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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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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