A few years ago, I watched this stand-up on Comedy Central and thought, “hey, this comedian’s pretty good at telling stories.” A few years later and I now have experienced the full potential of what I was watching.
Comedian Mike Birbiglia has such an honest and novel way of communicating stories that you feel genuinely invested when he’s talking about his relationship that any and all laughs are a bonus. His innocent-boy charm is almost unconventional to the more raunchy exploits of most entertainers in the industry–it takes little time to see Birbiglia has something unique to offer us in”Sleepwalk with me,” his autobiographical directorial debut based on his stage act.
Stuck between an eight-year relationship that’s going nowhere and a bar tending job, Matt (played by Birbiglia) decides to pursue his stand-up dream and takes small gigs at colleges across the country–at his own expense. He takes small paychecks, drives long hours and cares little to correct the mispronunciation of his last name (“Pandamiglio?”) And as if his life wasn’t already the perfect anecdote for a quirky comedy, he learns he has REM Behavior Disorder, a rare sleeping disorder that makes the person physically act out their dreams. In other words, he sleep walks.
In one scene, Matt’s girlfriend awakens to find him kicking a trash can in their bedroom. When pressed for an explanation, Matt screams “there’s a jackal in the room!”
Matt’s comedy performances mirror his character’s personality–timid, a bit awkward and full of unintentional humor, based more on the delivery of his routine. When he begins talking about his real life with the audience, however, that’s when the real laughs start coming out. He tells them his girlfriend’s biggest fear is losing him and being alone forever. What’s his biggest fear? Bears.
Matt (or Birbiglia, if you believe he’s playing himself) is so amiable we want to hear every relatable detail of his life. We want to see him act out his dreams and hone his stage skills. We’re rooting for him the entire time. He even narrates during juxtaposed car ride scenes (as if his autobiographical film wasn’t personal already) and at one point tells us we’re on his side, despite some reckless behavior.
However, the film felt nothing more than a pleasant car ride with a polite stranger. It didn’t take off at full-speed the way I wanted it to. But perhaps that was his intention. Clearly gifted at communicating the humorous moments in his life, the film felt like we were watching him perform one of his routines. Which isn’t that bad. The best car rides are not always the fastest. The film traveled at it’s own pace, but with a safe driver like Birbiglia we knew he’d get us to our destination safely and unscathed.