Mike Birbiglia on his sleeper hit “Sleepwalk With Me” and going toe-to-toe with Joss Whedon

Mike Birbiglia in Sleepwalk With Me

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Usually whenever someone is depicted as sleepwalking in a TV show or movie, the person has his or her eyes closed, arms out and extended like a zombie, and somehow manages to avoid all obstacles — sometimes with the help of friends who think it would be more dangerous to wake up the dreamer. “Think about Olive Oyl in the ‘Popeye’ cartoons, when she goes to the construction site and Bluto and Popeye have to help her,” comedian-turned-filmmaker Mike Birbiglia told IFC. “Or ‘The Honeymooners,’ when Ed Norton is sleepwalking and Ralph Kramden has to help him.”

But that’s not how it works in real life, as Birbiglia unfortunately knows all too well — he once jumped out the closed window of his hotel room while asleep. It’s a dramatic moment depicted in his stand-up show, book, “This American Life” episode, and now semi-autobiographical film, “Sleepwalk With Me.”

“It’s funny how sleepwalking has never been portrayed accurately on film,” he said, “even though it’s a special moment in time where sleepwalking is now more common than it’s ever been. Sleep disorders are at an all-time high.” Indeed, some 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders, according to Dr. Carlos Shenck’s documentary “Sleep Runners.” And those with REM sleep disorder behavior (RBD) — Birbiglia’s own diagnosis, based on a dopamine deficiency — can even engage in violent acts such as punching or kicking while asleep, because they’re acting out their dream.

“Sleepwalk With Me” uses sleepwalking as a way to explore the anxieties of a young man trying to break into stand-up comedy and plan a wedding to a woman he’s not fully sure he wants to marry, all of which, of course, exacerbate his sleep disorder. Not that Birbiglia had it any easier.

“When I was directing the movie, I had a lot of sleep deprivation, which of course made it worse,” he said. “I would have dreams about directing the movie, like I was shooting the movie from bed. My wife would say, ‘What are you doing?’ And I would say, ‘I’m shooting.’ ‘Sorry, you’re not shooting right now.’ And I would get really patronizing and say, ‘I’m sorry, but we are.’ I wasn’t antagonistic, just condescending.”

Birbiglia’s usual recurring dream is that he’s running away from something, “a demon or a wild animal, like a jackal,” he said. “Sometimes it’s invisible aliens represented by balls of light.” He finds that he’s not very powerful in his dreams, and his only recourse is to sprint away. The night he jumped out the window, he had dreamt a heat-guided missile was en route to his bedroom and that he had to be like the Hulk to escape it.

“That’s not my most common dream to occur,” he said, “but it’s all borne out of anxiety. Freud’s theory was that you’re excising the feelings you have in life, and it can be cathartic to dream about your anxieties. But even when I dream something literal, it’s got these absurdist elements. If I dream that I’m directing, it’s not a film, it’s like a commercial for cotton candy, and I’ve got four feet of cotton candy all around me that I’ve got to break through, like a brick wall or a fortress.”

To prevent himself from actually running or fighting the demons, jackals, and aliens of his nightmares, or eating through what might not be cotton candy after all, Birbiglia takes medication for his RBD and sleeps in a sleeping bag in bed. He used to wear mittens to bed as well so he couldn’t open the sleeping bag, but not anymore.

“When I go to bed, my wife reminds me, ‘Time to get in your pod,'” he said. “I have a sort of summer sleep sack so it’s not too hot, and I have very strong shutters on the window so it’s really impossible to break through that. My wife is wildly vigilant about my sleep hygiene, and she’s been a great supporter throughout all of this, because even though it works well in a comedy, it is a real and all too sobering of a situation.”

Not so sobering that Birbiglia can’t take on “The Avengers,” though — after all, he did dream he was the Hulk when he jumped through that window! This is part of why he’s encouraged by the blood feud with Joss Whedon, who urged a boycott of “Sleepwalk With Me.”

“I think the feud has brought attention to both franchises, some positive, some negative,” Birbiglia laughed. ” I think ‘The Avengers’ is hurting, so we might need to merge our two franchises, which would be a very logical collaboration. My character would be a new Avenger, who has some shades of grey. He’s a lot like the Hulk, but he’s not a rage monster. I don’t know what he is, truthfully. This is all very early stages, and the first discussion to be had about it, so it’s too early to speculate, but let’s say it’s slated for the 2029 ‘Avengers.’ ‘Avengers 15’!”

“Sleepwalk With Me” opens today in New York City, with more cities in the weeks ahead. “Sleepwalk With Me” is distributed by IFC Films, a sister company to IFC.com.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl 1920

Carrie Opens Up

Read Carrie Brownstein’s Moving Essay About Her Father From Her New Memoir

Carrie's book Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl will be released on October 27th.

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Writer/actor/rocker Carrie Brownstein recently added another credit to her poly-hyphenated resume: autobiographer. The Portlandia star and Sleater-Kinney musician penned Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, a memoir covering her years playing gigs, writing comedy, and producing a sketch show with cohort Fred Armisen.

Brownstein shared an excerpt from her memoir with The New Yorker that details her complicated relationship with her father, his coming to terms with his homosexuality, and how it led up to him coming out to Brownstein in 1988. A compelling and moving read, the essay is highlighted by the final passage wherein her father opened up to her grandmother and the life lesson Brownstein learned by her tragic response.

