Interview with Mike Birbiglia about his show My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.

By Cathy Culliver

Tell me about My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.

It’s sort of a hybrid between a one-man play and a comedy routine that I have been working on for about three or four years. I performed it Off-Broadway in 2011 as a warm up, and I’ve now performed it in about 70 different cities.

It’s basically a show that’s a one-man romantic comedy, which is difficult to do because comedy is a cynical art form in a lot of ways and I wanted to do something that was true to the cynical roots of comedy but also had beams of optimism in it. So I’d like to think that I’ve done it.

It’s basically about how I decided to get married, while not believing in the idea of marriage. But I love doing the show; one of the cool things is that over the years there have been a bunch of couples who have proposed marriage in the lobby after the show.

There’s a clip on YouTube where a couple propose at the end of my show. I jumped off stage, took the microphone, the guy got down on one knee, she said yes … it was very exciting.

Part of this show aired on a recent episode of the This American Life podcast, where you talk about a girlfriend from high school who treated you horribly and didn’t want anyone to know you two were dating. I have to say this struck a chord with me, as I’ve had a really similar experience. Do you think it’s part of the appeal that people can really relate to the stories you tell in the show?

Well yeah, when I wrote that story I thought I was the only person on earth that has ever happened to. But I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, “that EXACT same thing happened to me!”

And to me that’s when comedy is most exciting, when you uncover something and a lot of people are like “me too”.

Would you describe yourself more of a storyteller than a stand up comedian?

I think of myself as a comedian, because I ultimately always try to have what I’m doing be funny. To make an audience laugh, that’s the number one goal.

But then over the years I’ve kind of branched into storytelling and film making as an extension of the comedy. Now that I know I can make people laugh, I feel like I can do a longer form version of that and go outside of my comfort zone.

Last time I was in Australia, I was compared most by the locals to Daniel Kitson, who’s a comedian I admire a great deal. And he’s also a sort of genre-bending comedian, but I still think of him as a comedian.

Many Australians would be well aware of your work with This American Life. Do you feel like you have a good fan base here?

I was very surprised when I was last in Australia that anyone even knew who I was, so that was very exciting for me. And I feel like this time there could be more, because I think This American Life has started airing on the radio over there. So I’m hoping now it has an even wider reach.

But yeah, I wouldn’t be coming back and getting on a 23-hour flight if I didn’t love it there. My wife and I just absolutely love Australia; we love the people, we love the spirit of it, we love the sights, the beaches, the cliffs … everything about it just overtook us.

You’ve had one of your live shows go on to be made into a movie (Sleepwalk with Me, which is having its Australian premiere in Melbourne during MICF). Do you have any plans to do the same with this one?

I do, yeah. I’m tasking myself with finishing a draft of the movie script on the plane ride to Australia. Because it’s so long, I’m like, if I can’t finish a script in 23 hours then I’m worthless. It’s also a good way to distract myself from the fact that I’m up 30,000 feet in the air.

You made Sleepwalk with Me with Ira Glass and the team from This American Life. And are you planning on working with Ira on this new movie as well?

I hope so. Ira and I work on a ton of stuff together, so it will definitely be something that I will beg him to do.

Before we finish up, how are you doing with the whole sleepwalking thing? Do you still have to sleep in a sleeping bag with mittens on? (As explored in Sleepwalk with Me, Birbiglia has a sleep condition that causes him to act out his dreams, so he has confine himself at night for his own safety).

I don’t wear the mittens anymore because they’re just too hot. But I do wear the sleeping bag; I wear a kind of summer sleeping liner thing. And when I go to bed at night, my wife will literally say “it’s time to go in your pod”.

That’s so romantic.

Well yeah, it’s really romantic and demeaning at the same time, which is really what romance is about I think.

My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend is on at Arts Centre Melbourne from 28 March – 4 April. For tickets and info visit:

Mike will also hold a live Q&A at the Australian premiere of his film Sleepwalk with Me at Cinema Nova on Sunday 31st March. For more information, visit: