Not just for laughs
Sleepwalk is not just very, very funny it is also scary and profoundly moving.
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
I like Mike Birbiglia. (See my review of his last presentation in Montreal.)
Birbiglia, simply, looks and talks like a human. In this way he is like three other of favourite comics: Patton Oswalt, Eddie Izzard and Louis CK. What makes him different from Oswalt and CK is the lack of rage and from Izzard is the lack of surrealism. But Izzard understands and likes Birbiglia (as he said in his iTunes session, Live From London) and I think it's because the two men share a comic trait: the tangent. Both start by telling a story (Izzard, say, about the Last Supper and Birbiglia, say, about his girlfriend seeing another man) and before they get to the end of the tale, they have veered all over the place. They're not the only two comics who use the tangent as an integral part of their work (Dane Cook has tried it - as he has tried everything - and still isn't funny) but they are both unerringly hilarious when they do.
In one instance of somnambulism Birbiglia puts his own life in peril.
As is - excuse the tangent - Birbiglia's CD Sleepwalk With Me (available for download at iTunes). Birbiglia did this show at Just For Laughs and I was broken-hearted I couldn't see it. More so now that I've heard it. Sleepwalk is not just very, very funny it is also scary and profoundly moving.
It's scary because at the core of the show is the fact that Birbiglia has a very serious sleep disorder that can express itself not just with sleepwalking but also violence. (Indeed, there is one famous case - documented by June Caldwell's book The Sleepwalker: The Trial That Made Canadian History - where a man drove 14 miles and stabbed his mother-in-law to death while asleep.) In one instance of somnambulism Birbiglia puts his own life in peril. It's funny/not-funny and brilliantly recounted.
The theme that touches me relates to Birbiglia's father. Bring father/son issues to a work of art - which this is - and you'll smack me about every time. It is these moments with his father - and the way Birbiglia lets silence play - that show me that he has gone beyond standup and is acting his life.
Don't get me wrong, please. Even when he is scaring the bejeezus out of you or plucking your heartstrings, Birbiglia will make you laugh and laugh hard.