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Comedian Mike Birbiglia

Spending The Night With Sleepwalker Mike Birbiglia.

Comedian Mike Birbiglia has a disorder that makes him sleepwalk. He recounts his worst episode — as well as other painfully embarrassing moments — in his comedic memoir, Sleepwalk With Me.


Other segments from the episode on October 18, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 18, 2010: Interview with Mike Birbiglia; Review of the season finales of television shows "Mad Men" and "Rubicon."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Spending The Night With Sleepwalker Mike Birbiglia


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Maybe you know my guest, Mike Birbiglia, from his stories on "This American
Life" or from his specials on Comedy Central. He's really funny and his humor
is often about painful or embarrassing experiences. He even has a website and a
recording called "My Secret Public Journal," which he's described as a way of
making his awkward situations even more awkward.

His new book, "Sleepwalk with Me," is adapted in part from his one-man show of
the same name, which was produced by Nathan Lane. In a New York Times review of
the show, Neil Genzlinger described it as, quote, "a circuitous tale loosely
pegged to Birbiglia's troubles with sleepwalking, but like any good monologue,
this one is about more than what it's about. By the end, Mr. Birbiglia has also
given us the birth and death of a romance, a portrait of his relationship with
his father and a short course in various medical disorders," unquote.

Let's start with a reading from the book about Birbiglia's sleepwalking, which
has gotten him into precarious situations. This reading describes an incident
in which he nearly killed himself while sleepwalking.

Mr. MIKE BIRBIGLIA (Author, "Sleepwalk with Me"): So it's January 20th, 2005,
and I'm in Walla Walla, Washington. I'm lying in bed at La Quinta Inn. I'm
Googling myself, watching the news and eating a pizza at the same time.

And I fall asleep, and I have a dream that there is a guided missile headed
towards my room, and there are all these military personnel in the room, and I
jump out of bed, and I say: What's the plan? And they say the missile
coordinates are set specifically on you. And I decided in my dream and, as it
turns out, in my life to jump out my window.

There are two important details: One, I was on the second floor; two, the
window was closed. So I jumped through the closed window like The Hulk. That's
how I described it at the emergency room. I was like: You know The Hulk? You
know how he just kind of jumps through windows and walls? That's kind of like

So I jumped through the window, and this is the hardest part to explain because
people who have REM behavior disorder are physically able to do things they
couldn't normally do because they don't feel any inhibition or pain. So I
jumped through the window, fell two stories, landed on the front lawn of the
hotel, got up and kept running.

GROSS: Mike Birbiglia, welcome to FRESH AIR. You're really funny. It's a
pleasure to have you here.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Thanks.

GROSS: So that is a crazy story. I mean, I can't – I can't imagine how you even
survived jumping out of the two-story window or jumping through the window, for
that matter. I don't even know how you managed to break the glass when you
jumped through the window.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, I – it's a very strange thing to explain to people, and I
was at a loss.

GROSS: I mean, I don't think I could take a chair and break through that

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Sometimes when I'm staying at hotels, I'll bang on the windows
to see could I go through this thing if, you know, if I ended up in a – if I
had a sleepwalking incident like this, but...

GROSS: So you get to the emergency with shards of glass sticking through your
legs. You get like 33 stitches or something. You're lucky you survived. You
didn't even have any broken bones, amazingly.


GROSS: Did they even believe you at the emergency room?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, they – I was concerned that they wouldn't. I feel like
they see a lot at the emergency room. I feel like they...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But they see a lot of people who are crazy and are telling them things
that aren't true.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: That's true too, yeah.

GROSS: But they did give you a diagnosis.


GROSS: So explain what your diagnosis was.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I was diagnosed not there, but I flew back to New York and saw a
sleep physician. And I stayed overnight for observation. They put the
electrodes all over my body and observed my sleep, and I was diagnosed with REM
behavior disorder, where people have a dopamine deficiency, which is the
chemical that's released from your brain into your body when you fall asleep
that paralyzes your body so you don't act out your dreams.

And people who have this are commonly running away from some kind of demon or
wild animal, and people who have this, in rare instances, have actually killed
people while remaining asleep.

GROSS: So when I'm sleeping, I have dopamine, which is paralyzing my body, so
I'm not running from the monster...


GROSS: ...whereas you don't have enough of that, so you are literally running
from the monster.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: That's the gist of it. I hope I'm not bastardizing that, for
doctors listening. But yes, that's the gist of it.

