NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t


When comedian Mike Birbiglia opened his one-man show Sleepwalk With Me in 2008 at the Bleecker Street Theatre in New York, he didn’t anticipate that it would become material for a popular piece on This American Life and a New York Times best-seller. He especially didn’t think it would turn into a feature film. Birbigilia had never made a film before. And he was initially hesitant to make one about his dangerous sleepwalking condition, because he wanted to distance himself from the topic he had been immersed in for more than four years. Scenes in the movie Sleepwalk With Me — about Mike Birbiglia’s sleep disorder — made him emotional while filming them. The film, also called Sleepwalk With Me, is co-written and produced by This American Life host and creator Ira Glass. It revisits Birbiglia’s account of his troubled relationship with an ex-girlfriend, his experiences as an aspiring comedian and his denial over his REM behavior disorder. Birbiglia now takes medication for the disorder. But, as he tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, his anxieties about making the film infiltrated his dreams. “My brain would not shut off when I would go to sleep,” Birbiglia says. “So I would have dreams that I was directing myself in a scene in my bedroom, and that the cameras were rolling, and my wife wouldn’t be asleep yet … and she would walk into the bedroom and I would be adjusting lights, and my wife would be like, ‘What are you doing?’ and I’d say, ‘We’re shooting,’ and she’d say, ‘Um, Mike, we’re not shooting.’ And I’d say, ‘I’m sorry, but we are,’ and the way I would say it was actually sort of patronizing, like she didn’t get it.” While making the film, Glass says he was surprised at how immersed Birbiglia became in the realities of what they were filming, despite the fact that he was playing a fictional version of himself. Birbiglia re-enacts a scene where he sleepwalks, jumps through a hotel window and has to get 33 stitches in his leg. MORE