Web exclusive: Mike Birbiglia's 'Secret Public Journal'


Mike Birbiglia

Music Mill

Saturday, Sept. 22, 9 p.m., $25

Most of what you need to know about comedian Mike Birbiglia is this: His new CD, “My Secret Public Journal Live,” starts with a long story about the worst gig he ever performed and ends with a song recounting all the disastrous incidents he talked about in the show.

The rest of what you need to know: This terrifically funny sad-sack comedian — think Lou Costello meets Loudon Wainwright — will be at the Music Mill on Saturday to tell stories from “My Secret Public Journal,” a running bit he’s been doing on “The Bob and Tom Show” for the past three years. (Birbiglia also just finished a script for NBC for a “My Secret Public Journal” series and in October will be taping a new one-hour special for Comedy Central.)

Show time is 9 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information, call 317-841-1850.

In a telephone interview with NUVO, Birbiglia talked about his new show, his previous tour, “Sleepwalk with M,” and more.


NUVO: When you were here in the spring, there was almost a rock-star element to the show. It didn’t feel like a comedy performance.

Mike Birbiglia: I love that about doing shows these days. It’s kind of like doing a show for your friends. What’s painful about starting out in comedy is that for a long time you’re performing for drunks and passersby. And you’re trying to do your thing — which in my case is pretty unique. I tell stories and I’m pretty soft-spoken and I’m not blowing people away. Drunks don’t usually like that at all (laughs) from a stranger. Especially someone like me. I’m like a real underdog.

The two biggest factors that changed things are “The Bob and Tom Show” and my CD that came out last year, “Two Drink Mike.” “The Bob and Tom Show,” you’re on the radio for so many hours. It’s a really intimate form. You’re essentially in people’s car and driving with them to work.


NUVO: The first time you did “Bob and Tom,” did you know much about them?

Mike Birbiglia: I’d just heard them when traveling to regions of the country where they were. I always really liked the show. When I performed at Crackers the first time, they had me come into the studio. I didn’t know if it would go well, but it did.

Then Tom joined my mailing list on the Web site [birbigs.com] to get the print version of “My Secret Public Journal.” He e-mailed me and thanked me for coming to the show. Then he e-mailed me and said, “What do you think about coming on the show and reading your journals?” We started doing it and they created this theme song for it and it’s become its own thing.

It’s a very powerful show. I’ve heard it said that it has more reach than “The Tonight Show.”


NUVO: “Sleepwalk with Me” was a departure from the way you usually work. Talk about how it compares with “My Secret Public Journal Live.”

Mike Birbiglia: “Sleepwalk with Me” was conceived as a one-person play. It was conceived as a written piece. After “Two Drink Mike” came out, I was going to these places and doing a lot of the jokes and people would know them already. The familiarity was nice, but at the same time people wanted more. So I started telling some of the stories from “Sleepwalk with Me” on stage.

I didn’t think they would work well in standup. They were too long and some of the subject matter was really serious — like how I had a tumor when I was 19 and how I had a really serious sleepwalking incident that hospitalized me. But as it turned out, the response was better than anything I’d ever done. I thought I was onto something here.

I think telling stories on stage is what I do best. I never knew that before. So I decided that in addition to doing that, I would start telling my favorite stories from “My Secret Public Journal.” I basically had three hours I’ve done on “Bob and Tom” over the years. I went through all those pieces to figure out which ones could be used in a standup setting. I narrowed it down to an hour and 45 minutes, saw which got the best response and then narrowed it down to an hour.


NUVO: When you’re structuring a story to tell on stage, do you talk it out first? Write it down?

Mike Birbiglia: A lot of times, I’ll experiment with the order. I’ll try it out a certain way and see what flows. It’s a lot like music — you have to play it to see what it sounds like. You navigate it as you go and figure out the way it sounds best.

I really try to have the show build so the audience stays with it the whole time and it’s not a letdown at the end. The final track on “My Secret Public Journal Live” CD is a song I wrote called “Put It on Paper,” which is a call to action to the audience to write down their most painful experiences, because tomorrow they won’t seem that bad. It sums up all the stories in the show.

The common thread of the stories is that at the time, they were all really painful things. They were things where I was embarrassed — in some cases, for years — to tell. But eventually when I was able to tell them on stage was when I felt OK about them. When you put all your cards on the table, people can judge you, but there’s other people laughing. So it counterbalances that.


NUVO: Tell me a “Secret Public Journal” story.

Mike Birbiglia: I always followed in my brother Joe’s footsteps. He wore overalls, I wore overalls. He lit off fireworks in the attic, I was hit by the fireworks.

When I was 14, he got me my first job, in a restaurant he had worked at. It was tough. I was this little kid and I was working for these tough Boston cooks. One day, one of the guys looks at me and says, “How’d you get this job, anyway?” I go, “My brother Joe worked here last summer.” His eyes lit up and he said, “Your brother is Joey Bag O’Donuts? We love Joey Bag O’Donuts.” I’m like, “Yeah.”

So I go home and I said to Joe, “Was your nickname at the restaurant Joey Bag O’Donuts?” He goes, “No, that was this other guy. That guy was awesome.”

For the rest of the summer, I had to live the lie that my brother was Joey Bag O’Donuts. Every day I’d go in and they’d go, “How’s Joe Bags?” I’d go, “He’s great.” They’d be like, “Seriously, how much can Joe Bags drink?” I was like, “Sooo much!”

I had this fear in the pit of my stomach that one day, the real Joe Bags would walk in the door. They’d be like, “We’ve been hangin’ out with your brother,” and he’d be like, “That fag’s not my brother.” And then they’d all beat the crap out of me.