GROSS: So what do you do to make sure that when you're sleeping, you're
actually asleep now - I mean that you're not moving around?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I take Klonopin. I'm diagnosed – I'm prescribed an anti-anxiety,
which is called Klonopin, and it's not a cure. It's just something that works
pretty well with people with RBD.

GROSS: So are you afraid to fall asleep now because there's always the
possibility that you'll sleepwalk and do something dangerous?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I try not to think about it. It's something that sometimes hits
me in a big way, you know, because I'm an anxious person. And so sometimes, all
of a sudden, I'm going, you know, I've had a terrible day, and this happened,
and this went wrong, and I got this phone call that was bad. And on top of all
that, I might die when I go to sleep...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: ...which really, really can top anybody's bad day.

GROSS: You know, the fact that it's potentially dangerous to fall asleep is
pretty scary because theoretically, it's the time when you're safely tucked in
your bed, and everything's quiet, and your body's in a state of relaxation,
whereas you risk jumping out the window.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, that's what I had to kind of teach myself to do since the
incident happened, which is – and it's a good thing for anybody, which is to
kind of dial down gradually into sleep, as opposed to kind of nose-diving into
sleep, kind of landing it.

GROSS: Like eating a whole pizza before you sleep?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, exactly. I have all these – or I used to have all these
terrible sleeping habits, where I would eat pizza and eat tons of food and
watch the news, which is the worst thing.

I mean, if you think about it, it's insane that the 11 o'clock news is even a
concept because you're trying to, like, rest. Meanwhile, someone's on TV
saying: This is new. You know, listen to this. And it's the most graphic thing
you could possibly imagine. It's insane.

GROSS: So your father's a neurologist. Did he help you understand what's going

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: He kept suggesting I see a doctor.

GROSS: Which was a good idea, I must say.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Which is a great idea, yeah, yeah, and eventually, when I did
jump through the window, he called a doctor, and he called around to
neurologists in New York and found one who actually was the person who said
that I should, in the short term, sleep in a sleeping bag.

People think it's made up. It's actually true. I should sleep in a sleeping bag
up to my neck and wear mittens so that I can't open the sleeping bag, which I
still kind of do to this day.

I mean, I'm diagnosed, and I take medication, but yeah, I still have like a
sleep sack that I tie up.

GROSS: Do you take that on the road with you?


GROSS: Yeah, okay.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Little Eastern Mountain Sports, like, summer deal.

GROSS: You've made a career telling stories, many of which are painful or
embarrassing stories about your life. You have something that you call "The
Secret Public Journal" on your website.

But your book starts off with you explaining that when you were growing up, and
you'd tell your father anything about your life, he would say: Don't tell

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: So kind of interesting change you've gone through between don't tell
anyone and keeping your secret public journal. But why would your father urge
you not to tell anyone?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I mean, there's many reasons. You know, my father would say, you
know, the more people know about you, the more they can use it against you,
which I say in the show always sent shivers down my spine because it has like
an open-ended fear to it, like that feeling you have when you're driving, and
you see a cop, and you're not speeding, you don't have drugs, but you're just
like I hope he doesn't notice I'm driving, you know, ten-and-two, sitting

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: But yeah, no I think – part, my mom and other people who are
close to the situation - oh, my sister Patty has said this before, is that it's
a very Italian trait. My dad is of a few generations back but of Sicilian
descent, and my sister Patti says, has said to me that when she went to visit
Sicily, that that's kind of the mentality.

GROSS: My parents had that attitude to some extent, and I always thought it was
because, you know, it's a Jewish family. They're from the Holocaust generation.


GROSS: The generation, you know, that was – that lost people in the Holocaust.
And also, you know, they're of the McCarthy-era generation, where you could be

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: That's right. That's right.

GROSS: ...who would be exposed for being attached to a communist?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: That's true.

GROSS: So of course there were things you would be, that everybody would be
worried about, if they know this, they might think that, you know. But I think
this fear, if you're instilled with this fear of oh, if they find out this
about me, it will be used against me translates so easily to the more they know
about me, the more they'll hate me, the more ashamed I will be of who I am.


GROSS: So it's a kind of awful thing to carry around with you, isn't it?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, yeah, but I think that's how I ended up being a comedian,
as like a reaction to that mentality.

