Birbiglia became the poster boy for REM (rapid eye movement) behavior disorder and self-deprecating laughs after cataloging his slumbering escapades (like jumping through a second-story window) in Sleepwalk With Me. Now, Birbiglia is on a 100-city tour — his biggest yet — for the new comedy special Thank God for Jokes; he’s still making the everyday hilarious, e.g., kissing is weird when you really think about it. EW caught up with the comedian on the road.
What’s on your mind today?
I’m riding with my brother Joe from East Lansing, Mich., to Royal Oak, Mich. These days it’s all about weather.com. It’s about the new show, so that every night is great and making sure I show up to the show. In East Lansing, there was a gym affiliated [with the hotel] — it had a bar-restaurant in the middle. Yesterday I ate chicken fingers and watched people play sports.
Last time I performed in Eugene was in the public library when my book came out, Sleepwalk with Me: and Other Painfully True Stories. I was invited by the Eugene Public Library to perform. No one else had asked me to perform in Eugene. It was fun. I got a shushing ovation.
Your brother drives you to your tour stops?
He’s coming to Eugene. He comes on a lot of the tour dates. We’ve been working together for about 10 years. He writes with me. He’s a producer. He introduced me to comedy when I was younger. He took me to Steven Wright.
I was listening to This American Life’s “Good Guys” episode on the radio the other night. In your segment, you talk about taking public transport. Do you take public transport a lot? Do you get a lot of material from that?
I take the subway in New York constantly, which I love. I love the subway. My grandfather was an electrician on the subway in the ’30s … It’s good people-watching. You can’t get much material on the subway; you can get more material on the bus. [The subway] is not as relatable. I love public transportation. I like that I’m at the point in my career where I go around the country, people go out to see me, the shows are really fun, people get my albums and stuff, but I’m not well known enough that it prohibits me from doing anything. Mike Birbiglia is good on the subway.
You’ve done a lot with This American Life. How did you get involved?
I started doing stories for The Moth. I would do stories for them and then I told the sleepwalking story. I asked if they would send it to This American Life. They sent it along. I didn’t want it to be a live segment but Ira [Glass] was convinced that it would be a good live segment. We emailed back and forth. Finally he called me: “Hey Mike, it’s Ira Glass. I’m calling to convince you to let us use your live [Moth] audio on the show.” He’s got such a powerful and influential radio voice. It’s even more powerful on the phone — that star-power phone call ability. We got along on the phone and we’ve kind of been friends ever since.
So you’ve just kicked off a 100-city tour for Thank God for Jokes. Is this your biggest tour yet?
This is by far the biggest tour I’ve ever done. My last tour was about 70 cities. They’re inventing cities for this tour.
I’ve read that you’re working on a screenplay for My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend and that it might be made into a movie or a TV show. What’s going on?
People keep suggesting that it should be a TV show. I don’t want it to be a TV show … I’m writing another screenplay simultaneously.
What’s the other screenplay going to be about?
No, I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want it to get out there. [Laughs.]
Mike Birbiglia’s Thank God for Jokes tour comes to Eugene 7:30 pm Saturday, Jan. 25, at the McDonald Theatre; $25-$35. Q&A edited for clarity and length.