Mike Birbiglia Brings Comedy To Awkward Life Events

July 9, 2018
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By Mary Ann Bourbeau |

Comedian Mike Birbiglia will appear at Two River Theater July 12-15. Photo by Evan Sung

RED BANK – On January 26, 2005, while staying at a La Quinta Inn in Walla Walla, Washington, comedian Mike Birbiglia dreamed that there was a guided missile headed directly toward his room. In his deep state of sleep and desperate to escape the missile, he jumped through – yes, through – the closed window of his second story room, and landed bleeding, in his underwear, on the lawn below. He kept running until he finally realized where he was, and then walked into the hotel office and declared that he needed to go to the hospital.

Nearly three dozen stitches later, after the painful removal of shards of glass from his legs, he decided to seek treatment for his sleepwalking and was eventually diagnosed with REM behavior disorder. Birbiglia recounted this and other experiences in his show “Sleepwalk with Me,” which was adapted into a New York Times bestselling book and Sundance award-winning feature film. And strangely enough, a plaque has been erected outside that now-famous hotel room.

Birbiglia is known for taking awkward events, such as a visit to the urologist, and turning them into comedic stories. He brings his latest show, “The New One,” to the Two River Theater July 12-15 before an extended run at Manhattan’s Cherry Lane Theatre, where it has sold out all 33 performances.

“The last time I played Red Bank, I was at the Count Basie and I was like, I really dig this town,” he said. “Two River is actually a theater I’ve heard about for years and years as one of the great American theaters. So I thought I’d love to do a run of shows here so that I can get to know the town.”

'Apple Season' in New Jersey

Birbiglia’s comedy is a blend of storytelling and stand-up comedy that has an arc and a single unifying theme. His most recent shows, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” and “Thank God for Jokes,” were both filmed for Netflix.

“I always like to think of it like, what’s most interesting as a comedian is if you’re telling the audience a secret,” he said. “It feels special. They got a babysitter, they bought tickets and all this stuff. It’s this carefully thought through, very funny secret. That’s what’s interesting to me. It’s not what’s most interesting to everybody, but it’s what I like to do.”

Birbiglia won’t give any details on what “The New One” is about, choosing to keep the plot point under wraps, which he feels enhances the audience experience. He does hint that he discusses his wife, his daughter and his sleepwalking disorder, for which he says there is no cure. He is, however, happy to share how he got from his college days at Georgetown University to performing in comedy specials, in films such as “Trainwreck” and “The Fault in Our Stars” and the TV shows “Girls,” “Billions” and “Orange is the New Black.”

“My major at Georgetown was writing with a minor in fine arts,” he said. “I was lucky enough to have been part of a screen-writing program that included all of these really extraordinary writers, people who went on to illustrious careers.”

Birbiglia also got involved with an improv group called The Georgetown Players, which included comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney.

“I did improv for four years and screen-plays for four years, and ultimately what I do now as a solo show artist is like a merge of these playwriting skills, improv and stand-up,” he said.

A Jumpsuit to Start a Dialogue

While in college, Birbiglia won the funniest person on campus contest, and one of the prizes was to open for a comedian at DC Improv. He chose Dave Chappelle and according to Birbiglia, the set went fine.

“I asked if I could perform there regularly, and they said ‘no, but you can work the door selling tickets and bringing nachos to tables and stuff,’ ” he said.

He jumped at the opportunity and learned a lot from listening to comedy masters such as Kathleen Madigan, Mitch Hedberg and Dave Attell on stage each night.

“Eventually I was able to get on stage and I have been on stage at clubs ever since,” he said.

So after selling out shows across the country, what’s next for Mike Birbiglia?

“I’m writing a movie,” he said. “It’s top secret. And just like ‘The New One,’ I’m doing you a favor by telling you nothing about it in advance.”

For more information, visit tworivertheater.com.

Arts and entertainment writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at mbourbeau@tworivertimes.com.

This article first appeared in the July 5 – 12, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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