GROSS: So you did the opposite.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: Taken all the personal, embarrassing things and totally put them out
there and also managed to find a way to make them funny, which is the key to
what you're doing.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, I mean, and I sympathize with my dad. I mean, first of
all, he's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I mean, the more people know about you, the more they can use it
against you. So, I mean, even though my whole book is about not doing that,
it's true. He's right. He's a very smart guy. And then the other thing is I
sympathize because, you know, he worked his whole life to send me to college so
I could, you know, learn stuff. And I did, and I got a job making fun of him in
front of strangers, you know. That sort of whole thing backfired.

GROSS: You've got to read the dedication of the book.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Read that out loud for us.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: This is actually I think all of the book that my parents have

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I've read it to them personally this summer because I told them
the book was coming out, and I said I will give you one copy of it, and I
happen to know it's still sitting on their kitchen table, and no one – I don't
think anyone's cracked it open yet.

But the dedication is: To my parents, Vincent and Mary Jean. If it weren't for
your support of my many delusions, I would not have been able to write this
book. Also, don't read the chapters about yourselves. Also, I love you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's really funny. And I'm trying to figure out if they've used
remarkable self-control in not reading the book because it must be so tempting
but terrifying at the same time.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, I don't know what it is. I certainly don't bad-mouth them
in the book, I mean, do you think?

GROSS: No, but I mean, you're just revealing things that they would've always
preferred not be told about yourself and the family.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, I suppose that's true. But I really do think that there's
something about – I mean, I think the reason I went in this direction
comedically in the last few years is partly because comedy is – I feel like in
the last, like, decade or so has gotten so kind of disposable and ironic and

GROSS: So, you know, we've talked about how a lot of things that other people
might keep private is the stuff of your comedy.


GROSS: And so moving along in that direction, when you were 19, I think, you
were diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in your bladder, which is a pretty
horrifying thing to have.

Fortunately, it was diagnosed so early that as far as I know from your book,
all you've needed is a lot of subsequent tests to make sure everything's okay.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, I go in every year for a cystoscopy.

GROSS: Yeah. So how did you take it when you found out? Like, did you freak

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, I mean, yeah, I was driving home for Christmas break from
college, and I stopped at a rest stop, and there was blood in my pee, and I
instantly knew that that doesn't usually have positive ramifications.

And, you know, I had that period, you know, of a few weeks certainly, and then
really for the subsequent months and years where I thought, well, this could
come back, and I could die.

And I think actually, in some ways, that was one of the things that drove me to
over-achieve in my early 20s was this kind of race against time of I'm not
going to live past - to be 30 or 40. So I've got to do something in my 20s. And
that's I think why I was so aggressive in my career and kind of worked myself
like crazy.

GROSS: So there's a paragraph I want you to read from your book, "Sleepwalk
with Me," about waking up after the surgery that removed the cancerous tumor in
your bladder.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, this is from the chapter called "Something in My Bladder":
While I was under, they found something in my bladder, you know, an item. So
they decided to put me under deeper so that they could take it out. So they put
me on the hospital equivalent of horse tranqs. When I woke up in the recovery
room, I was sky-high with my mom, which was not the first time in my life that
I'd been high with my mom, but it was the first time she knew.

And I don't handle drugs very well. If you've ever been in a group of people
smoking pot, I'm the guy who says: Do you guys hate me? Why does my heart hurt?
Is that rickets? I'm not proud of it. It's just what I am.

So I woke up in the recovery room, but in my mind, I was in a dance club. I was
shouting: This place is awesome. We should come here all the time. Why didn't
we come here sooner? Dad's always here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: And my mom was like shh, and I was like shh, do you hate me?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's really funny.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Thanks.

GROSS: That's a paragraph you can let your mother read.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, yeah. She's heard that one. She came to the show in New
York, and that was in there.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is comic Mike Birbiglia. He has a
one-man show called "Sleepwalk with Me," and now he has a book called
"Sleepwalk with Me." He's also a contributor to "This American Life." Let's
take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: That sounds great.


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Mike Birbiglia. He's a comic who has done specials for
Comedy Central, and he's a contributor to "This American Life." His new book,
"Sleepwalk with Me," is a series of painful, sometimes embarrassing stories.
When we left off, he had just done a funny reading about when he was 19 and had
a cancerous tumor removed from his bladder.

So how soon does a horrifying experience like this become funny enough to you?
Can you see, like, a funny perspective on it to change it into comedy?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Well, there's no set time. I mean, the truth is a lot of people
are still uncomfortable with it and who are close to me. You know, I mean,
comedy is tragedy plus time, but the time is different for everybody. I mean, I
tell some of these stories, and people in my family are like: Why are you
telling these stories?

