Make a Point to See Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me”

Posted by Greg on Jan 8, 2009 in Theatre

It’s hard to pin down accolades for the one-man show “Sleepwalk With Me,” that haven’t already been written. But suffice it to say the 85-minute act, written and starring rising comedian Mike Birbiglia will probably go down as some of the funniest 85 minutes I’ve ever witnessed. He begins with a wry opening about turning of a cellphone and then manages to meander into vignettes from his life, including a bout with a malignant bladder tumor at age 19, to falling in and out of love, and his 10-year near-fatal bout with sleep disorders.

Interlaced with these stories are portraits of his youth, including various exchanges with his father, and his life as a struggling comic and the traumatic consequences of his bouts with sleepwalking. As one might expect, Birbiglia manages to sneak in some of his past routines and upcoming jokes but does so in a way that’s neither self-promoting nor unwelcome. Instead it’s a sprite, wry 90 minutes that begins with a laugh in the very first minute and never lets up. Truth be told, many comics often find a quiet spot and lose the audience, but Birbiglia’s strength is that he never does. Sure he meanders and finds himself on a winding tangent –– the prospect of an an iPhone that could shoot bullets –– but skillfully manages to segue back to his points.

It’s an uncanny skill and one that needs to be seen to be realized. The show’s climax is a true-to-life episode in which Birbiglia found himself running in his underwear at 3 a.m. on the front lawn of a La Quinta Inn in Walla Walla, Wash., shortly after having jumped from his second-story window — in his sleep.

The act’s few serious moments are both poignant and winning and do a good job at offsetting the performance’s moments of hilarity. Not only that, the conversational manner in which he discusses these rather frank and candid revelations feels homey and welcome. Almost as if one is listening to a cousin or a good friend discuss their inner privacies over a sandwich at a local coffee shop. Perhaps what’s most refreshing about the performance is that there is nary a word of profanity or graphic sexual metaphors. Yes, while sex is mentioned, it’s done in a way that’s both tamer and funnier than primetime TV.

Already hailed by the New York Times, Variety and the Associated Press as a must-see, the performance’s run in New York was recently extended through to March. If you find yourself in New York City at all in the next few weeks, do yourself a favor and sit down and listen to Mike Birbiglia. There’s a reason Nathan Lane signed on as a producer. Birbiglia and his show are the hallmarks of an inherent comedic talent where one feels blessed to have the opportunity to bear witness to his craft.

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