven’t attempted to do a TV show since,” he says. “They didn’t want all of me, they wanted this part they perceived to be likable, which ended up being wrong. I tested unlikable. Can you imagine a worse scenario? I tested poorly in something that few people on Earth can quantify, yet was quantified for me, and I failed.

“In a way,” he adds, “my whole career is an accident. I tried to sell out, then when they didn’t buy it, I decided to be artistic.” Birbiglia credits failure with the comedy renaissance going on now. “Few people are above selling out, but the difference between the highest and lowest bidders isn’t much anymore. People are like, ‘Fuck it, if I’m not going to make a lot of money, I might as well do something I’m proud of.’ ”