GROSS: Was there anything remotely funny about that recovery room experience
when you were going through it?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: No, it wasn't funny. It wasn't funny at the time. I mean,
there's a really inspiring thing in the recent – I saw Joan Rivers a few weeks
ago live, and the reason I went to see her is because I saw her documentary, "A
Piece of Work," which I found so inspiring. And there's that moment where she's
at a casino performing, and she's telling a Helen Keller joke, and someone
yells: That's not funny. You know, I think it's my daughter's deaf or whatever
the thing was.

And Joan Rivers just goes crazy on this person, and she goes: No, that's why it
is funny. That's why we're here. We're here to talk about things that are

GROSS: Yeah, and she says my mother was hard of hearing. My mother was like


GROSS: So don't tell me what's funny.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, and F-you to that person, she said, whatever you can say
on the radio. But that made me cry when I saw that because to me, that is what
comedy is about. It's about talking about things that are really uncomfortable,
to come to grips with it.

GROSS: Yeah, which means you're really putting yourself out there when you're
on stage.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think the thing that really turned me off
about comedy, and I think part of the reason I went towards this is because
comedy to me started to get so generic. Like, stand-up comedians all sounded
like basically mimeographs of Jerry Seinfeld, which I thought was really
unfortunate because I think he's brilliant. But I think that mimeographs of him
are not.

GROSS: Or they're mimeographs of the guy who talks about sex all the time.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah. There's definitely...

GROSS: Choose your guy.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, there's definitely a group of iconic comedians from the
last 20 years who people started sounding like. And for me, actually, it was,
early in my career, it was Mitch Hedberg, who was a brilliant comedian who has
passed away now.

And there's a whole generation of comedians who are just mimeographing Mitch
Hedberg. And for a short time, that was me, and I had to consciously go: I've
got to stop doing this.

GROSS: Well, you tell this amazing story in the book. Like, he's on stage, and
you're there. Other comics are there.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, I was opening for him in Dayton, Ohio.

GROSS: And he needs the bathroom.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: He needs to go to the bathroom.

GROSS: So he says on stage, you know, I need the bathroom. Can someone cover
for me? And you go on stage, and you do his act.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: And I do his jokes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's just, like, amazing.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Because I knew his act so well.

GROSS: Was that what he expected, that you would actually do his act?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I don't think so, no, no. I think he just thought I'd come up
and do some time. But I didn't really have any more time. I didn't have any
more jokes. I was, like, so new in comedy that I just started doing his jokes.
And I was, like, in his – in as close a voice as I could, like: I'm pretty good
at tennis, but I will never be as good as the wall. The wall is relentless, all

And he came back on stage eventually, and he goes: Oh, man, you did my best

GROSS: How weird was it to actually be doing the act of the person who you
idolized at the time?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: It was very strange, one of the stranger things I've
experienced. I just felt so lucky to know Mitch at all. I mean, I remember the
first time I met him was there in Dayton, Ohio, and I just couldn't believe – I
had seen his TV specials and seen him on "Letterman" and all this stuff. And
yeah, I just couldn't believe that I could share the stage with him.

GROSS: Mike Birbiglia will be back in the second half of the show. His new book
is called "Sleepwalk with Me." He's a contributor to "This American Life" and
has done specials for Comedy Central. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Mike Birbiglia. He's a
comic and a contributor to "This American Life." His new book is called
"Sleepwalk with Me." It's an appropriate title because he really does
sleepwalk. The book is adapted from his one-man show of the same name. He's
made a career of telling painful and embarrassing stories. He even has a
website and a recording called "My Secret Public Journal," which he has
described as chronicles that make his awkward situations even more awkward.

So, what's the most private thing that you put...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: in your "Secret Public Journal?"

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I'm trying to think, you know, often when I'm working on a story
with whether it's my director, Seth or with Ira Glass for "This American Life,"
the story that ends up making it is the story where I preface it by saying to
Ira or Seth, I'm not going to tell the story to people, but listen to this and
then that ends up being the story that we use.

