"How Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass ended up making a movie together"
In anticipation of the release of Sleepwalk With Me, Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass sat down for an interview that quickly went from chatter about the movie to a sweeping, almost romantic saga about how the project got started.
“How Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass ended up making a movie together”
Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass' Sleepwalk With Me opens today at Ritz at the Bourse (see our review here). In anticipation of its release, the duo sat down for an interview with City Paper's Frida Garza that quickly went from chatter about the movie to a sweeping, almost romantic saga about how the project got started. These guys are total goofballs. Read on.
City Paper: My first question is for Mike. Sleepwalk With Me has been a one-man show, it’s been a book, it’s been a segment on This American Life. When was the first time you told the story of your sleepwalking.
Mike Birbiglia: The first time I told it to anyone was the night it happened. I was on the phone with my wife and my parents. It was a really weird phone conversation, because I was calling them in the middle of the night saying, “OK, this really weird thing happened.” I think it was really shocking for them. And I’m sorry that I had to put them through that.
CP: So when did it progress from something that was happening in your life to something that you were starting to include in your comedy?
MB: A few months after it happened I started to tell people conversationally, and then I said, 'you know, I think I’m gonna tell this onstage.' I found that it was really connecting with audiences. I was doing it in a standup setting, and eventually I merged it with my one-man show, Sleepwalk With Me, which I was already writing.
CP: This one’s for Ira. When did you first hear this story and how did you react the first time you heard it?
Ira Glass: My part of the story is a little boring, because I heard a recording that Mike had made for … The Moth. Somebody on my staff heard it and they thought, ‘We gotta get this guy on the radio.” They played it for me and I agreed. You know, when I heard the story — the short, 15-minute version — the things that are appealing about the longer movie version were there. It has this spectacular trajectory of somebody in denial about what’s really going on his life and then it expressed itself through big, physical action. That’s the thing at the heart of the film.
CP: So, when did one of you turn to the other and say, ‘This is something that we should make into a feature film’?
IG: It was over a candlelit dinner, and Mike …
MB: It was at Disneyland … at the Italian restaurant in Epcot center.
IG: We were in Philadelphia on the tour of the Liberty Bell and we were standing there looking at the crack.
MB: We were on a double-decker bus tour in London. And we were on the upper deck, and I said, ‘Dude, we gotta make a movie.’
IG: And I was like, ‘Dude, that’s the smartest thing I’ve ever heard! I just hope we can remember where we had this conversation in case someone ever asks us.’
IG: No, but seriously. Mike was doing heroin at the time and he was scoring with his dealer. And I went into a bathroom — I mean, I’ve never seen a bathroom so grimy and dirty. I bang on the door, he lets me in, he’s got his … all of this stuff … I don’t know what you people call it, you know, when you’re shooting up. And I was like, ‘Man, you gotta stop doing this, we should make a movie! If I agree to make a movie with you, will you stop using this stuff?!’
MB: I was driving a motorcycle on Route 66 and Ira was in the sidecar. And I was like, ‘We should make a movie!’ and Ira was like, ‘WHAT?’ and I go, ‘WE SHOULD MAKE A MOVIE,’ and Ira goes, ‘WHAT?’ And then I pulled over to a rest stop and I was like ‘Ira, we have to make a movie.’ And he was like ‘Oh, why didn’t you tell me in the sidecar? I could hear you pretty well,’ and I was like ‘I tried to.’
IG: Can that just be the whole article? … Honestly that was one of our best moments, not just in doing promotion for the movie, but literally throughout the process of making the movie … I actually think the conversation could be better than the movie.
MB: I agree. You’re our only witness that that happened in real time.
IG: Are you recording or anything like that?
CP: I am recording.
MB: You should put this audio online.
IG: As you can see, we’re both very bossy people. … We’re even saying, ‘This part could be part of it, too.’ That’s how bossy we are, to a complete stranger who’s an expert at her job. But we’re like, ‘You know, if we had your job … ’ That’s the spirit of sticking your nose into other peoples’ business that got the movie made!
CP: Next question! You start the movie off by saying that it is a real story and that you have to say that because no one ever believes you. Why do you think that is?
MB: Certain comedians’ style was to be hyperbolic for humor’s sake. There was a sense that it was such an outrageous story that today, and even in the movie, people were like 'Yeah, that’s not what really happened.' I just wanted to be really clear about it, and I think that was the best way for people to understand the comedy of it.
CP: And those scenes where you’re driving in the car addressing the audience, those scenes weren’t in the original cuts of the movie?
IG: Yeah, exactly. Partly because we thought, well, it’s a movie, we shouldn’t do narration the way you would if you were telling a story onstage or in standup or if you’re doing a radio story on our show. And so [at first], those scenes weren’t in there at all. And we had a different thing where occasionally Mike’s character would turn on the audience in the middle of a scene — like Alvie Singer does in Annie Hall or the guy in SLC Punk or Ferris Bueller — just kind of like, turning to the audience in the middle of the action and commenting on it. But that actually made the scenes play with less intensity and realness. And so we took that out and added in the car scenes with work a lot better.
Manager: [in the background] Last question!
IG: But we know that none of these questions are going to get in the most original version of the article which is “How Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass Ended Up Making A Movie Together” And then just a long extended quote.
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