Fans of the NPR program “This American Life” will recognize Mike Birbiglia from his occasional contributions to the show, including his breakthrough segment, which recounted his time as a sleepwalker and how he would literally act out his dreams. On that and many other his other segments, Birbiglia undercuts his humor as an awkward underdog with poignant sadness. The successful mix has made Birbiglia a rising comic, leading to the release of his first memoir, “Sleepwalk with Me: And Other Painfully True Stories.”
In the vein of David Sedaris, “Sleepwalk” features short, humorous stories about his life from his dad, who always tells him never to reveal anything in his life on his journey to becoming a comedian. A number of the stories come almost verbatim from his stand-up comedy show, except for the extra detail or two. As a result, the book reads like a transcript from his performances with his perfectly timed zingers and the extreme colloquialisms. At times, Birbiglia can capture his blend of hilarity and misery in just one sentence, evident in his detailing a break-up while in the Bahamas.
However, the book loses a lot jumping from his act to the paper. Not only does much of the surprise dissipate, but his anecdotes also come off as a bit immature. By adding that extra pause or hushed vocal enunciation during his show, Birbiglia’s method of retelling allows the story to detach from the juvenile details. In “Sleepwalk,” Birbiglia loses that control to direct his stories’ tone, and as a result, some anecdotes come off clunky and forced. The memoir would have been more successful had Birbiglia fleshed out his stories with more thoughtfulness rather than merely transcribing his jokes.
Dedicated followers of Birbiglia will enjoy having more of his tales as a man trying to figure it all out, but newcomers would do themselves a favor by first taking a listen to his comedy show.