If you go
What: Mike Birbiglia: Thank God for Jokes Tour
When: Sunday, doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the show starting at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Charleston Music Hall, 37 John St.
For more info: charlestonmusichall.com
Enjoying laughter is just as important to Mike Birbiglia as inducing laughter in others. The award-winning, well-revered comedian, writer, actor and storyteller has been dealing with funny stuff for years, within one medium or another.
As a soft-spoken, wide-eyed stand-up comedian, Birbiglia regularly performs on stage, on the airwaves, on TV and in films. He's developed a strong reputation as a skillful storyteller, as well, particularly though his one-man shows "Sleepwalk With Me" and "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend."
"People often ask me, 'Are you a comedian? Are you a humorist? Are you an actor?' and all of that stuff, and I just tell them that I'm simply a comedian that works in a lot of different settings," says Birbiglia, speaking from New York last week as he prepared for the final leg of his current winter/spring travels with his critically acclaimed Thank God for Jokes Tour.
"Honestly, if what I were doing in any of these settings wasn't funny, I wouldn't be there. I don't think I'm good enough at any of those individual genres of work to be there without the comedic side of it," he says. "That's the part that I love."
Birbiglia was born and raised in Shrewsbury, Mass. He initially got into comedy and improv while attending Georgetown University in the late '90s.
Since then, he's done three Comedy Central specials and released three comedy albums: "Two Drink Mike" (2006), "My Secret Public Journal Live" (2007) and "Sleepwalk With Me Live" (2011).
One of Birbiglia's big breakthroughs came in 2008 when he shared his sleepwalking stories on National Public Radio's "This American Life," hosted by Ira Glass. In an episode titled "Fear of Sleep," the first of several episodes on which he appeared, Birbiglia discussed some of the strange things that happen to him when he sleeps. He suffers from an unusual rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, which causes him to sleepwalk and occasionally put himself in dangerous situations.
Presented by actor Nathan Lane, "Sleepwalk With Me" opened in 2008 off-Broadway at New York's Bleecker Street Theatre. "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" debuted in New York City in 2012 and ran for 15 weeks at the Barrow Street Theatre. Birbiglia traveled to more than 70 cities across the U.S., Australia and the U.K.
Over the last six years, Birbiglia toured heavily across the U.S. in support of his two main one-man shows, "Sleepwalk With Me" and "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend."
This year, he's eager to present and fine-tune all-new material. Billed as the Thank God for Jokes Tour, Birbiglia's latest show touches on the art and science of writing and telling jokes and how they can get one in hot water from time to time.
His new set follows the themes and tones of "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" nicely by touching on similar life experiences: love and pain, triumph and embarrassment, small victories and total blunders.
Birbiglia's current set blossomed from months of performing at Union Hall, a popular bar and music venue in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, just down the street from his apartment. His intimate "workshop" gigs allowed him the opportunity to test new material, rework stories and transitions, and try out new approaches.
"Every night on this new tour is different, but I'm trying out only a few newer bits from night to night than I did at Union Hall," Birbiglia says.
"Things do change from show to show, though. After 'My Girlfriend's Boyfriend' was off Broadway, I took it on the road for a few months, and I actually changed it by about 20 percent by the time we filmed it at the Pantages Theatre in Seattle."
Union Hall is where Birbiglia shot many of the scenes of the 2012 film version of "Sleepwalk With Me." Earlier this year, he performed new material at the venue on Monday nights during a series billed as Working It Out.
"I basically would do an hour of new stuff," he says. "I'd end by telling the audience, 'Come see me in six months; some of this will be better and funnier ... Inevitably, some of this material will be missing because of you and your reaction tonight.' It was fun to do."
Birbiglia considered various titles for the new set over the last two years, bouncing ideas off of his agents, family and friends. He wanted it to refer to jokes because the show's theme is very much about jokes.
"I view comedy as almost a religious experience in that you have a few hundred total strangers in a room, all laughing at something at the same time together," Birbiglia says.
"It's a special experience that's very unique. I think it's very communal in the way that religions can be."
Beyond the tour
For his one-man shows, Birbiglia regularly works with a director and crew to develop stories and scenes to tell a larger story. His main goal for his latest work was to create a euphorically funny experience for the audience.
"I wanted to make this the funniest show I could make, having learned the lessons I've learned over the years by making a film, a one-person show and a comedy album," he says. "I wanted to make a show that was purely funny. And so far, so good."
Birbiglia says he'll spend much of 2014 working on two new film roles in addition to his stand-up and stage work.
Last fall, he joined the cast of "The Fault in Our Stars," a film based on a work by author John Green. The cast includes Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe.
Birbiglia also recently hooked up with director-producer-writer Judd Apatow ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up") to act in the forthcoming movie "Trainwreck," which will feature Tilda Swinton, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, John Cena, Ezra Miller, Amy Schumer and Vanessa Bayer.
This week, however, he has just a few more dates in the Southeast to complete his Thanks God for Jokes Tour. He says audiences shouldn't expect an old-school set of one-liners or zingers. Instead, the new material will be rendered very much in line with the thoughtful, colorful and dynamic storytelling style of his recent works.
"Thematically, the show comes down to how and why I love comedy so much," Birbiglia says. "Comedy is one of these things that I've always been drawn to. It's always made me feel closer to people. It's led me to the times I've been happiest in my life. "
Comedian Mike Birbiglia.×
Mike Birbiglia at Carnegie Hall. Birbiglia will perform at the Charleston Music Hall on Sunday.×
Mike Birbiglia takes a versatile approach to comedy.×
Notice about comments:
The Post and Courier is pleased to offer readers the enhanced ability to comment on stories. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point.