In ten years Mike Birbiglia has grown from struggling comic to a popular talk show guest to a groundbreaking, original storyteller. The results? Two critically-acclaimed CDs, three Comedy Central specials and a Nathan Lane-produced Off-Broadway show called “Sleepwalk with Me” that was recently nominated for both a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Circle Critics Award for “Best Solo Performance.”
One thing has remained constant: Birbiglia puts on one of the funniest live shows in comedy. Said Nathan Lane of Birbiglia, “Every once in a while, someone comes along who renews your faith in the art of stand-up comedy. It happened when I first saw Mitch Hedberg, and it happened again when I saw Mike Birbiglia.”
Birbiglia’s comedy built him a cult following in colleges, then clubs, then concert halls nationwide. And it has earned him fans in the most unlikely of places. Ira Glass, host of the Peabody award winning radio show “This American Life” said of Birbiglia in a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune: “I feel he’s a big rising star. He’s somebody I feel, like, whenever we have him on the show I just feel, like, wow, he’s gonna be so much more famous than all the rest of us.”
Birbiglia isn’t dirty or a prude. He isn’t shocking or forgettable. He simply tells stories from his life in the most honest possible way, sparing no painful detail: stories like trying to shake the hand of a sports writer he didn’t realize was blind, or meeting his girlfriend’s parents in high school and then realizing that she had another boyfriend — and then meeting his parents. Sometimes Birbiglia’s details are so painful that the audience audibly gasps — to which Birbiglia often replies, “I know. I’m in the future also.” Thus the name of the tour was born.
What held Birbiglia back early on are some of the strengths of his present live show: his difficult-to-pronounce last name (he was once introduced as Mike Bahooski!”) and his awkwardness (“I have a habit of making awkward situations even more awkward.”)
Birbiglia has made numerous appearances on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and recently, yes, “The View.” Birbiglia’s popular blog, “Secret Public Journal,” chronicles his awkward adventures on the road. In 2007, Birbiglia released a live rendition of his favorite stories on Comedy Central Records titled “My Secret Public Journal LIVE,” which both Time Out New York and Time Out Chicago hailed as the “Comedy Album of the Year.”
In 2008, Birbiglia teamed up with award-winning director Seth Barrish and producer Nathan Lane on “Sleepwalk With Me,” a passion project he’d been developing under the radar for the previous four years. “Sleepwalk With Me” is a painfully funny one-man show about first love, denial and how the sleepwalking disorder that nearly killed Birbiglia might have saved his life. The New York Times called the show “simply perfect.” And The Boston Globe called the new stories “as honest as any Richard Pryor confession, and as engaging and inclusive as an old Bill Cosby record.” It’s that inclusiveness that has made Birbiglia a popular contributor on shows as diverse as “This American Life” and “The Bob & Tom Radio Show,” and has continued to make Birbiglia one of the most popular touring acts with audiences of all ages.