By Michael Benninger
On December 5, Mike Birbiglia will tell awkward tales from his uncomfortable past at downtown’s Balboa Theatre, one of many stops on the comedian’s cross-country Thank God for the Jokes tour.
“I’ve been touring for like 15 years, and I’ve never done a proper show in San Diego,” says Birbiglia, a longtime contributor to public radio’s This American Life. “I always love when I go somewhere I haven’t played before because I’m finally able to tell the people from Twitter and Facebook who’ve inevitably urged me to come to their city, that I’m coming. It’s kind of thrilling.”
Birbiglia, who chronicled his real-life struggles with somnambulism in his directorial debut, Sleepwalk with Me, once fell through a second-story window of a Washington motel while sleeping. Now, he goes to bed each night zipped-up in a sleeping bag and wearing mittens to prevent an unawake escape.
“I just got an email from my brother about a hotel on the Florida leg of my tour that doesn’t have a ground-floor room. That’s always an issue,” he says. “I always have to find ground-floor hotel rooms.”
PacificSD: why should people pay to see your upcoming show in San Diego?
MIKE BIRBIGLIA: It’s a brand new show, and I’m really excited about it. If people don’t know me, they can go on Netflix to watch my comedy specials and my movie. If you don’t have Netflix you can just borrow somebody’s password, and then you’ll have Netflix.
You’ve done stand-up, TV, movies, off-Broadway shows, radio and more. What form of comedic expression do you enjoy most?
I feel like I’m most passionate about movies, but that’s a tough thing to say, because they’re the hardest to make. Sleepwalk with Me took four years of my life to write, direct, edit and release to the world.
What’s been your favorite acting role to date?
I’ve been doing something on Orange is the New Black, which has been really fun. It’s for season three, so I can’t really talk about it yet. I’m in a Judd Apatow movie called Trainwreck coming out next summer, and it was pretty thrilling to work with someone whose movies I watched from afar for so many years. I also did a scene with Cameron Diaz for the new Annie movie. She plays Miss Hannigan, and I play an inspector who gets seduced by her. That was a surreal experience. I never saw that sort of stuff happening in my life, so I kinda relish it.
Who are your favorite comedians on-the-rise?
I feel like every time I talk about a rising comedian, they end up being more famous than me, like, in a day. Four weeks ago, I would have said Michael Che, but now he’s the anchor of SNL’s Weekend Update. Kevin Barnett is really good, he has a new show coming on TruTV called Friends of the People. Josh Rabinowitz is also really brilliant. He’s another one on that show.
What’s the worst joke you’ve ever told on stage?
One of the silliest jokes I’ve ever told was from my first album and goes like this: I was on the subway, and the guy next to me was crying over a book. So I leaned over and I said, ‘You don’t know how to read either, huh?’
“I feel like there’s too many cameras right now. Like, you go to buy something, and everything’s also a camera. They’ll be like, ‘It’s also a camera.’ And I’m like, ‘I just wanted a grapefruit.’” -Comedy Central Presents
Mike Birbiglia, performing live December 5 at Balboa Theatre in the Gaslamp