In 2007, the comedian Mike Birbiglia released the album My Secret Public Journal. Incidentally, this was the year I started to write. I had listened to stand up before, but Mike’s was different. My experience with stand-up, up to this point, had been listening to Steven Wright on road trips with my dad. And while Steven Wright is a very funny and talented comedian, he was not a storyteller; e.g. ”It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.”
I first heard Mike Birbiglia while sharing headphones with a friend at lunch and was instantly a fan. I purchased every one of his albums and disappeared into them. Never before had I related to an art form besides film and/or books. My discovery of Mike Birbiglia took me down a deep rabbit hole. My appreciation of comedy was there in the beginning with Wright, but there was no emotional connection. Wright’s comedy is just comedy. Its sole purpose is making the audience laugh. The audience may relate to statements made, but it is unlikely an emotional connection is made. Birbiglia uses storytelling to make an audience laugh, he brings the audience in on an emotional level.
Throughout high school, I constantly listened to stand-up comedy. There was an entire month where I didn’t even listen to music. I wanted to emulate this method of storytelling. I wanted people to connect emotionally with my writing, but I wanted them to laugh too. For the longest time, I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. I would write stories and jokes and even rehearse them in private. It was not until I had graduated high school that I gave stand-up go, but by then my mode of storytelling had changed, and I still had a passion for comedy. I had become heavily interested in filmmaking and film as medium.
In 2011 Mike Birbiglia released the album Sleepwalk With Me. Coming in at roughly an hour and ten minutes, it serves as an account of his discovery that he has a sleep disorder and the penultimate event of his fall out of a window. He begins the story by revealing that he had a malignant tumor in his bladder. He follows this by saying “But it’s funny, stay with me.” This assertion is essential to his style. His stories are overly sincere, but it is that candor that makes them relatable. He breaks up this hour and ten minutes into small vignettes. Each progress the story to its end, and though they are not sequential, but they all correlate to the main story. Previously, on My Secret Public Journal and What I Should Have Said Was Nothing, Birbiglia had incorporated multiple stories, but they weren’t connecting to an encompassing arc. This is what places Mike Birbiglia in a class of his own. This unique format of storytelling is one that I have been inspired by as a writer and as a filmmaker.
I found parallels to how his stories were being told to that of film. And, funny enough, in 2012, Sleepwalk With Me was adapted into a film. As a fan, and as a writer, I was beyond happy. The film managed to capture the heart and humor the live performance originally exerted. To see the storytelling style of stand-up translated into a film opened my eyes. I went back to some of the stories I had initially written after I began to tailor them to fit this comedy mold. It seemed as if I was learning to be a better storyteller and a better filmmaker through watching Mike.
In the years since the release of Sleepwalk With Me. Mike Birbiglia has released two stand-up albums/specials. My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend and Thank God For Jokes. Additionally he has released one film, Don’t Think Twice. Each hold that unique brand of storytelling that shouldn’t be overlooked just because it is stand-up comedy. In fact, many stand up comedians have become some of the greatest storytellers and the art form should be thought of as more than just jokes. As someone who has dipped his toe into many facets of storytelling, whether those be narratives, stand-up, or filmmaking, it is safe to say that looking in all aspects of storytelling can better your own writing.
– Patrick Crowley