Comedian Mike Birbiglia is in Seattle Friday Aug. 5 for screenings of his new film “Don’t Think Twice” at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Birbiglia wrote, directed and stars in the movie that focuses on six friends who are part of an improv group called The Commune. His name might be familiar because of his contributions to public radio shows such as This American Life.
Birbiglia says he decided to use improv in the movie because it's his "first love."
"When I was a freshman in college, I was cast in my improv group. I was 18. You know, it's one of those things where you learn these principles of 'say yes' and 'it's all about the group' and 'don't think,' and you learn that when you're 18. It really sticks with you forever," he said. "And you don't even know."
Most of Birbiglia's work has focused on him; He was the main character in 'Sleepwalk With Me,' and he worked for years as, primarily, a standup comedian. But he says This American Life's Ira Glass actually helped him shape the characters in 'Don't Think Twice.'
"He was really urging me early on to just differentiate the characters. And it's hard because in improv, it's all about agreement and saying 'yes' and building on what other people are saying. And drama is all about conflict," Birbiglia said.
Birbiglia has been a consistent contributor to public radio programs such as The Moth and This American Life, which isn't a typical career choice for a comedian. But he says he's never been interested in fame. It's more about doing work he can be proud of.
"One of the reasons I never moved to Hollywood is because there's this sense when people go to Hollywood because they're great artists, and they never got into it to get rich. And then they get to Hollywood and they look around and they're like 'Well, that person's getting rich; I should get rich too,'" Birbiglia said. "And then I think that the art suffers. Sometimes, not always."
He says he values the relationship he has with his fans and knows they hold him to a higher standard.
"When I make something, and I ask them on Twitter or Facebook to go see an opening weekend ... it's gotta be good."
Birbiglia says leaning on his storytelling, and honing his skills has been important. He says he started out just telling jokes when opening up for other comedians, but he changed things up and started telling stories.
"I started to realize that maybe this is what I'm better. Like, I started feeling a connection with the audience that went beyond just laughter," he said. "You know that special feeling you have at a live show sometimes when you're like 'we're all here together at the same time.' When I go to the movies, I like to laugh and cry and experience a range of emotions, and then go home and talk about it with my wife for three years. I'm hoping to do that for other people."