'All You Have To Give Is Yourself': Mike Birbiglia On Comedy, Filmmaking, And Sincerity
In many ways, Mike Birbiglia is the boy next door: kind, sincere, and giving of his time.
He's also hysterically funny.
The acclaimed comedian, writer, director, and actor has a new project, "Don't Think Twice," which opens Friday in several Triad theaters.
The new film is his second stint as a writer-director, and his second outing with producer Ira Glass, the creator of public radio's long-running show, "This American Life."
WFDD's Sean Bueter spoke with Birbiglia about "Don't Think Twice," his comedic style, and the importance of having more heart than cleverness.
On why he decided to explore the price of success – and failure – in "Don’t Think Twice":
You know, it’s something that happens all the time. It happens in comedy, it happens in sports, it happens bands…any kind of group. Somebody gets the thing that everybody wants, and it feels bad. [Laughter] And I feel like I’ve been on both sides of that. I feel like I’ve had some success, and I feel like I’ve been the person watching my friends get successful. And I just thought, yeah, I feel like I can see all sides of that dilemma.
Eight years ago, Birbiglia shot a television pilot based on his life for CBS. It led to a creative crisis that he says may have informed how he wrote his latest film:
When it didn’t happen, I was crushed. I had nothing. And then when I had nothing, I started working on my own solo projects…And then, you know, I just started doing all these things on my own and I realized that that’s what I was meant to do. Like, I wasn’t meant to be on a sitcom. And as a matter of fact, since then, since I’ve had a lot of success on my own, I’ve gotten a lot of calls from networks saying “we want to make a sitcom with you.” And I’ve actually had the opportunity to say “no.” That’s not really what I want to do.
On the place of heart and sincerity in comedy:
I think heart is underrated in this culture, and I think that cleverness is overrated…I think heart is one of those things that there’s never really enough of. I’ve been traveling around doing sort of improv workshops with different improv theaters across the country, and I always say to, you know, young creators and writers and directors and improvisers: all you have to give is yourself, when you’re making something. Because that’s the thing that you have. That’s the only thing that you have that nobody else has…
Only you can tell your story, and only you can tell people how you really feel secretly. I always say, like, you’re not doing anything unless you’re telling people your secrets.