GROSS: So what's one of those stories?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Well, like the story I told - and it's actually like the main
event for my next one-man show "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend," I told on the
"Return To The Scene Of The Crime," episode where I was in that car accident
where I was hit by a drunk driver and then in this really strange turn of
events, made to pay for the car. There was a story where it was part of the
decision-making process for me to get married and to get past this major
obstacle in my life, which is that I fundamentally don't think that marriage is
a good idea.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: And I don't believe in it. I don't believe in the idea of it. I
don't understand when I'm at the weddings of friends where we're at a church
and the people on the altar don't believe in the religion of the church that
we're all in. And that sometimes they've even gone to classes to further
convince the priest that they believe in this religion that they don't believe
in. That's insane to me. It doesn't - it's just completely insane. And so, I
couldn't get past that.

And the car accident thing was the thing where I kind of let go in this really
big way, and in doing that I kind of was able to get past this idea of getting
married. Which is very personal because it's my wife and it's - I had to talk
to her about it. I said is this okay and some of it she was hearing for the
first time, about conversations that I was having with my friend Andy, you
know, that she was not in and yeah, it's touch and go a lot of that stuff.

GROSS: Did she ask you to take any of it out?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: No, she's so supportive. I mean she's a writer herself and she
just - she's very private to the point where she writes under a pseudonym and
she's the opposite of me in so many ways, and but no, she is so supportive.

GROSS: That's great. So what kind of wedding did you have?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: We were at City Hall and...

GROSS: Did you have to go through a metal detector before taking your vowels?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah. We went through a metal detector and they asked...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, and they asked if she was pregnant because a lot of people
are in shotgun wedding situations and it's a lot of people who are, you know,
immigrants getting married and there's a long, long line and our witness was my
friend Nathan Lane, who was...

GROSS: Who produced "Sleepwalk with Me," the show. Mm-hmm.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Who presented my show in New York and which was not premeditated
at all. I mean it was like I called him on the way to City Hall and said, hey,
will you be my guest at our wedding?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: We took the subway there and back. We don't have wedding photos.
Well, we have camera phone photos on the subway.

GROSS: Did Nathan Lane upstage you at your own wedding?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: It's very exciting for people at City Hall when Nathan shows up.
He's kind of like the mayor of New York because I'm trying to think of - the
woman who was behind the glass filling out all this paperwork. I mean it's
really going to the DMV. It's like getting married at the DMV and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: the woman, we're in this long line and of multiple lines
that we're going to have to be in and this woman from behind the glass kind of
fingers me to come over and I walk over and she goes, is that Nathan Lane?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: And I go yeah. And she goes oh, we're going to do something –
we're going to get you guys this private room, you know. So we went over and
she goes the last celebrity who was here was Tony Randall.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Which was like, it's like seven years or eight years before and
he was getting married himself, I guess.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: And she said and he said, I do not want special treatment. And
so he didn't go to the front of the line, I guess. And Nathan goes well, I want
special treatment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: He did not want to wait there. And so we went in sort of this
private room and yeah, we got married.

GROSS: So now I have to ask you now that you're married if you want to be a
parent and in asking that, I want you to read...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Do you have to ask that?

GROSS: Yeah, I have to ask that.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I don't even think that's true.

GROSS: So there is a section about being a father or not being a father...


GROSS: ...that I'd like you to read from you book.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Being a dad has never appealed to me. It doesn't seem like a job
you'd apply for. The ad would read: screaming child seeks adult man to pay for
his entire life. Warning: when the child is 14 he will tell you he hates you
and forget about everything you've ever done for him. Requirements: must have
sex with your wife or girlfriend without birth control at least one. Also your
wife or girlfriend will hate you through most of the pregnancy, for a few years
afterward and intermittently for the next 20 years. Pay: no pay. Education:
grade school or equivalent. Benefits: your child may bear some likeness to you.
Also, if you take your child on walks, other women will be more attracted to
you than you've ever experienced in your life. But you can't have sex with them
unless you want your wife and children to hate you even more than they already
hate you, which is intermittently or always.

GROSS: So, plan on having children?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I'm not sure. It's discussed sometimes. I mean I used to make
this joke, I don't want to have kids until I'm sure that nothing else good can
happen in my life. And so I guess the question is are we there yet?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, you describe your father as always being in control. Do you feel
like you could never be that man yourself?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Being in control. Yeah I mean, certainly. I mean I've talked
about it with my doctors and things and sleep deprivation is a big part of
being a parent.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: So it's a concern and, you know, so I don't know. I don't know.
I think there are worse parents than – I mean there are...

GROSS: I bet that's true.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah, right?

