Learning Storytelling through Comedy

Secret Public Journal stand up comedy cover art

In​ ​2007,​ ​the​ ​comedian​ ​Mike​ ​Birbiglia​ ​released​ ​the​ ​album​ My Secret​ ​Public​ ​Journal.​ Incidentally,​ ​this​ ​was​ ​the​ ​year​ ​I​ ​started​ ​to write.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​listened​ ​to​ ​stand​ ​up​ ​before,​ ​but​ ​Mike’s​ ​was​ ​different. My​ ​experience​ ​with​ ​stand-up,​ ​up​ ​to​ ​this​ ​point,​ ​had​ ​been​ ​listening to​ ​Steven​ ​Wright​ ​on​ ​road​ ​trips​ ​with​ ​my​ ​dad.​ ​And​ ​while​ ​Steven Wright​ ​is​ ​a​ ​very​ ​funny​ ​and​ ​talented​ ​comedian,​ ​he​ ​was​ ​not​ ​a​ ​storyteller;​ ​e.g.​ ​”It’s​ ​a​ ​small​ ​world, but​ ​I​ ​wouldn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​paint​ ​it.”

I​ ​first​ ​heard​ ​Mike​ ​Birbiglia​ ​while​ ​sharing​ ​headphones​ ​with​ ​a​ ​friend​ ​at​ ​lunch​ ​and​ ​was instantly​ ​a​ ​fan.​ ​I​ ​purchased​ ​every​ ​one​ ​of​ ​his​ ​albums​ ​and​ ​disappeared​ ​into​ ​them.​ ​Never​ ​before​ ​had I​ ​related​ ​to​ ​an​ ​art​ ​form​ ​besides​ ​film​ ​and/or​ ​books.​ ​My​ ​discovery​ ​of​ ​Mike​ ​Birbiglia​ ​took​ ​me​ ​down a​ ​deep​ ​rabbit​ ​hole.​ ​My​ ​appreciation​ ​of​ ​comedy​ ​was​ ​there​ ​in​ ​the​ ​beginning​ ​with​ ​Wright,​ ​but​ ​there was​ ​no​ ​emotional​ ​connection.​ ​Wright’s​ ​comedy​ ​is​ ​just​ ​comedy.​ ​Its​ ​sole​ ​purpose​ ​is​ ​making​ ​the audience​ ​laugh.​ ​The​ ​audience​ ​may​ ​relate​ ​to​ ​statements​ ​made,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​unlikely​ ​an​ ​emotional connection​ ​is​ ​made.​ ​Birbiglia​ ​uses​ ​storytelling​ ​to​ ​make​ ​an​ ​audience​ ​laugh,​ ​he​ ​brings​ ​the​ ​audience in​ ​on​ ​an​ ​emotional​ ​level.

Throughout​ ​high​ ​school,​ ​I​ ​constantly​ ​listened​ ​to​ ​stand-up​ ​comedy.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​an​ ​entire month​ ​where​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​even​ ​listen​ ​to​ ​music.​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​emulate​ ​this​ ​method​ ​of​ ​storytelling.​ ​I wanted​ ​people​ ​to​ ​connect​ ​emotionally​ ​with​ ​my​ ​writing,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​them​ ​to​ ​laugh​ ​too.​ ​For​ ​the longest​ ​time,​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​stand-up​ ​comedian.​ ​I​ ​would​ ​write​ ​stories​ ​and​ ​jokes​ and ​even​ ​rehearse them​ ​in​ ​private.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​not​ ​until​ ​I​ ​had​ ​graduated​ ​high​ ​school​ ​that​ ​I​ ​gave​ ​stand-up​ ​go,​ ​but​ ​by​ ​then my​ ​mode​ ​of​ ​storytelling​ ​had​ ​changed,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​still​ ​had​ ​a​ ​passion​ ​for​ ​comedy.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​become​ ​heavily interested​ ​in​ ​filmmaking​ ​and​ ​film​ ​as​ ​medium.

