Mike Birbiglia

Currently in London with his off-Broadway hit, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, comedian and best-selling author Mike Birbiglia, prompted by a near-death car accident, thinks about his future while telling us the painfully true story of his love life, from high school girls with braces to Jenny, the woman he told he would never ever get married. Mike’s fairly mild humour and his Billy Connolly-esque storytelling abilities continue to delight his growing army of fans [or ‘Birbiglians’] and newcomers in the UK too.

Having released three hit CDs, Two Drink Mike, My Secret Public Journal Live, which was named one of the “Best Comedy Albums of the Decade” by The Onion AV Club, and a live recording of his last Off-Broadway hit show Sleepwalk With Me, which Birbiglia has now adapted as a feature film due out later this year. The film follows a promising stand-up comedian struggling with a failing relationship and a sleep disorder he is trying to ignore.

FAULT: Why should everyone see your movie?
MIKE: Because it’s different. You know I have these writing slogans on my wall whenever I’m writing and want to be inspired. One that drove everything in the final stages was an Ezra Pound quote; it was just three words, ‘make it new.’ That’s what I tried to do, and I feel that’s what a lot of people are getting from it.

Do you ever worry about what the people in your life will think of the stories you’re telling on stage, or in your film?
I always think about that. I tell true stories on stage but I always say whenever people ask how much of it is true, ‘the parts that you wouldn’t think are true, are true, and the parts that you wouldn’t even think about are probably fudged in some small way,’ like the chronology of the event. I spent a long time talking through this current show with my wife Jenny. She was instrumental in helping me put together many of the stories because I didn’t want to end our relationship.

You learn in the film, and I assume in life, that the truth can be funnier than fiction. Do you ever get approached in the street and think ‘how do these people know so much about my life?’
I do get that. Sometimes people take photos with me after shows, and they’ll say ‘oh you should do the dance club story you did on your first CD,’ and I’ll say, ‘I don’t even remember the words to that story.’ It’s like Elton John songs that people know by heart. That can be a little jarring.

Are obsessive fans worrying?
Not so far. I could see how theoretically it could be, the way that Robert De Niro’s character is terrifying in King of Comedy, but so far it hasn’t been. I like the level of notoriety I have right now, which is to say that people come to see my shows on purpose. I’m not someone that happens to be on stage when people show up. People have to know who I am to show up. I find whenever I do meet people after shows, I actually really like them. I think they’re interesting people, who tend to be kind of nerdy, bookish, comedy fans.

Speaking about your fans, I am planning to write in my intro to this interview about your growing army of fans. I heard recently that the twilight fans and called Twi-hards. Is there a name for your fans?
I’ve heard a couple. I’ve heard Forbigheads.
Oh right, okay.
I’ve heard Forbig fans.
Neither are really grabbing me.
No, no.
What do you think?
They don’t do much for me. If you have any ideas I’m completely open.
Birbiglians, I like that yeah.
Your tone makes me think you don’t like that.
No, no, I like that, no Birbiglians, I think that’s good, it’s very strange.

On your CD a few years ago, you mentioned that you have a habit of making awkward situations even more awkward, and I was wondering has that happened to you recently.
Yeah I had this thing where I was flying to California and I was ravenous. I hadn’t eaten breakfast. So I got on the flight around 11am and I had a chicken salad sandwich on walnut bread. I took a couple of bites and, you know that feeling you have where you need to eat the rest of something immediately because you’re in the motion of eating? Then the flight attendant came over, and she said ‘I’m sorry but you can’t eat that sandwich because the woman next to you,’ she points, ‘she has a nut allergy’ I said to the woman, ‘you don’t have to eat it, does it bother you if it’s over here?’ I was two seats away. She said, ‘yeah it makes me go into shock, even if nuts are in the air,’ The air!? ‘In the air around me,’ and so I went and ate the rest of the sandwich in the airplane’s bathroom. That’s when I discovered that I have a fecal airspace allergy. That’s awkward.

Mike is playing the Soho Theatre in London from the 15th to the 26th of May. Sleepwalk With Me, the movie, will be on release in the autumn. Visit Birbigs.com and SohoTheatre.com for more information.

Interview by Chris Purnell