DID YOU READ

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.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.