Baltimore City Paper

Mike Birbiglia definitely didn't get into comedy for the money

Comedian Mike Birbiglia

has been heard countless times as a storyteller on the


This American Life

radio program; he wrote, directed, and starred in


Sleepwalk With Me,

which won a 2012 Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival; in June, he will be appearing in the film

The Fault in Our Stars,

which features Shailene Woodley, Willem Dafoe, and Laura Dern; he has been cast in an upcoming Judd Apatow film; and he recently wrote and directed the short

What's Next for Jack Antonoff

with Jack Antonoff from the band Fun, and you can find that on the Internet. Birbiglia is appearing at the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric on April 4 as part of his "Thank God for Jokes" tour, and he recently spoke with us via telephone. It was kind of a pain in the ass scheduling the interview, and we're guessing it's because he is a busy person.

City Paper: Hi Mike Birbiglia-Mike Birbiglia, at last! On the phone!

Mike Birbiglia: Can you believe it?


CP: This has been a very comical sort of scheduling thing, so let me thank you very much for doing this.

MB: (Laughs) I do everything comedically. I make sure that humor is involved with every step of the process.

CP: You have this huge NPR association because of This American Life


MB: Yes.

CP: But at the same time you do comedy-club stuff, and I'm just wondering, have you ever like, seen people in a club that you knew were kinda like maybe the NPR people, and they just kinda looked like, confused?


MB: More often, they are at the theaters. But yeah, they come out sometimes; I think perhaps, for them, it's a funny anthropological experiment, to see what the people who frequent comedy clubs look like?

CP: Right now it feels like we are in maybe not a comedy boom, but a comedy upswing.

MB: That is absolutely true. [HUGE BARKING DOG SOUND]

CP: Wow! Good lord, I hope that's a dog.

MB: That's a dog, yeah, I'm walking around my neighborhood, I had the phone call sound designed for New York City sound effects, so you would believe that I am in New York City. Yes, we got this phone call designed at Skywalker Sound in Berkeley. To answer your question about the boom, there's actually kind of a semi-scientific reason for that. In the '80s there was a boom. Basically, what happened in the '80s was, standup comedy became really popular, people starting putting comedy clubs everywhere, because it became a moneymaking enterprise. Every hotel or motel lounge would be a comedy club on Friday night or Saturday night or whatever, and the problem became that it was on TV everywhere, MTV Comedy, or VH1, and then it became over-saturated and there were just too many comedians, it became watered down, and in the '90s, it was a real comedy recession, a big chunk of those comedy clubs closed, and so what happened was in the '90s-which is when I got into comedy-the only people who got into comedy were people who had to, because they just were comedians by birth, basically. I always say to "Why did you become a comedian?"-well, I had no choice. I was born a comedian, and either that, or be terrible at another job, so I went into comedy. The key thing in the '90s is no one went into it for the money, because there was no money. There was really no money. I'm in there, Louis C.K., Marc Maron, maybe Maria Bamford, Kathleen Madigan, Sarah Silverman, just got into it because they were born comedians, and then what happened was there was a real sort of bumper crop of comedians who came of age in the 2000s, and got really good at comedy, and then all of a sudden, in culture, people are like, "Oh, comedy's great!" Basically because the only people who were in it were people who had to do it, who got into it for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons.

CP: The frightening thing about that is it means we're headed towards a comedy crash.


MB: Yeah, I'm guessing that's gonna happen in the '20s? I rarely use the term "the '20s" when not referring to the Roaring '20s, but yeah, what do you think, is it the '20s or the late '15s? Late 2015? In terms of what I do, I'm doing something in comedy that's as old as speaking, which is storytelling-you know, I'm not, like, riding the wave of a comedy trend that's gonna go away. Hopefully people continue to think that I'm funny, that's the caveat to that theory.

CP: Also for you, there's another dimension, there's an emotionally entertaining, an earnest, honest-I don't wanna say confessional- but just like, the storytelling is very real.

MB: Thank you very much, that's certainly the goal, that's like whenever people are like, "You wrote a book and you made a movie and you do standup; which one, you know, what do you call yourself?" And I always say, "Well, I'm a comedian who kinda dips my toes in a lot of places to present comedy." Comedic stories, comedic situations, and that kinda thing. At my core I kind of live or die on whether or not something's funny. Whether it's a book or a movie or whatever it is, you're right to say that having an emotional core to your comedy, in my opinion that just comes down to taste, and that's the kind of comedy I enjoy, and for me has always endured. Like James L. Brooks' films, to me, really stick out as, I know every one of those movies by heart,

Terms of Endearment,

Broadcast News

, and some of the Cameron Crowe films,


Say Anything...


Jerry Maguire


Almost Famous-

it's like, those are the kinds of things I can really lock into and watch again and again and again, because they're using comedy to tell these larger emotional stories. [PENETRATING BEEPING SOUND OF CONSTRUCTION VEHICLE BACKING UP] This sound effect, part of the sound effect soundtrack is on high right now, construction soundtrack.


CP: It sounded like you were backing up.

MB: Someone was, but not me, a Caterpillar truck was.

CP: Do you have a podcast? Speaking of the upcoming Comedy Glut or the Comedy Crash, there's definitely a podcast glut.

MB: No, no, I don't. When the historians are documenting this period of time they're gonna have a lot of content to choose from.

CP: I was trying to line this interview up with [tour manager] Greg [Dorris] and I kept telling him I had another interview, and I never told him I had a phoner scheduled with Unemployment.

MB: I saw that on your Twitter, I thought that was really funny. To bring it full circle, we're living in a journalism recession right now, so it's no surprise, the journalist is calling unemployment.


Mike Birbiglia appears at the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric on April 4 as part of his "Thank God for Jokes" tour.