Jason Wiese | Culture Editor
From Print [October 20, 2015] | Legacy
Most of the stories that Mike Birbiglia tells on stage are inspired by actual encounters he has had with strangers or even his family and friends, which the comedian claims can affect his performance for the worse.
“I always think about that,” Birbiglia said of the possibility of the subject of his joke appearing in the audience. “I prefer when no one I know is in the audience… I think of it like stripping, or something, where it’s like, if I were a stripper, I wouldn’t want anyone I know to be there… That’s why I loved the show tonight: I didn’t know anybody.”
The show he is referring to was his St. Charles show at the Evans Commons of Lindenwood University on the night of Saturday, Oct. 17. In a student poll, generated by LU Connect, which included choices such as “SNL’s” Colin Jost and Kate McKinnon and “The Mindy Project’s” Mindy Kaling, Birbiglia was chosen to perform for this year’s Homecoming concert. The show, which was presented by the Campus Activities Board, was free to LU students, but also open to the public.
Born in Shrewsbury Massachusetts, Birbiglia, 37, has been performing stand-up comedy since the early 2000s, citing the likes of Steven Wright, Mitch Hedburg and Richard Pryor as influences.
“A lot of [my influences] are people who, I think, earlier in my career, I sounded a lot like, ya know?” Birbiglia said. “Because, when you start out, you are just kind of mimicking what you like in comedy and I sort of found my way to figure out what I sound like.”
He has since released multiple albums and live specials, most recently 2013’s “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.” His acclaimed one-man show “Sleepwalk with Me,” which revealed his personal struggle with sleepwalking disorder, introduced him to the mainstream. It also inspired a book that he eventually adapted into a feature film that he directed and starred in, which also won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. But the past year has been a rocket ship of rising stardom for Birbiglia, starring in box office hits “The Fault in Our Stars,” last summer’s “Trainwreck” with Amy Schumer and landing a recurring role on Season Three of “Orange is the New Black.” However, for someone who tells stories of the most unfortunate moments of his life for a living, he does not find his fortunate success all that bewildering.
“There’s the old trope, which is ‘comedy is tragedy, plus time,’ and I think the tragedy never goes,” Birbiglia said. “It’s a constant. There’s always a struggle… Life is hard for everybody. You’re always dealing with sickness and death and hardship and hospital visits and things are challenging… Being a human is hard.”
He covered plenty of his most challenging moments in life at his LU show, most of which will also be a part of his next upcoming special, “Thank God for Jokes.” He kept the crowd exquisitely entertained recounting stories involving his first time getting arrested (which led to an audience poll on arrest records with hysterical, eyebrow-raising results), unintentionally offending a nut allergenic person on an airplane by eating a sandwich on walnut bread and raising his new five month-old daughter, Oona, with his wife, Jen Stein, which is “obviously not tragic,” he said. In fact, his take on fatherhood is one of the most positive things he has to speak about.
“So far, it’s a lot of sleeplessness and joy. There’s a lot of that,” he said. “A lot of first things: first steps, first walking, first standing, first crawling. There’s a lot of that coming at you.”
This spring, Birbiglia will follow up “Sleepwalk with Me” with his second directorial effort with the comedy, “Don’t Think Twice,” which he also wrote and acts in.
“It’s about an improv group where one of the members of the group gets cast on a sketch comedy show on TV and the rest of them don’t and it’s about how that can take a toll on people’s friendships,” he said. Perhaps when “Don’t Think Twice” is released, Lindenwood’s crowd will back him enough to give it a shot at the box office.