Mike Birbiglia is his own favorite target. The stand-up comic is master as all good comedians are of the personal, embarrassing tale, and Birbiglia often uses his routines to delve into awkward childhood memories of girls, parents and bullies. And then there's the story about the time he jumped out of a second-floor hotel room window while sleepwalking. Sleepwalk with Me, a collection of essays based on his one-man show of the same name, is in stores now. TIME spoke to Birbiglia about Twitter, the comedy world and decorating while asleep.
In your book, you write about your first stand-up act, where you read your jokes from index cards. Now, your comedy is more long-form and story-driven. Did you decidedly make a shift in your style?
Yeah, I did. What I found over time was that I might be better at this than I am at just "joke-joke-joke" comedy. Me making observations about things? Pretty good. But me being the butt of a long-form story is maybe a little better. At the time, comedy had become so observational and self-referential that there was something refreshing about doing something sincere on stage.
In the book, you open up about your struggles with sleepwalking. What problems do you face now?
I was diagnosed a few years ago with what's called REM behavior disorder, where people have a dopamine deficiency. Dopamine is a chemical released in your brain and your body when you sleep that paralyzes your body so you don't act out your dreams. And this is something that I wasn't diagnosed with for years, even though I would have sleepwalking episodes. I [often] remember thinking, "This seems dangerous. Maybe I should see a doctor." And then I would think, "Maybe I'll [just] eat dinner." And I went with dinner for years.
Now that you're openly talking about this sleep disorder, do you have any fans tell you that they're going through the same thing?
It amazes me how common of a problem it is, and how unaddressed it is. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and she was telling me she had a sleepwalking incident where she was taking framed pictures off the wall of her and her husband's apartment. There's not a lot of good that will happen from putting up framed pictures while asleep. Your visual aesthetic has to be off at night. It's not even like your designing your apartment very well.
You're active on Twitter, where you interact with fans. What do you think makes Twitter a good platform for comedians?
First of all, it's addictive. That's why comedians do it. Essentially retweets are like laughs. You kind of crave the RTs. I sometimes think of not doing Twitter or Facebook anymore, but that's how people find their favorite bands and comedians. Sometimes I'll Twitter things and write a joke, and people will write their own jokes. And then I'll retweet those, and we'll kind of get a run going. I find my fans are really funny people. Most comedians can't say that about their fans.
Next for Sleepwalk with Me is a film version, written by you and produced by This American Life's Ira Glass. Are you playing yourself?
Yeah, yeah, I am. That's my least favorite question in the world. Of course I am! Maybe there would be a childhood version of me, but why would I give such an amazing part to someone else? Why would I give this Oscar-worthy lunatic character to some other actor?
I had heard that you're working on a new one-man show. Can you tell me anything about that?
Yeah, I'm working on a new one-man show called My Girlfriend's Boyfriend. It's kind of a one-man romantic comedy about coming to grips with heartbreak and moving forward. I'm prepping it with my director in Sydney, Australia in January, and then we'll bring it to New York in late January or early February. Who knows, maybe another book [will come from it], but we will see. For now I'm just trying to get a good night's sleep tonight.