From Sleepwalking to Sundance
October 18, 2012—Mike Birbiglia (C’00) once held the title of Georgetown’s “Funniest Person on Campus.” Now he’s taking his comedy to film in his new movie, Sleepwalk with Me.
An official selection at SXSW and a 2012 Audience Award winner at Sundance, Sleepwalk with Me chronicles the beginning of Matt Pandamiglio’s stand-up career and the end of his long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Abby. Mike, or “Matt,” must also deal with his sleepwalking disorder, which worsens as his anxiety grows. Birbiglia directed the film, which he co-wrote with Ira Glass of This American Life. In a recent interview, he reflected on his time at Georgetown and his entry into the film world.
Georgetown: Some alumni who work in entertainment find people are surprised to discover that they went to Georgetown. What was your experience at Georgetown like?
Mike Birbiglia: That’s funny because I find that a lot as well—although increasingly less between me, Nick Kroll (C’01), John Mulaney (C’04), Jim Gaffigan (B’88), Mitch Hurwitz (C’85), Allison Becker (C’99), and a whole bunch of others. There are a lot of people who went to Georgetown working in entertainment. My experience at Georgetown was really positive. I always recommend it to people because I feel like if I’d gone to a more arts-focused school, I might not have been as well-rounded in terms of what I studied. And I feel like I’m really lucky to have had that experience. When I was a freshman I was cast in the Georgetown Players improv troupe, and I did that for four years and as a sophomore I won the “Funniest Person on Campus” contest. And that’s how I ended up performing at the DC Improv and a lot of my career sort of sprung from there.
GU: How did you learn how to do stand-up and comedic storytelling?
MB: I think just a lot of trial and error and just trying to work with people like Ira whom I really admire and try to learn from them. When I was at Georgetown, I studied screenwriting and playwriting under John Glavin and that was my first sort of mentor relationship, and I feel like I looked for those types of mentors when I left Georgetown and went into the world. That’s not to say that Georgetown isn’t “the world.” But…you know…the world.
GU: How do you feel about the reaction to Sleepwalk with Me and the fans’ campaigns to bring it to more theaters?
MB: I’m very excited. To have so many people see your first feature film and actually like it is a real lucky thing to have happen. It’s not something I expected to happen. I think the movie, all told, will play in 300 theaters, which is a lot for a small film. I actually think it’s still playing at E Street cinema!
GU: You were familiar with the material as a one-man show and a book, but what did you have to do differently to take this story to film?
MB: Making the movie forced me to think about some of my stories in a completely different way. With film particularly, you really have to conceive all of your experiences visually, and that’s something I had never truly done before.
GU: You’ve mentioned wanting to use comedy “as a means to an end.” What do you want to accomplish with your stand-up and storytelling?
MB: Ideally I just want people to laugh and ultimately to have the experience add up to something more than laughter. If they feel something, that’s great. Or if it makes them reflect on something in their life, that’s great. The show I’m touring with right now—“My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend”—is all about exploring the thing that I was really uncomfortable with, marriage. And if that makes people reflect on their own feelings toward marriage or other things they’re uncomfortable with—then that is a success.
GU: The movie addresses a lot of those questions you get after college. Do you have any advice for students about to enter those awkward, “trying-to-figure-it-out” years?
MB: I would just say pursue the thing that you are passionate about doing and try to stay focused on doing that thing. And know that if there are more than 10 people who want to do that thing, it’s going to be very hard to do it. So you need to consider that and how many hours it’s going to take in your life to be successful in that field. And if you don’t want to put in those hours, you just don’t do it.
GU: Are there any other projects you hope to tackle in the near future?
MB: We’ve done the show [“My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend”] all over the world, London, Sydney, Montreal, Toronto, and off-Broadway. I’m also working on the screen adaptation of “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” and I’m hoping to shoot in 2013. I’ve written a draft of it, and right now I’m working on a second draft.
GU: Last question, will there be a sequel to your short film with Terry Gross, Fresh Air 2: 2 Fresh 2 Furious?
MB: We are in fierce talent negotiations with Terry Gross right now for the sequel to the sequel, 2 Fresh 2 Furious. No official comment from Gross’s camp. Tentatively called: Fresh Air 3: 3 Freshest 3 Most Furious. But we’re still working on that title.
Birbiglia’s Short Film Fresh Air 2: 2 Fresh 2 Furious