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BirBIGlia Laughs

Date: March 25, 2024
Author: Cat Hayes

Mike Birbiglia combines the best of stand-up comedy with the sensibility of a screenwriter and storyteller, thanks to his education and tons of life experience. As the youngest of four kids, Birbiglia sought attention anywhere and everywhere. He studied theater and screenwriting at Georgetown, always with an eye towards solo theater as he honed his skills.

After college, he was paid $40/night for working the door at an improv theater in Washington D.C., where he’d also briefly take the stage. That experience encouraged him to pursue comedy as a profession.

“Out of school, it was a more viable prospect than being a screenwriter. There are zero openings for that job, but I knew I could make a small living as a comedian, so I put in my 10,000 hours, driving my mom’s station wagon (and touring nationwide),” and eventually landing on Broadway.

Birbiglia’s first solo show launched off-Broadway in 2008 and merged both screenwriting and comedy. Presented by Nathan Lane, “Sleepwalk With Me” was a deeply personal story about Birbiglia’s sleepwalking issues, which led him to sprint through a double-paned, second story hotel window and narrowly avoid gashing his femoral artery. The show garnered critical acclaim and led to more solo shows, which he’s also turned into films and books. Birbiglia tells it like it is using stories from his life, and audience members relate to his candid nature.

“After three to five years of working on each show, you create a (plethora) of stories and jokes, and you’re left with a book full (of content),” he said.

For example, he has been working on his current show, “Please Stop the Ride,” for about a year and hopes to release a book in the next year or two and bring it to Broadway, like his last two shows. He’s penned 70,000-80,000 words but can only fit about 10,000 words into his 90-minute solo shows.

“But you never know for sure until it’s done,” he said about the book and Broadway. “Shows have an arc to them. I did extended runs throughout the nation with ‘The New One’ to find out the contours and bends.”

Birbiglia looks to family and friends for feedback, particularly his wife, a poet, his brother, and friends like Ira Glass. In fact, it was a friend and fellow comedian who nudged him to spill his secrets on stage. That particular night, when he was in his 20s backstage, he offhandedly remarked: “The person I’m seeing is thinking about having kids, which is sad because we’re going to have to breakup.” His friend suggested he bring that line to the stage, so he did.

“It was met with laughs. There’s a certain catharsis to telling people what you would think are secrets,” he said. “But the longer I do these shows, the more I realize that often, when you think you have a secret, people see it (before you reveal it).”

He has also honed his skills on Broadway, where audiences listen more closely, as opposed to in clubs where comedians can get away with more.

“The takeaway was: people are focused on the words. They’re really listening. Theater is about a certain precision with every word because the audience is very scrupulous,” he said, adding he appreciates how theaters allow for more moments of silence and connection with audiences.

In “The New One,” now on Netflix and out as a book, he made fun of how people overzealously say, “If you had a child, you would see the world through a baby’s eyes.” He thought that was an “overwrought and tedious line,” until he had his own kid and now sees the world through her.

“You laugh at yourself for laughing at others,” he said.

Of his shows, Birbiglia shares, “I don’t curse a lot, but I also don’t censor myself a lot,” he said. “It’s very funny, and it’s very fun. It’s a lot about the experience of having a child and realizing that with the more questions she asks, how little I really know. I thought I knew more, so it was a surprising realization at 45 years old.”

He also looks forward to visiting Beaver Creek with some nostalgia, having skied here a couple times as a kid.

“I couldn’t recommend more highly taking your kids skiing,” he said. “It stays with you. I started when I was 3, and I can still do it. It’s a gift to give your kid.”

Tickets are available online.

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