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Comedian-turned-filmmaker Mike Birbiglia returning to Utah for show

Published January 22, 2014 5:22 pm

Performance • Comedian brings new show, "Thank God for Jokes," to Kingsbury.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

January 2012 was perhaps the greatest January that comedian Mike Birbiglia has ever had, and it's not just because he didn't have to suffer through a polar vortex that year.

He performed a stand-up show at Kingsbury Hall during his "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" tour on the first Friday night of that year's Sundance Film Festival.

Birbiglia didn't head off to his next stand-up gig after that show; the "My American Life" contributor spent all of the weekend and the next week supporting his Sundance Film Festival-debuting film "Sleepwalk With Me," which the Massachusetts native directed, wrote and starred in. It ended up winning the Best of NEXT Audience Award.

Birbiglia (pronounced as "I don't know how to pronounce "Birbiglia"), 35, will return to Kingsbury on Thursday, Jan. 23, to perform his new one-man show, "Thank God for Jokes," after spending about a week in the middle of his nationwide tour up in Park City watching some Sundance movies with his wife.

He answered email questions posed by The Tribune about Sundance memories, future film projects and what he would do if God never endowed humans with the ability to make jokes.

Do you have any special affection for Utah?

Yeah, I do, because in 2012 I kicked off the "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" tour there at Kingsbury Hall. I premiered "Sleepwalk With Me" at Sundance. I love Salt Like City. It's a great town. I love the people in the town. I love that it's a real eclectic mix of folks. There's a lot of Mormons and then there's a lot of people who are the opposite of Mormons and it's a funny mix of people. And I find people there to be very friendly and lovers of comedy, which is why I was thrilled to come back with my new show.

What were your thoughts when "Sleepwalk With Me" was accepted to the Sundance Film Festival in 2012?

My immediate thoughts were … I was very surprised because it's just so unlikely to have a film accepted in the festival. There are thousands and thousands of films that they're sent, so I just sort of imagined it in this sort of Library of Congress-esque pile of DVDs, right at the bottom. So I was really surprised and thrilled.

Will you get a chance to go to Park City this year during Sundance? If so, do you have a special interest in seeing the Mitt Romney documentary?

I am going to go to Park City. My wife and I are going to spend a few days there, which is the thing I'm looking forward to most this winter. I didn't know there was a Mitt Romney documentary, but sure, I love documentaries.

What is the status of transforming "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" into a film? And I read that the main character will not be a comic, but a journalist — is there something inherently comical about journalism and the people who practice it?

Yeah, I'm in the process of writing now and I'm probably three or four drafts into that script, and I'm writing a whole other screenplay as well, and so I'm working on two film scripts and I'm working on obviously this new show, "Thank God for Jokes." Yeah, right now the character's a journalist. It's something I was always interested in. I think the thing that comedy and journalism have in common would probably be just a general curiosity about finding out how things work. Also comedians typically state a thesis of some kind and then build evidence around that and that's what journalists do as well. My last show, "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend," was particularly like that, where I made a thesis that I don't believe in marriage and then I kind of built the whole show around making an argument against marriage, and then the whole thing turns on itself when I get married. And so that's sort of the fun of it and I thought, I'd like to write something based on this story but I'd also like to explore a life vocation other than stand-up comedy, which I feel I covered so thoroughly in "Sleepwalk With Me."

What do you get out of performing live onstage that you can't get from performing in a film or on radio?

I think there's nothing like live performance because everyone is in the room at the same time. It's sort of like one big inside joke. It's like one big group of friends sharing a joke at the same time and it's, dare I say it, a religious experience.

If jokes hadn't been invented, and comedy wasn't allowed, how would you make it through life?

I would be a middle-school English teacher.

The day you perform in Utah, Jan. 23, is National Measure Your Feet Day, National Handwriting Day, National Rhubarb Pie Day and Snowplow Mailbox Hockey Day. Do any or all of those subjects have any significance in your life? Do you even know what Snowplow Mailbox Hockey is? (I don't.)

I think National Handwriting Day is definitely significant to me because I write most of my material by hand, and if you look at the artwork on the cover of "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend," it's all in handwriting and all the credits are written in handwriting. It's a beautiful but dying art form. Increasingly, hands are being replaced by robotic hands and people are just putting their robotic hands on autopilot.

Now, when you develop a tour like your current one, do you think about how it would translate as a film?

I didn't when I started performing this show, but recently I've felt like there is a story that could translate really well into a film narrative. But I'm not going to say which one because I don't want people to write it themselves. I don't want to tell people because you know, people gotta have a little mystery. —

Mike Birbiglia's 'Thank God for Jokes' tour

When • Thursday, Jan. 23, at 7:30 p.m.

Where • Kingsbury Hall, 1295 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $20 to $35 at kingsburyhall.utah.edu