GROSS: My guest is Mike Birbiglia. He's a comic and a contributor to "This
American Life." His new book is called "Sleepwalk with Me." We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Mike Birbiglia. He's a comic. He
has a one-man show called "Sleepwalk with Me." Now he has a new book called
"Sleepwalk with Me." You may have heard him on "This American Life," where he
is a regular contributor.

Sometimes in your comedy performances you play a comic song that you have


GROSS: And I'd like to play one of those. I'm going to ask you to introduce it.
And this is a song called "Medium Man."

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Oh, okay.

GROSS: Set this one up for us before we hear it.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Well, I was doing a college tour. I've performed at like
hundreds of colleges in my career and I was thinking about myself in college
and how I was never like the big man on campus. But I didn't have zero friends
either, you know, I was sort of in the middle. I was like the medium-sized man.
And so I wrote a song called "Too Busy Being Medium."

GROSS: Here it is.

(Soundbite of song, "Too Busy Being Medium")

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of clapping)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Please don't clap.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: (Singing) I was never the guy who could hook everybody in the
dorm up with weed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: (Singing) But I was the guy who knew the guy who knew that guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: (Singing) And I was never the guy who could make everybody a
fake ID. But when that guy got busted I was glad I wasn't that guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: (Singing) I never made the tennis team or the soccer team but I
was solid at intramurals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: (Singing) Post (unintelligible). I was never a big hit at
parties but I waited tables at a bar where a lot of cool people hung out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: (Singing) It was like the movie "St. Elmo's Fire" and I was
Emilio Estevez. By the way, I'm Emilio Estevez. Estevez.

GROSS: That's Mike Birbiglia in one of his performances. That song always makes
me laugh. It's funny thinking of you as the medium guy because...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ... you say you're so obsessive.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah. So why would that contradict being medium?

GROSS: Well, obsessive is going to extremes and medium is not.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Oh, yeah. I guess you're right.

GROSS: I think.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I was just trying to like, I was on this college tour and I was
like I've got to, I got to pinpoint exactly what my college existence was. And
I didn't like college when I was there, but as the years go by I'm like, yeah,
it was pretty good, I guess.

GROSS: So I want to play another song. As I mentioned earlier, you often bring
your guitar...


GROSS: your performances. And you've written funny songs that you include
in your performance. And I want to play one that's a parody of Christian rock.
Do you listen to the radio a lot when you're on the air?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I listen to it for hours and hours and hours and sometimes by

GROSS: Including Christian rock stations?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Christian rock, yeah.

GROSS: Okay. So you set up a song in this track that we are going to hear.

(Soundbite of "Two Drink Mike")

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I'm a big fan of music so like...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: ...when I'm driving on road trips and stuff I'll always listen
to the radio and I'll listen to Christian rock by mistake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Because it always starts out as like a Bon Jovi ballad, you
know. It'll be like...

(Singing) I woke up in the morning and I got myself some oatmeal and I put some
raisins on it and Christ is God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: (Singing) Christ is God. God. God. God.

And I'm like what about the oatmeal? I thought this was the oatmeal song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I feel like every religion should have their own rock 'n' roll.
You know, like there should be Jewish rock, like...

(Singing) I woke up in the morning and got myself some lox and bagels and I put
some cream cheese on them and Christ isn't God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: (Singing) He's just not God. He's a really nice guy but don't
get carried away.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Or like atheist rock. Like...

(Singing) I woke up in the morning and I got myself a whole box of Cinnamon
Toast Crunch because I just don't care anymore and there is no God. Sorry about
that. Your grandma is in the ground and her soul is staying there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

GROSS: That's my guest Mike Birbiglia from his album "Two Drink Mike." And Mike
Birbiglia has a new book called "Sleepwalk with Me." That's a kind of companion
to his one-man show of the same name. He is a standup comic and you may also
know his work from "This American Life," where he is a regular contributor.

So I've listened to the Christian rock stations and it's so interesting because
it's like parallel world where there is Christian versions of indie rock...


GROSS: ...and hip-hop...

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: You're absolutely right.

GROSS: ...and heavy metal.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: They keep up with the trends.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: That's the thing. They mimic whatever is popular.

GROSS: Had you sung before singing in your act?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: No. You know, I wanted to sing in the choir in high school and I
was, they asked me to because I was in theater, I was in plays and the teacher
who was the head of the choir asked me to join. And then I was going to join,
but then my best friend told me that it was too gay...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: ...and that if - I'm not kidding - if I joined the choir, that
he wouldn't be friends with me anymore.

