'Sleepwalk with Me' Film is Alumnus' Sundance Success
November 28, 2012 — Mike Birbiglia (C’00) once held the title of Georgetown’s “Funniest Person on Campus.” Now he’s the winner of the 2012 Audience Award from the Sundance Film Festival for Sleepwalk with Me, a movie he wrote, directed and starred in.
The film is based on his off-Broadway show and bestselling book, which chronicles the comedian’s sleepwalking disorder and other adventures.
Co-written by Ira Glass and co-produced by “This American Life,” the movie's Matt Pandamiglio (played by Birbiglia) struggles with his stand-up career, his sleepwalking problem and the end of a long-term relationship with his girlfriend.
“With warmth, unsparing self-awareness and that ineffable Everyman appeal sometimes called ‘relatability,’ Birbiglia proves to be as engaging a presence on the screen as he has been all these years onstage and over the radio waves,” notes Ann Hornaday, who reviewed the movie for The Washington Post.
'Funniest Person on Campus'
Birbiglia became popular on Comedy Central and also has had success with his “Secret Public Journal” segments on NPR’s “This American Life.” But before all that, he was just an English major struggling to become a comedian, just like Pandamiglio.
“My experience at Georgetown was really positive,” the comedian says. “I always recommend it to people because I feel like if I’d gone to a more arts-focused school, I might not have been as well rounded in terms of what I studied.”
He was cast in the Georgetown Players Improv Troupe as a freshman and won the “Funniest Person on Campus” contest as a sophomore.
“That’s how I ended up performing at the DC Improv and a lot of my career sort of sprung from there,” he says.
His journey to learn comedic writing involved “a lot of trial and error and just trying to work with people like Ira whom I really admire and try to learn from them,” he says. “When I was at Georgetown, I studied screenwriting and playwriting under [English professor] John Glavin and that was my first sort of mentor relationship…”
everything it takes
"Extravagantly gifted Mike Birbiglia--actor, writer, director, producer – has everything it takes: wit, vision, insight and drive, to become his generation's Woody Allen,” Glavin said. “In fact, he's already well on his way there."
Birbiglia said he’s excited about the reaction to Sleepwalk with Me.
“To have so many people see your first feature film and actually like it is a real lucky thing to have happen,” he says of the film, which debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival this past January. “It’s not something I expected to happen. I think the movie, all told, will play in 300 theaters, which is a lot for a small film.”
Turning the off-Broadway show and book into a film, he says, was challenging but rewarding.
“Making the movie forced me to think about some of my stories in a completely different way,” Birbiglia explains. “With film particularly, you really have to conceive all of your experiences visually, and that’s something I had never truly done before."
When asked what he hopes to accomplish as a comedian, he says, “Ideally I just want people to laugh and ultimately to have the experience add up to something more than laughter. If they feel something, that’s great. Or if it makes them reflect on something in their life, that’s great.”
Birbligia is now touring with his show, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” which is “all about exploring the thing that I was really uncomfortable with – marriage. And if that makes people reflect on their own feelings toward marriage or other things they’re uncomfortable with – then that is a success.”
He hopes to adapt the show for the screen next year.
His advice to current students is to pursue whatever they are most passionate about doing.
“And know that if there are more than 10 people who want to do that thing, it’s going to be very hard to do it,” he says. “So you need to consider that and how many hours it’s going to take in your life to be successful in that field. And if you don’t want to put in those hours, you just don’t do it.”