Comedian Mike Birbiglia likes to get personal during his shows. But there are some things that will have to wait.
Birbiglia brings his show to the Holland Performing Arts Center Friday. His standup involves personal stories about all aspects of his life, from relationships to his problems with sleepwalking.
After releasing “My Secret Public Journal Live” in 2007, which saw a shift to longer stories from his life with jokes sprinkled in, he gained aclaim in 2008 when his one-man off-Broadway show, “Sleepwalk with Me,” became a hit with both the critics and fans. In it, Birbiglia detailed his increasingly serious problems with relationships and sleepwalking. In one instance, he ran out of a second-floor hotel window trying to escape a fired missile from his dream.
He followed up his one-man show with a book, “Sleepwalk with Me & Other Painfully True Stories.” In 2011, he debuted another one-man show, “My Girlfriend's Boyfriend,” which he'll be performing Friday night. In 2012, “Sleepwalk with Me” was made into a movie starring Birbiglia, who also directed and co-wrote it.
We asked Birbiglia by email about what it's like doing comedy that is so personal.
Q. Your show is called “My Girlfriend's Boyfriend.” How would you describe the show to someone?
It's basically about all of the painful romantic experiences I've had in my life and how those affected my relationships as an adult. How it led to me having a deep fear of marriage, to the point where I didn't believe in marriage AT ALL — and how, despite that, I decided to get married. And you can come to the show with your parents, your kids, your grandparents. It's a pretty all ages show. I'd say anyone older than 13 or 14 should be fine. I don't curse. And it's good for a date! Unless you feel like that relationship is on the rocks and you feel like the show might bring up too many questions about where the relationship is going.
Q. “Sleepwalk With Me” delved into some stories about issues with commitment. How does “My Girlfriend's Boyfriend” explore that?
I feel like “My Girlfriend's Boyfriend” is in some ways a sequel to “Sleepwalk With Me.” Where “Sleepwalk With Me” is about a character who decides not to get married, and “My Girlfriend's Boyfriend” is about a character who ultimately decides to get married despite not believing in the idea of marriage. So if you like “Sleepwalk With Me,” it's a good chapter two.
Q. The New York Times described your humor as “gentle.” What do you think of that description given that your stories often go to painful places?
Oh that's funny! I guess I didn't notice that they used the word “gentle,” though I have heard that before. Well, yeah — I try to go to painful places, but there are certain things I don't do. Like I don't curse a lot and there aren't a lot of things that are overly graphic or lurid in my shows. But at the same time I try to not pull punches. Maybe I'm gentle but bold? Now I'm just making up quotes for myself.
Q. Your material has always drawn from your real life. How do you feel about being so personal onstage?
I feel pretty good about it. One of the favorite lines that Seth Barrish, the director of my one-man shows, and I say is “you're only as sick as your secrets.” And I think there's some truth to that. I think there's something cathartic about seeing someone tell personal stories on stage. And sometimes that inspires people to tell personal things to people they're close to.
Q. What happens when you run out of funny events from your real life to add to your material?
Oh no! My Achilles heel! I'm kidding. I think obviously comedy is tragedy plus time and I just think that there's no lack of tragedy so that there won't ever be a lack of comedy.
Q. Has there ever been a story you'd love to talk about on stage, but you can't?
Yes. Many, many, many, many, many (times 1,000) stories. But I always have it in my mind when there's a story like that—I'm always estimating in my mind how many years it will take before I'm comfortable talking about it.
Q. Your movie has been doing well in limited release. Do you think we'll see a “My Girlfriend's Boyfriend” movie?
Yeah, I've actually been working on a screen adaptation of “My Girlfriend's Boyfriend” now and I'm hoping to shoot it in 2013.
Q. When you announced the Omaha date you said that you'd never been to Nebraska. Are you excited to come here?
I think I was wrong about that. I think I've been to Omaha once before. And also I did a show once in Grand Island, Neb. — I just remembered — and it was in like a hotel lounge and it went terribly. Very few people showed up and it felt like a classroom. It basically made me realize that the place that I really need to go in Nebraska is Omaha. ...I definitely get the feeling that there's a really cool art scene there. Like I know Bright Eyes is from there! I actually once left my comedy album in a theater dressing room with a note for Bright Eyes because he was playing that theater the next night. No response. Still waiting.
Q. How does playing a theater like the Holland Center compare to performing in a club?
Well, for starters people at a theater listen to what you're saying, which is really important for me because I think of myself as a writer. In a club a lot of times people are just ordering mozzarella stick or B-52 cocktails, and in a theater it's uncouth to order mozzarella sticks.