GROSS: Wow. Really?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Isn't that sad? And I did it.

GROSS: That is sad.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: That's so sad.

GROSS: That is really sad.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: It's also sad that I was intimidated out of it like that - that
that convinced me, like yeah, yeah. He's right. That would be gay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Like how did I even - how low was my self-esteem that I was
swayed from that?

GROSS: How low was your self-esteem?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: It must have been really low.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I don't know.

GROSS: Since some of our listeners know you from - probably many of our
listeners know you from your pieces on THIS AMERICAN LIFE, how did you end up
being a contributor to the show?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: I was a contributor to the MOTH storytelling series, which is a
live series in New York and then became a podcast and a Public Radio show
later. And in 2003, I was asked to tell a story for them at the U.S. Comedy
Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. And that was the first time I ever told a
story on stage, and it was completely terrifying and it was one of the things
that kind of spun me into telling stories.

And eventually, I became a semi-regular on their show and in live show in New
York, and eventually when I told the sleepwalking story, I asked Catherine
Burns, who is the director of the MOTH, if she would send it over to the THIS
AMERICAN LIFE folks, because I was a big fan of the show and I had listened to
it for many years and I thought it would be a good fit. And she said no. And
then I asked her again, and she said no. And then eventually, I think like the
third or fourth time, she said yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: She wasn't being mean. She just, like, didn't want to bother
them. You know, they're very busy. And so Julie Snyder got in touch with me

GROSS: She's one of the producers.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Yeah. Julie Snyder was one of the producers of the show and got
in touch with me about maybe they were going to put it on the show. And I
didn't want them to put the live version of the piece because I thought if they
played the live version, then when I released "Sleepwalk with Me" as a live CD,
no one's going to want it because they ready had the podcast of it.

And so I said: Can we just do it in the studio where I read it in the studio?
And Julie goes, well, I think we want to do the live. And I go no, that's the
one thing I just don't want to do. And then finally, you know, I get a phone
call from Ira one day, who I'd never met and I was just a super fan of. And he
was like hi, Mike. It's Ira Glass. I'm calling to convince you to let us use
the live version of your show for our show. And I was like, sure. Great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: You know, I was like instantly sold. The power of a celebrity
voice. And so they played it. And then all of my pieces on the show have been
live pieces. So it ended being kind of cool.

GROSS: So what impact has that had on your career?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Well, the people who listen to "This American Life" are people
who I really want to come to my show, so that the people who have - the fan
base I've picked up from that show has been amazing. And working with Ira has
been - has just taught me so much about storytelling. He's sort of a story
Jedi, and every time I work with him, I feel like I'm a better writer

GROSS: So earlier, we talked about how you were skeptical about marriage.


GROSS: And you ended up getting married.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Mm-hmm.

BOWMAN: And how long have you've been married?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Two years and four months-ish.

GROSS: So how does marriage compare to what you expected in your skeptical era?

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Oh, I love being married. I didn't - it's so funny, because
people go: You know, what's your happiest moment, or whatever? And a lot of
people go, when I - the day I got married, you know. And I don't even
understand that at all. Like, I'm like, the day I got married I was terrified
and I was scared and I thought: How am I going to mess this up? And then after
that's been good.

You know, like, the getting married part was awful, and then the kind of after
words, realizing that, oh, it's not actually different than what we had before,
except it's slightly more announced to other people what we are. And a lot, you
know, a lot of people ask you about your marriage when you are married. People
go how's, you know, how's marriage? You know, but - and I'm, like, it's good
for me. It's such a funny like general thing that people ask, like: How's
marriage? But when it's such a specific thing, it's like, I like being married
to my wife. I would hate to be married to your wife, but, yeah, it's great

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Mike Birbiglia, it's been a pleasure to have you here. Thank you so much
for talking with us.

Mr. BIRBIGLIA: Oh, thank you. It was so fun. I'm just going to sleep over. Is
that cool?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Mike Birbiglia is the author of the new book "Sleepwalk with Me." You
can read an excerpt on our website, where you can also
download podcasts of our show.

This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
This Headline Contains No 'Mad Men' Finale Spoilers


Last night, two of television's most challenging and intricate series, AMC's
"Mad Men" and "Rubicon," presented their season finales.

Our TV critic David Bianculli has some thoughts about those last episodes and
whether he should be talking about this at all.