Sleepwalk With Me stand up comedy cover artIn​ ​2011​ ​Mike​ ​Birbiglia​ ​released​ ​the​ ​album​ Sleepwalk​ ​With Me​.​ ​Coming​ ​in​ ​at​ ​roughly​ ​an​ ​hour​ ​and​ ​ten​ ​minutes,​ ​it​ ​serves​ ​as​ ​an account​ ​of​ ​his​ ​discovery​ ​that​ ​he​ ​has​ ​a​ ​sleep​ ​disorder​ ​and​ ​the penultimate​ ​event​ ​of​ ​his​ ​fall​ ​out​ ​of​ ​a​ ​window.​ ​He​ ​begins​ ​the​ ​story​ ​by revealing​ ​that​ ​he​ ​had​ ​a​ ​malignant​ ​tumor​ ​in​ ​his​ ​bladder.​ ​He​ ​follows this​ ​by​ ​saying​ ​“But​ ​it’s​ ​funny,​ ​stay​ ​with​ ​me.”​ ​This​ ​assertion​ ​is​ ​essential​ ​to​ ​his​ ​style.​ ​His​ ​stories are​ ​overly​ ​sincere,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​that​ ​candor​ ​that​ ​makes​ ​them​ ​relatable.​ ​He​ ​breaks​ ​up​ ​this​ ​hour​ ​and​ ​ten minutes​ ​into​ ​small​ ​vignettes.​ ​Each​ ​progress​ ​the​ ​story​ ​to​ ​its​ ​end,​ ​and​ ​though​ ​they​ ​are​ ​not sequential,​ ​but​ ​they​ ​all​ ​correlate​ ​to​ ​the​ ​main​ ​story.​ ​Previously,​ ​on​​ ​My​ ​Secret​ ​Public​ ​Journal​ and What​ ​I​ ​Should​ ​Have​ ​Said​ ​Was​ ​Nothing,​ Birbiglia​ ​had​ ​incorporated​ ​multiple​ ​stories,​ ​but​ ​they weren’t​ ​connecting​ ​to​ ​an​ ​encompassing​ ​arc.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​what​ ​places​ ​Mike​ ​Birbiglia​ ​in​ ​a​ ​class​ ​of​ ​his own.​ ​This​ ​unique​ ​format​ ​of​ ​storytelling​ ​is​ ​one​ ​that​ ​I​ ​have​ ​been​ ​inspired​ ​by​ ​as​ ​a​ ​writer​ ​and​ ​as​ ​a filmmaker.

Sleepwalk With Me Film cover art​I​ ​found​ ​parallels​ ​to​ ​how​ ​his​ ​stories​ ​were​ ​being​ ​told​ ​to​ ​that​ ​of​ ​film. And,​ ​funny​ ​enough,​ ​in​ ​2012,​ Sleepwalk​ ​With​ ​Me​ was​ ​adapted​ ​into​ ​a​ ​film. As​ ​a​ ​fan,​ ​and​ ​as​ ​a​ ​writer,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​beyond​ ​happy.​ ​The​ ​film​ ​managed​ ​to capture​ ​the​ ​heart​ ​and​ ​humor​ ​the​ ​live​ ​performance​ ​originally​ ​exerted.​ ​To see​ ​the​ ​storytelling​ ​style​ ​of​ ​stand-up​ ​translated​ ​into​ ​a​ ​film​ ​opened​ ​my eyes.​ ​I​ ​went​ ​back​ ​to​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​stories​ ​I​ ​had​ ​initially​ ​written​ ​after​ ​I​ ​began​ ​to​ ​tailor​ ​them​ ​to​ ​fit this​ ​comedy​ ​mold.​ ​It​ ​seemed​ ​as​ ​if​ ​I​ ​was​ ​learning​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​better​ ​storyteller​ ​and​ ​a​ ​better​ ​filmmaker through​ ​watching​ ​Mike.

Patrick Crowley​In​ ​the​ ​years​ ​since​ ​the​ ​release​ ​of​ Sleepwalk​ ​With​ ​Me.​ Mike​ ​Birbiglia​ ​has​ ​released​ ​two stand-up​ ​albums/specials.​ My​ ​Girlfriend’s​ ​Boyfriend​ and​ Thank​ ​God​ ​For​ ​Jokes.​​ ​Additionally​ ​he has​ ​released​ ​one​ ​film,​​ ​Don’t​ ​Think​ ​Twice.​​ ​Each​ ​hold​ ​that​ ​unique​ ​brand​ ​of​ ​storytelling​ ​that shouldn’t​ ​be​ ​overlooked​ ​just​ ​because​ ​it​ ​is​ ​stand-up​ ​comedy.​ ​In​ ​fact,​ ​many​ ​stand​ ​up​ ​comedians have​ ​become​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​greatest​ ​storytellers​ ​and​ ​the​ ​art​ ​form​ ​should​ ​be​ ​thought​ ​of​ ​as​ ​more​ ​than just​ ​jokes.​ ​As​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​has​ ​dipped​ ​his​ ​toe​ ​into​ ​many​ ​facets​ ​of​ ​storytelling,​ ​whether​ ​those​ ​be narratives,​ ​stand-up,​ ​or​ ​filmmaking,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​safe​ ​to​ ​say​ ​that​ ​looking​ ​in​ ​all​ ​aspects​ ​of​ ​storytelling​ ​can better​ ​your​ ​own​ ​writing.

– Patrick Crowley

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