In 2008, comedian Mike Birbiglia wrote and starred in a one man off-Broadway show based on his life, called Sleepwalk with Me. He developed the show into a book, which in turn became a movie in 2012. I am reviewing both book and movie here, as both provide an entertaining glimpse into the life of a stand-up comic. It can be difficult in autobiographical works to steer through a life without veering into the two precarious territories on each side of the road: silliness and overwrought melodrama. Both book and movie tend to pull this off with ease, delicately balancing Mike’s dry humor and stand-up act with his real world challenges.
The book, coming in at under 200 pages, is a quick read. Rather than just being a collection of stand-up material (I’m looking at you, Ellen Degeneres and Jerry Seinfeld), it provides the reader with some significant snapshots of the author’s life. While it is not the sort of in-depth biography you may be used to from a full-fledged memoir, the book packs a lot of punch given its relatively short length. The book provides snapshots of Birbiglia from his early childhood to the present, and balances the expected amount of silly comedian stories with poignant life struggles. Considering the title of the book, it would not be much of a spoiler to reveal Birbiglia suffers from “REM Sleep Behavior Disorder,” which causes him not only to sleepwalk, but to actually act out his dreams. Though the disorder proves to be a fairly dangerous one (and at one point came close to killing him), he manages to discuss it without depressing you as if it is a Nicholas Sparks novel. You can read the book in one or two sittings, so definitely check it out. It’s fairly cheap on Amazon.
The movie adaptation, written by, directed by, and starring Birbiglia is just as entertaining, though it is only semi-autobiographical. There were liberties taken with the book, some facts were eliminated, others mixed around, and there is an attempt to make it more of a narrative fiction than a documentary. The focus of the film is on his relationship with a girlfriend named Abbie, which only makes up a single chapter towards the end of the book. Though I was a tad disappointed the focus was only on this one aspect of his life, it did adequately work in many of the entertaining aspects of the book–though it diferent ways. Furthermore, Abbie is brilliantly portrayed in the movie by Lauren Ambrose, whom I never tire of watching. Throw in some amusing small parts from Carol Kane and Kristen Schaal, and the result forces anyone to forget any inconsistencies with the book.
Definitely worth a read and a watch. It is currently on Netflix streaming.