Mike Birbiglia took a break from standup comedy two years ago to write and star in the hit off-Broadway solo show Sleepwalk With Me. This sweet-faced, self-described geek shared often harrowing tales of his chronic sleepwalking and later transformed the script into a bestselling book. Now the 32-year-old comic writer and performer is back onstage at the Barrow Street Theatre with another personal show, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. This time, Birbiglia wins laughs by sharing memories of his early aversion to making out, his once-adamant opposition to marriage and how a car accident made him question what’s important in life. Broadway.com chatted with the boyish Birbiglia about how he makes falling in love funny.
My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend is adorable. Are we allowed to call it that?
I think adorable is just fine. There are a lot of “A” words you could say that I would object to, and adorable is not one of them.
It can’t be easy to create a solo show that’s romantic, with a happy ending.
It is hard. That’s a joke my wife and I have had for years: I talk about her and my family on stage, and Jenny will always say, “Why don’t you just say nice things about me?” And I say, “Because it wouldn’t be funny. No one would show up.” Pain is funnier than love. But this show is kind of an attempt to ride that line.
Well, your wife can be happy with this show. The audience sighs when you quote her response to your anti-marriage rant: “If you ever did want to get married, I would marry you.”
She has the best lines in the show. I’m this doofus and she’s the sage.
You know how the saying goes: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…
Don’t say it! [Laughs.] I can’t say that [parenthood] doesn’t come up. That could be the next 15 shows.
How is performing in a theatrical setting different from doing standup comedy?
In a concert hall, the laughs are more abundant. In a theater like the Barrow Street, the level of listening is more abundant. Both are fun and interesting, but ultimately I think I enjoy the small theater environment because people are patient and open to hearing a full story, as opposed to “What’s the next funny thing you’re going to say?”
You certainly attract a younger demographic than the typical theater audience.
I love that there’s a complete diversity of ages in the people who come. And I love being part of the great off-Broadway tradition. In a pragmatic sense, I love that I can go to work on the subway. I don’t have to get on a plane or train or rent a car. That’s the part of my job [as a standup comedian] that I could do without.
Although My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend is conversational, I assume you’re working from a script.
Oh yeah, but my director, Seth Barrish, and I are constantly tweaking lines. One of the things we work toward is making the show feel like a single story with a real thrust, as opposed to a series of stories strung together by segues. We get together every day and ask, “How can we make this fuller and more fluid?” In a play, when you change individual lines or even half lines, it really does make a difference.
One of the funniest bits in the show is the description of your ultra-awkward first kiss. Did you really consider yourself a geek with girls?
I was very much a late bloomer. That’s not to say that girls didn’t express interest in me from time to time, but I just I did not know how to respond to that. I went on a school trip to Montreal in eighth grade, and someone on the bus told me that this girl really liked me and wanted to make out with me, or however they described it. You’d think that would be a great thing to hear, but I just shriveled up in a ball. I was so neurotic about not understanding what "making out" was. I’d never had the sex talk as a kid; I didn’t know anything, and I was paralyzed by fear.
There are at least 10 comedians on Broadway this season. Would you be interested in acting in a play you didn’t write?
Absolutely, and this is the perfect forum for me to tell the world I’m ready! If any directors have an idea for a part that I might bring something to, I’m completely open to it. I love Broadway shows. I see a lot of them, and it’s definitely something I aspire to.