Comedian Mike Birbiglia has been winning fans over for years with his punchy, stream-of-consciousness joke telling. He recently brought his quick, tangent-driven humor to the page in his authorial debut, Sleepwalk With Me and Other Painfully True Stories. Sleepwalk is a predictably hilarious but surprisingly touching memoir. Birbiglia performs in Atlanta on Thurs., Nov. 4, at the Variety Playhouse.
In the book you say, "To be a comedian you have to be delusional." Do you feel the same way about being an author?
Absolutely! It's about believing you can do something that only other people are supposed to be able to do. When my editor would say things like, "We'd like it to be around 50-70,000 words," I would try to block it out. I'm the guy in college who got the writing assignment and was like, "A four-page paper?" Time to call in my old friend Courier 14.
You have a very stream-of-consciousness style to your writing. Is that the result of doing stand-up for so long, or is that always how you've written?
It's not intentional. It's just how I think and process ideas. The tough part is making sure that it's translating to the reader. I feel like in this case it does, but it's only because I had a bunch of counselors saying, "This doesn't make sense" and "this makes sense" and "don't call me again."
If you could choose between your two childhood dream jobs of becoming a rapper or pizza restaurant owner, which would you go with now and why?
The crazy thing about rap is that guys like Eminem have these amazing lyrics that can be incredibly funny, and then comedy guys like Bo Burnham and the Lonely Island guys make really good rap music themselves that's actually musically pretty tight. So maybe I should open a pizzeria, because that is not going to morph into some other genre of food.
You have a chapter that deals with your mom being sick and you losing your faith in Catholicism — heavy topics. How do you make something like that funny for the reader, and were you uncomfortable writing any of it?
I try to find the humor in it. I mean, do 8-year-olds need to learn about concepts like original sin and the Holy Trinity? Is it healthy to for 12-year-olds to be told they're eating the actual body of Christ? I could be outraged, or make people laugh. At the end of the day, nobody died. Except Jesus. But that was a long time ago.
Now that you're famous, do you ever go back and taunt all those girls that ignored you back in middle school?
Isn't that what Facebook is for? No, I don't begrudge any seventh grade girls for not wanting to make out with me. They were right.
How many people out of every 10 would you say pronounce your last name correctly?
If by correctly you mean the Americanized way my family decided to pronounce it, then none out of 10.
What does your secretive father think about the book ... secretly?
My dad has been instructed not to read the book. But he likes the cover, and I think he's judging it by that, which is healthy.
Have you gotten endorsement deals and spokesperson requests from medical societies doing research on sleepwalking?
I have been invited to speak at a few medical conferences, and I would love an endorsement deal from a pharmaceutical company, but from what I understand they don't have any money for promotion and advertising.
What are you going to do next, professionally?
I have a number of upcoming appearances, and following those dates, I'm going to be preparing my next off-Broadway show in New York, which will be titled My Girlfriend's Boyfriend.