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Time for a sleepwalk

February 23, 2013
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

Once in a great while I'll listen to "This American Life" on National Public Radio. Some of the stories interest me; others not so much. I guess it depends on the theme or topic. But it was through "This American Life" that I learned about comedian Mike Birbiglia. He was telling the story about his first kiss back in junior high. I couldn't help but chuckle at his meager attempts at making out with this particular girl.

So that led me to eventually search for his book, "Sleepwalk With Me and Other Painfully True Stories." Birbiglia has been featured on "Comedy Central" and the "Bob and Tom Show" besides "This American Life." The book is a memoir of sorts and he talks about how he got the childhood name of "Tinkles," being rejected by girls, his relationship with his family and of course, dealing with his sleep disorder. It's been a while since I've read the book, so my memory isn't as clear about it. This past weekend, I watched the movie that's based on the book and pretty much, quite a bit of Birbiglia's routine.

Birbiglia actually stars in the movie, playing Matt Pandamiglio (not a huge leap from his own name as the movie was basically autobiographical). Lauren Ambrose ("Six Feet Under," "Can't Hardly Wait") played his long-suffering girlfriend Abby. They've been together for eight years, and he can't seem to make a long-term commitment (marriage) to her. He works as a bartender at a club and attempts to do some comedy on the side at the same club. Matt tries to be funny, but his routine fails miserably.

Plus, he only has about 10 minutes of material to start out with. I'm wondering if that's how Birbiglia's career started out. He was working some dead-end job and tried some comedy, but he bombs big time. From the few comedians I've interviewed throughout the years, it's tough to do stand-up. But they persevere and keep doing it because they love it. Matt doesn't give up. And he gets an agent and lands a paying gig, albeit at a college hosting a lip synch contest for $170. He starts getting more small gigs and learns to expand his material, which involves his problems he has with his girlfriend, his uncertainty about her. He also has a sleeping disorder where he's dreaming but in actuality he's sleepwalking and acting out what he's doing in the dream. For example, Matt's the winner of the "dustbuster" Olympics, and he's getting on the Olympic stand in his dream. In actuality, he's out of bed and standing on a dresser until he falls off. Or he's kicking a hamper saying there was a jackal inside.

Eventually Matt does suggest to Abby that they should get married, and she starts to make wedding plans. Matt's on the road with various gigs.

In real life, Birbiglia has one of his sleeping disorder episodes and ends up crashing through the second story window of his hotel room. He ended up with 33 stitches and finally gets help for his disorder. I knew what was going to happen in the movie, so I didn't let Ross know until it was shown.

You either like the movie or you don't, but I enjoyed it. It was short, like 81 minutes, and it had Carol Kane and James Rebhorn as Matt's parents. I'll admit Birbiglia can get a little rambly in his routine, but he is a funny storyteller.



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