Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Birbiglia turns love and loss into laughs

By Staff

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From life-endangering episodes of sleepwalking to malignant bladder tumors, Mike Birbiglia has made a name for himself eliciting guffaws from audiences across the nation about seemingly less-than-lighthearted topics. On May 5, he’ll showcase this talent at the Calvin Theater in Northampton with his second one-man show, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.”

The show’s subject matter is centered on the comedian’s past experiences with love, loss and relationships.

“It’s basically about all the painful romantic experiences I’ve had in my life and how those affected my relationships as an adult – how it led to me having a deep fear of marriage to the point where I didn’t believe in marriage at all – and how, despite that, I decided to get married,” said Birbiglia.

Birbiglia, who’s had three Comedy Central Presents stand-up specials, is no stranger to hilariously expository one-man shows. In 2008, “Sleepwalk With Me” opened to rave reviews, with material stemming from his rapid eye movement behavior disorder, and an incident where he walked out of a second story window of a Walla Walla, Washington hotel while on tour, seriously injuring himself.

“My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” which also opened to praise from the like of the New York Times and Time Magazine, is a similar foray into deeply personal issues that manages to be both introspective and chuckle-inducing.

“I think serious situations actually make for the best kind of belly laughs and the hardest laughs, because the stakes are so high. But they’re also the hardest to convert into comedy at the outset,” said Birbiglia.

He recounted a routine from his 2011 comedy album “Sleepwalk With Me Live” about a malignant tumor he had in his bladder when he was 19 years old. At first, the joke bombed – and badly.

“People would just give me this look like, ‘Why are you joking about this serious thing that we’ve experienced, or our aunt has experienced,’” recalled Birbiglia.

However, after three months of tweaking the routine, he finally made it work, and the results were far more fulfilling than his more lighthearted material.

“When you can finally find the comedically [sic] lubricated version of that, then it’s kind of euphoric and cathartic. I’ve gotten a lot of notes from people saying it help[ed] them get through a similar experience. And that’s probably the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had in comedy at all, because you feel like it’s actually a job and not just some kind of petty, narcissistic showboating,” he said.

Birbiglia got his start in comedy after winning a “funniest person on campus” contest at his alma mater, Georgetown University, which allowed him to perform at the D.C. Improv comedy club. He said his initial inspiration came from a Steven Wright show his brother, Joe, took him to see when he was 16-years-old.

“From the moment I saw [Wright], I decided that’s exactly what I wanted to do,” said Birbiglia, also praising Mitch Hedburg, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen and Richard Pryor as early comedic inspirations.

After realizing his dream and setting out to be a comedian, and being fired from a temp job at Pfizer, he set off in his mother’s station wagon to perform in clubs around the country in an attempt to break into the world of comedy.

“I think most comedians don’t have a choice. It’s what they have to do. And if that takes sweat and tears, then you’re going to get wet. It’s this ridiculous paradox where you have to have done it to do it, so the advice is start doing it and keep doing it until no one notices that you didn’t have the qualifications in the first place,” he said.

As a Shrewsbury, Mass., native originally, Birbiglia is eager to bring his one-man show to Western Mass., a place he’s both familiar with and fond of.

“I love Western Mass. I wish I could live there. Maybe I will. Maybe after my show I’ll just stay there,” he joked.

Birbiglia’s performance of “” begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday night. Doors will open early, and tickets are still available. For more information, go to

Dave Coffey can be reached at [email protected]


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