DAVID BIANCULLI: The last time I gave any details about a show I was reviewing
and praising - the season premiere of Showtime's "Dexter" - I got some emails
and postings from listeners who were upset that I was ruining the show for them
by revealing plot details. It didn't seem to matter that the plot details I was
discussing were from the previous season. But it matters to me.

So before I talk at all about last night's "Mad Men" and "Rubicon," let's get
something straight. Here's my official position on what are called spoiler
alerts: Before a show is broadcast, I'm very careful about how I describe it. I
want viewers to enjoy the same surprises I did. But after it's been seen by
millions of people, if you want to wait a few days to watch it on TiVo - or a
few months or years to see it on DVD - that's your business, not mine.

After all, there are always people who still haven't seen that movie where the
big surprise twist at the end is that the guy is a ghost. Or the girl is a guy.
Or the secret word is a sled. How long do we protect them, and keep our
critical mouths shut? With movies, it's fair to keep quiet during its original
theatrical run. But on TV, its national premiere is its original run. So if you
don't want to know even the most general details about last night's "Mad Men"
and "Rubicon," duck away for a few minutes.

This season of "Mad Men" began, quite literally, with the question: Who is Don
Draper? It ended, after a year of crisis at work and aimless hedonism at home,
with the most surprising of twists: Don Draper was happy - so happy that he
surprised not only us, but himself, by taking his secretary, Megan, as a
babysitter on a Disneyland vacation with his children, then presenting her with
an engagement ring. Jessica Pare plays Megan. Jon Hamm plays Don Draper.

(Soundbite of AMC's, "Mad Men")

Mr. JON HAMM (Actor): (as Don Draper) I'm wise about you, but I feel like
myself when I'm with you, but the way I always wanted to feel, because I'm in
love with you, Megan. And I think I have been for a while.

Ms. JESSICA PARE (Actor): (as Megan) Don. Oh, my goodness.

Mr. HAMM: (as Don Draper) Open it.

Ms. PARE: (as Megan) It's beautiful.

Mr. HAMM: (as Don Draper) When I saw you sleeping there, I thought I couldn't
imagine not seeing you there every morning. Will you marry me?

Ms. PARE: (as Megan) Oh, I don't know what to say. This is all so fast.

BIANCULLI: "Rubicon," on the other hand, surprised us by ending with a non-
ending. The hour started perfectly, with Will, played by James Badge Dale,
instructing his intelligence team to connect the dots - but to be careful,
warning that just because all leads were pointing to the same conclusion, that
didn't make it so.

(Soundbite of AMC's, "Rubicon")

Mr. JAMES BADGE DALE (Actor): (as Will) It's almost as if they wanted us to
find all this.

Unidentified Actress: A slam dunk.

Mr. DALE: (as Will) Exactly. Now we've already had one failure. I don't want to
just spin some theory here. I want to make a case, and I want to make it

Unidentified Actor: It is airtight. This is intelligence, not law enforcement.
CIA and DIA have already made up their minds. FBI is right behind them. We're
just stalling.

Mr. DALE: (as Will) No. No. No. No. No. Let the CIA and the FBI and whoever
else jump to whatever conclusion they want. We are not going to do that. We are
API. We are the safety. We have to get this right.

BIANCULLI: In the end, Will followed his own trail and ended up implicating the
boss of his own agency and confronting him on the roof. We knew this
confrontation was coming, but all we got at the end was a tease and a non-
ending. The writers clearly were more concerned with setting up a season two
than in concluding a season one. But that's where I cry foul. I can, and often
do, defend TV series that start slowly by comparing them to novels and saying
they deserve time to build. The fans who stayed with "Rubicon" all season
deserved more. They deserved a conclusion.

My final conclusion is that TV on Sunday nights, even without "Rubicon" and
"Mad Men," is alive and very, very well. "Boardwalk Empire" on HBO just
presented its best episode yet. Showtime's "Dexter" just set up an intriguing
new plot with Julia Stiles as a victim saved by Dexter, and about to turn
vigilante herself.

BBC America just premiered "Luther," an impressively intense new detective
series starring Idris Elba, the actor who played Stringer Bell on "The Wire."
And next week, AMC premieres its newest series, "The Walking Dead," which I've
seen, and I love. But for now, I won't say any more than that. Don't want to
spoil anything.

GROSS: David Bianculli is founder and editor of, and
teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. His book,
"Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,"
has just been published in paperback.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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