Comedian Mike Birbiglia has a knack for molding his own extremely personal follies into hilarious stories. He's weaved autobiographical tales of his awkward childhood, his love life and medical mishaps into the fabric of his stand-up specials and frequent contributions to The Moth and This American Life.
Perhaps his most notable work, Sleepwalk With Me, is his most painful — and painfully funny. In the one-man off-Broadway show (which he also turned into a book and a feature film), Birbiglia shares his struggles with his comedy career, his girlfriend's desires to get married, and living with a severe sleeping disorder, which culminates in him sleepwalking through the second-story window of a La Quinta Inn hotel room. Recently, Birbiglia arranged to have a plaque placed outside that very hotel room to commemorate that event.
Birbiglia joined Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg to chat about the stigma he's faced when telling people what he does for a living. He recounted a recent party at which someone said to him, "You're a comedian? Then how come you're not funny now?" Birbiglia's response? "Well, I'm gonna take this conversation we're having, and then repeat it to strangers. That's the joke. You're the joke, later."
Although Birbiglia has said he'd considered becoming a priest when he grew up, we were still pretty surprised when he requested that his Ask Me Another Challenge be about Catholicism. Find out if he knows which dishes Catholics are allowed to eat on a Friday during Lent, and the origin of the "Hail Mary pass."
On life after Sleepwalk With Me
The [La Quinta Inn] very recently did a very exciting thing ... there is now a plaque on the door of the room. I swear to God. In fairness, Ira Glass and I created the plaque and sent them the plaque, and they didn't put it up for a long time. Like, they didn't put it up for a year, I think until [Sleepwalk With Me] was on Netflix, and then they're like, "Oh, I guess it's a thing."
But basically, the plaque says, "In this room, comedian Mike Birbiglia on February 3rd, 2005, jumped through the window, and he made a show about it, and a book about, and a movie about it, Google it." And now I get people tweeting at me photos of them in the room with the plaque. Honestly, that is the proudest achievement in my life is that plaque.
On trying new material on Ira Glass
Everything that I've done on This American Life has basically been from me going into Ira's office. ... I was first on the show with Sleepwalk With Me. We became friends, and then I don't know, a few times a year, I'll go in and pitch a story. And he'll be like, "No ... that's our process." And he'll say, "No, no, no, no, that's happened to everybody." And then he usually kind of asks for the story under the story. Like, "Where were you when that happened? What about that?" And typically, I'll be like, "Well, this thing happened, but there's no way I would talk about that on the radio 'cause it's too personal. It's comfortable." And he's like, "Yeah, yeah, that's the story. That's what it'll be."
On why he thought he was going to be a priest
I liked how the priests get so many laughs. It's not even that the priests are funny. The parishioners, they don't have that high of standards for priest jokes. So priests will be like, "Matthew, Mark, Luke ... and John Boy!" And people will be like, "Father Paterson's hilarious." And I'm like, "He's not funny, I'm funny. I should be the priest."