When my father came out to his mom, my grandmother said, “You waited for your father to die, why couldn’t you have waited for me to die?” I knew then that I never want to contribute to the corrosiveness of wanting someone to stay hidden. Despite all my initial conflicts about trying to reconcile the father I had as a child to the one I have now, I am thankful that he is happy, that he did not waste another second. Now there is someone to know.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl will be released by Penguin Press on October 27th, and readers can enter a contest to see Sleater-Kinney in New York City by pre-ordering here. And be sure to catch Carrie on her Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl book tour.

THE EXORCIST [US 1973]  LINDA BLAIR     Date: 1973

Take This Quiz for a Spin

The Power Compels You to Take the Exorcist Movie Quiz

Catch an all-day Exorcist marathon on Sunday, November 1st.

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The Exorcist is a modern horror classic thanks to many of its haunting images: the ominous stairwell, the spider walk, the face of the demon. Before you catch IFC’s all-day Exorcist movie marathon on November 1st, take this quiz to see how well you remember the film, its sequels and its influence in pop culture.


Comedy Crib   Sound Advice – Season Trailer – IFC

Saturday Net Live

10 Hilarious Web Series with SNL Stars

Catch your favorite SNL stars on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Even in its 40th year, joining the cast of Saturday Night Live is still the best way to know you’ve made it in comedy. But while we get to see these stars shine every Saturday night, most had a long road to 30 Rock. Every cast member had to do something to get noticed, and some still find other opportunities to showcase their distinctive comedic chops while they’re still on the show. Web series have quickly become a way to stand out for SNL cast members past, present and future. Before you catch the SNL season premiere, check out a few of the funniest Web series to feature writers and stars from SNL, many of which you can watch right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

10. Sound Advice with Vanessa Bayer

Bayer perfects her chirpy idiot character here as a PR flack for famous musicians, who’s more concerned with her ex-husband than giving good advice. (Watch every episode of Sound Advice on Comedy Crib.)

9. Notary Publix with Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant

Along with Portlandia‘s Candace and Toni, McKinnon and Bryant may be responsible for bringing back the shoulder pads in this hard-hitting look at the exciting life of notary publics. (Watch Notary Publix now on Comedy Crib.)

8. If I Was In It with Will Stephen

Will Stephen is a new addition to the SNL writing staff this season, but he showed off his acting chops with this Comedy Crib series about two “self taught film students” who explain what they would do in famous movies like Jaws and The Matrix. (Watch If I Was In It now on Comedy Crib.)

7. Pursuit of Sexiness with Sasheer Zamata

This series about two friends navigating life, love and sex in the city helped get Zamata noticed by SNL. The rest is history.

6. The Bu with The Lonely Island

The Lonely Island ushered in the era of the SNL Digital Short, and helped make YouTube what it is today, but before they hit the big time, they were just three guys making goofy videos in their living room. The Bu, which ran as part of the popular Channel 101 showcase in Los Angeles, was their first viral success.

5. 7 Minutes in Heaven with Mike O’Brien

Mike O’Brien shuffled through many iterations during his SNL tenure. Cast member. Writer. Digital Short mastermind. He also had a Web hit with this absurdist interview series where he chats with guests like Tina Fey, Paul Rudd and even the Insane Clown Posse while inside a closet.

4. Fresh Perspectives with Beck Bennett

Before his SNL run, the majority of people probably recognized Bennett from his popular AT&T commercials, in which he talked down to groups of children. Supposedly, Fresh Perspectives, a Web series with a strikingly similar premise, helped him land that gig.

3. Carpet Bros with Tim Meadows

SNL writer Matt Piedmont enlisted Meadows to star in this Funny or Die series about a group of carpet selling brothers who never seem to get around to actually making a sale.

2. Funny People Reading Books with Simon Rich

Author and former SNL scribe Simon Rich reads from his book Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations in this Comedy Crib series where funny folks like Megan Amram, Dave Hill and more share their literary masterworks. (Watch Funny People Reading Books now on Comedy Crib.)

1. FCU: Fact Checkers Unit with Bill Murray

Bill Murray is more folklore than man these days, and this episode of the Funny or Die series about an elite team of fact checkers does little to dispel that notion. It’s not entirely clear if Murray even knew he was on camera, but the result is a video that allows us all to feel like we got to hang with the elusive buster of ghosts.

Maron S3

We Good?

Maron Is Returning to IFC for Season 4

Maron will return Spring 2016.

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Jumpstart the coffee maker and herd the cats because Marc Maron is coming back to IFC. Today the network announced it has renewed the critically acclaimed, universally loved original comedy Maron for a fourth season.

“I got the character of me into a bit of trouble last season. I hope I can get him back on track. The real me is doing fine,” said Marc Maron of his fictional counterpart. At the end of last season, Marc (the TV version, not the real one) fell off the wagon and in season four everyone’s favorite neurotic podcaster/comedian struggles to regain his sobriety, while trying to keep his sense of humor and looking for a deeper meaning to his life.


Luckily, Marc’s family and friends have his back, including Judd Hirsch as Marc’s unstable father, Sally Kellerman as his meddling mother and, of course, pals Andy Kindler and Dave Anthony. Guest stars for Season 4 include Patton Oswalt, Andy Dick, Adam Goldberg and many more.

“Marc is easily one of the most audacious comedians around today, and his pervasive sense of angst and unease is something we can all relate to and can’t stop watching,” said Jennifer Caserta, IFC’s president. “His take on society, and himself, is completely unfiltered and authentic and manifests into great comedic storytelling. We’re thrilled to renew Maron for a fourth season and look forward to more comic mayhem.”

Production on Maron‘s 4th season begins in January 2016 for a spring premiere. In the meantime, viewers can catch up on the first three seasons of Maron on iTunes. Seasons one and two are also available on Netflix and season three will be joining them in the streaming world on December 28th.

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