Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sleepwalk With Me (Rhoades)

A Funny Wake-Up Call
From “Sleepwalk With Me”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My cousin used to sleepwalk. When I spent the night at his house, his brother and I had to stand alternate watches to make sure he didn’t get into trouble. Not that his going to the ‘fridge for a middle-of-the-night meal was particularly dangerous. Or the fact that he once peed in a closet, thinking in his somnambulistic state of mind that it was a bathroom. No, we remember the time he tried to drive away in the family car. He was maybe ten years old at the time.
Comedian Mike Birbiglia had the same problem – sleepwalking. But like most comedians he took life’s adversity and turned it into a funny routine. His sleepwalking riff became a key part of his one-man off-Broadway show. He’s also completed three Comedy Central TV specials and released a trio of comedy albums – one of them called “Sleepwalk With Me.” It debuted at #1 on the Billboard Magazine Comedy Chart.
Then he wrote a book titled “Sleepwalk With Me & Other Painfully True Stories,” which was nominated for a 2011 Thurber Prize for American Humor.
Boy, does he know how to milk a good joke.
Now he’s expanded that bit into a feature movie, titled – what else? – “Sleepwalk With Me.” He wrote, directed and stars in the film.
What’s more, this indie comedy – currently playing at the Tropic Cinema – won the NEXT Audience Award at Sundance, selected in the "Festival Favorites" at South X Southwest, and won the award for best writer/director at Nantucket.
Okay, we’ll skip all those lame jokes about his comedy routines putting his audiences to sleep. Fact is, he’s pretty funny. I laughed.
In the movie he plays a character called Matt Pandamiglio. Carol Kane is cast as his mother. Lauren Ambrose does a turn as his girlfriend. Yet, it’s eerily autobiographical.
The film gives us an aspiring comedian who’s in denial about his whole life.
He can’t come to terms with the relationship with his girlfriend. He was “lied to, cheated on, duped, and dumped.”
He can’t deal with his lackluster career. He failed at becoming a professional break-dancer, rapper, or starting point guard for the Boston Celtics. He wanted to open a pizzeria where third graders could hang out, but his friends pointed out that it was “kind of creepy.”
And he refuses to admit he has a sleepwalking disorder. The more he represses his anxieties, the more funny (and dangerous) his sleepwalking episodes become. He once jumped out of a second-story window. “Mike’s serial delusions ultimately led to a series of incredible sleepwalking incidents and fortunately he lived to tell about it,” notes a friend.
“I’m trying to express certain themes – the theme of denial, and the degree to which people will go to not deal with something that is right in front of them,” says Mike Birbiglia. “In my case, it was sleepwalking. In other people’s cases, it was alcoholism or some bad relationship that they knew was over, but they couldn’t admit it to their husbands or wives.”
He adds, “I think serious situations actually make for the best kind of belly laughs.”
Mike Birbiglia is one of those guys you’ve seen but can’t quite place. In addition to his TV specials, numerous appearances on Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and NPR, and a recent small part in the Mumblecore comedy “Your Sister’s Sister,” nobody recognizes him.
In the movie he’s trying to deal with the question, “Why am I not more famous?”
 Off-screen he grouses, “I’m such a loser. I’m looking at a 40-foot version of my face and just going, ‘Not only am I playing a loser, but I am a loser, for making this movie about myself. What am I doing? I’m some kind of egocentric maniac.’”
Birbiglia shakes his head sadly. “I’ve been doing comedy for 13 years, and I’m described constantly as ‘up and coming.’ I’m like, ‘Okay sure, I’ll be up and coming forever.’” But maybe this film will change that.
“I don’t want to be known as ‘the sleepwalking guy,’” he says. But it may be too late for that. What can he do? “I don’t know,” he grumbles. “I’ll sleep on it.”

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