October: Sleepwalk With WTF [Fukubukuro]
January 11th, 2011 by Dan

One day Mike Birbiglia woke up and decided that he was going to fundamentally change his comedy and make it more personal.

Who am I kidding? The guy was already shifting in that direction before his one-man show, “Sleepwalk With Me”, debuted off-Broadway. Before things got personal, he was already sharing his “Secret Public Journal” with all his fans and devotees. I can’t pretend to understand the motivations behind his transition away from a straight joke comic to what he is today, but I’m so glad it happened.

If you’re not familiar, Mike Birbiglia’s comedy nowadays resembles therapy more than the typical stand-up routine. Conditioned by writing “Sleepwalk With Me”, his sets now have narrative arcs to them. Events at the start inform and influence stories he tells later and, all the while, we’re learning exactly what makes Mike tick.

I don’t know when I became such a voyeur into the personal and creative lives of the artists I dig, but my love for Birbigs’ shift in direction ties in rather intimately with the discovery of Marc Maron’s twice-weekly podcast, WTF. These interview sessions aren’t like your typical talk-show/radio appearances, filled with publicist-guided talks and guided agendas. No, these are personal conversations between Maron and his guest.

It’s hard to claim any cohesiveness between episodes other than the fact that Marc Maron probably has had beef with each of his guests at some point in his career. Other than that, their discussions meander from healthcare legislation to drug addiction, personal histories, and, yes, the very nature of standup itself.

The standup conversations are the ones I find most interesting as they address the intricacies and etiquette of the business. Maron has covered creative processes, writing, having writers, joke theft, life on the road, broad vs. alternative comedy, and even breaking into the business. This is where my voyeurism steps in again. I love hearing about the way that these great minds conceive and come to the jokes I love.

Beyond that I find myself loving the highly personal shows where Maron doesn’t hold back. The two-part interview with Carlos Mencia was brilliant in its examination of just why Mencie is among the most hated figures in comedy. Learning that his first inclination toward comedy was more or less plagiarized was so illuminating into the man. Seeing him slightly unravel under the pressure of the podcast and start incoherently threatening his enemies was fascinating.

Is it weird that I love glimpses into the highly personal subjects that make these comedians tick? Learning about Mike Birbiglia’s adolescence or his adult relationships, even through his own lens, sheds a lot of light on where his jokes come from. It shows me why he is who he is and why he acts the way he does. Maybe I should have been a psychologist?

Mike Birbiglia Yeah!

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