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Book Review: Sleepwalk with Me by Mike Birbiglia

Although brief bouts of sleepwalking can be fairly common, especially among children, the fact that dreaming remains a strictly sensory experience for most of us is often taken for granted. While in a given dream we might envision ourselves as an embattled double agent held captive on a Russian nuclear sub, the brain suspends nearly all voluntary muscle movement to prevent our neurological activity from spilling over into the physical world while we sleep.

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by Nick Ubels (Online Editor)
Email: onlineeditor@ufvcascade.ca

Although brief bouts of sleepwalking can be fairly common, especially among children, the fact that dreaming remains a strictly sensory experience for most of us is often taken for granted. While in a given dream we might envision ourselves as an embattled double agent held captive on a Russian nuclear sub, the brain suspends nearly all voluntary muscle movement to prevent our neurological activity from spilling over into the physical world while we sleep.

But what if it didn’t? You might literally leap out of bed. Or a second story window.

Inspired by his one-man stage show of the same name, comedian Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk with Me and Other Painfully True Stories (Simon & Schuster, $27.99) is a remarkably soulful collection of hilarious, compelling and often disarmingly personal accounts of break dancing, making out and yes, the dangers of sleepwalking.

Over the past decade, the Shrewsbury, Massachusetts native has built a dedicated following thanks to his smart, self-depreciating and sincere brand of observational humour. Aside from his three critically acclaimed “Comedy Central presents…” specials and appearances on most major late-night talk shows, Mike Birbiglia is also a popular contributor to both This American Life and The Bob & Tom Show.

While Sleepwalk with Me is his first foray into the literary world, it’s impossible to tell. The 32-year-old author is a consummate storyteller with a distinctive narrative style and a keen understanding of the most effective way to translate his considerably animated live material to the page, something many experienced stand-up comics struggle to achieve.

Birbiglia’s humour is story-based, rather than following the traditional setup-pause-punchline-repeat formula espoused by most stand-up comedians, which makes his content particularly well-suited to a memoir such as this one. And the stories Mike Birbiglia shares in this brief, 187-page volume are well worth the price tag.

Over sixteen chapters, the book traces the genesis of his impulse and growing ability to make people laugh, tackling under-qualified carnival ride operators, the pitfalls of breaking up with your girlfriend at an isolated tropical resort and a brief encounter with his hero, Mitch Hedberg, along the way.

Birbiglia litters his narratives with so many spot-on riffs that it’s difficult to resist the urge to reread each one to the person next to you.

“I’m not sure if Cookie Monster is a great role model for kids,” he writes. “I mean, do you think this guy might have an eating disorder? He only eats cookies, and the back of his throat is sewn up. The cookies just kind of fall off his face. Who is that guy kidding?”

Aside from the alternately entertaining, fascinating and terrifying saga of Birbiglia’s sleep disorder chronicled in the book’s titular final chapter, Sleepwalk with Me offers an ample selection of engaging stories about growing up and life as a struggling stand-up comedian with incredible humanity and autobiographical honesty.

“To be a comedian you have to be delusional,” explains Birbiglia. “If the audience doesn’t like your material, there’s no director, screenwriter, producer or crew to blame.”

Fortunately, this tremendously humorous and relatable collection is unlikely to earn a negative response from even the most cynical critic.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ali

    November 26, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    You sold me, Nick.

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