Here’s the thing about Mike Birbiglia: He’s not one of those comics who is hilarious on stage, but in person becomes an introspective, self-serious, brooding type. He’s not going to go on and on about his own mortality while smoking a cigarette, or whatever. No, here’s Mike Birbiglia doing his impression of Animal from the Muppets, just for me. This isn’t even being filmed. I literally have to type out Birbiglia’s impression of Animal so you can try to read what that might be like. He’s putting on a one-person show for one person. It’s great. His humor is often filled with such wide-eyed earnesty, then he hits you with Animal cursing. It’s impossible not to laugh.
In 2012, Birbiglia directed the critically acclaimed Sleepwalk With Me. (I speak from experience, I was one of the people who “acclaimed” it.) Birbiglia turned a story about his relationship, career, and an often very frightening sleep disorder into something funny and touching.
Now, four years later, Birbiglia has directed his second feature film, Don’t Think Twice (which played this week at the Tribeca Film Festival and will be released this summer). On the surface, it’s about a member of an improv comedy troupe (Keegan-Michael Key, whom we also interviewed lately) who is tapped to be a cast member on Weekend Live (the film’s version of SNL) – and the jealousy and fallout that follows within the improv group he left behind. But everyone has felt professional jealousy at one point or another. It’s tough to watch someone else fulfill your professional goal. Don’t Think Twice taps into those emotions better than any film I can remember.
So, yeah, you get all that and, in person, an Animal impression. (Be warned, the following interview goes off on some, let’s say, tangents.)
In the waiting room, they were showing the episode of Friends with Bruce Willis.
I never saw that.
Ross is dating Bruce Willis’ daughter.
His daughter? Oh, not his real life daughter.
Ross is teaching a college course and Bruce Willis’ character’s daughter is a student.
That’s a good show.
Last time we spoke, you made it a point to tell me that Cookie Monster didn’t have his own show. I’ll never forget that.
Oh my God, because I thought there was a misunderstanding?
Because we were just calling it The Cookie Monster Show.
[Laughing.] In my one-man show, I do Animal. And one night Frank Oz showed up, who is Animal. He’s every voice: He’s Animal, he’s Fozzie, he’s Yoda.
He’s the test administrator in Spies Like Us.
He came backstage and I asked him advice on how to do Animal and he said, “The key thing to know about Animal is that all he knows about are drums, pain, sex, food, and he eats glass.” And ever since then, my Animal voice got really good.
It’s better. It’s better than it was.
Now I want to hear it, but this is a print interview, so it doesn’t matter. No one will get to hear it.
No, no. Well, it’s like [does Animal voice] AHHHHH. The joke is that Animal curses. So it’s like, [does Animal voice] THIS FUCKING SNARE DRUM SOUNDS LIKE SHIIIIIT. It’s really goofy.
Wacka, wacka, wacka. That’s my Fozzie.
I want to know what people in the hallway are thinking right now.
Wacka, wacka, wacka.
The faux-SNL opening you created for Weekend Live gave me the giggles. The first cast member is named “Hugh Finn” and he’s getting street food, then sees the camera.
I laugh, too. Whenever you are dealing in verities, if an audience member like you locks in, it’s anyone’s guess what they will laugh at. So, Weekend Live, we just made it as real as we could. So we’re not playing it for jokes, but it is funny. We’re playing it as close to reality as we can.
When I watched the real opening, I had a new appreciation for it. Just hanging out on the street, “Oh, a camera!”
Yeah, the screen direction I wrote was, “Whoa, look, there’s a camera.”
I always think of Phil Hartman at a bar, having a conversation, and then, “Hey, it’s you!”
It’s funny, because they light it for two hours. Then they go, “Pick up the donut and then look at the camera as you had no idea the camera was there.” It’s like, come on, what are we doing?
Could you not use the real Saturday Night Live name?
At one point I toyed with it. You can say the name, but you couldn’t use the logo. So you have to think about what the copyrights are. I toyed with the idea of asking the show if I can use it, but I don’t want to get into that conversation.
You’d have to clear every joke with them.
Right. I saw Black Mirror recently and they’re on an American Idol type show, but they have a fake name. That’s really good and you can fake it and, in some ways, that gives you more artistic license. And people will ask, “How do you know so much about SNL?” Well, it’s the most written about TV show in the history of ever.”