Eugene Weekly : Books : 10.21.10


Funny Guy?
Mike Birbiglia puts his pain on display
by Molly Templeton

Self-deprecating comedian Mike Birbiglia’s new book, Sleepwalk With Me and Other Painfully True Stories (Simon & Shuster, $24), is a slim little volume with a deceptively casual voice. Birbiglia writes like he talks; some of the pieces in the book clearly began as bits to be performed, and it helps to have some familiarity with Birbiglia’s stand-up (or off-Broadway show, or CDs, or late-night talk show appearances). It’s like a cheat sheet for knowing just how to hear the stories in your head: the tone is unpretentious, gentle, slightly baffled. Birbiglia is a dry observer of life’s most awkward moments, which he twists into stories that are never unkind in their honesty. Most of the more brutal honesty is directed at Birbiglia himself: His first memory of getting “widespread attention” involves shitting in the yard at the age of 5; his first kiss results in the girl proclaiming him “the worst kisser she’s ever kissed”; and then there’s the everyday, consistent rejection of trying to become a successful stand-up comedian. His time on the college circuit makes for a fascinating read — the “nooner” performances in inappropriate spaces, the forced travel, the unreceptive audiences — especially once, near the book’s end, Birbiglia gets to the story that gives the book its title. He’s a sleepwalker, prone to waking up in a karate pose on the bed, convinced there’s a jackal in the room, and in a La Quinta in Walla Walla, Wash., the sleepwalking takes a notably dramatic turn. It’s painful, not funny, but that’s Birbiglia’s thing. Plenty of comics mine the horrible and transform it into humor, but Birbiglia leaves the pain right there, wrapping the awful stuff in a sort of distantly affectionate regret that things played out the way they did — except that if they hadn’t, he wouldn’t have gotten a story out of it

Sleepwalk With Me begins and ends with Birbiglia’s dad’s constant refrain: “Don’t tell anyone.” It’s a good thing Birbiglia, like the rest of us, didn’t always listen to his parents.

Mike Birbiglia performs at 1 pm Sunday, Oct. 24, at the Eugene Public Library.


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