University of Southern California

USC Student Affairs and Campus Life

USC Spectrum Sleepwalks with Mike Birbiglia

By Nathan Carter Friday, October 14, 2011

Comedian Mike Birbiglia got up close and personal with his USC audience.Photo by Nathan CarterComedian Mike Birbiglia got up close and personal with his USC audience.

If comedian Mike Birbiglia has a mission statement, it’s this: “We’re among strangers now: I can tell the truth.”

Birbiglia, who has built a career on telling intensely personal stories to mass audiences, brought his unique blend of storytelling, stand-up comedy and performance to Bovard Auditorium courtesy of USC Spectrum, part of the Division of Student Affairs.

“We bring cultural arts and entertainment to the university community, focusing on students but also on faculty, staff and our neighbors,” said Dane Martens, director of USC Spectrum. “That’s anything from music to comedy to authors and speakers to artists; it’s quite literally a spectrum of arts and humanities.”

Birbiglia is a frequent guest on “This American Life,” “Comedy Central Presents,” as well as the Conan O’Brien, David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel shows, and has written and performed in two one-man off-Broadway shows, “Sleepwalk with Me” and “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.”

For much of the evening, Birbiglia chronicled his embarrassing history of sleepwalking, which culminated in a naked leap out of a second-story hotel window in Walla Walla, Wash., resulting in 18 stitches in his legs.

“He’s not the setup-punchline kind of comedian, he’s a storytelling comedian, which I find really interesting,” Martens said.

Birbiglia, a self-confessed Twitter addict, also invited to the stage his “favorite person on Twitter,” Shelby Fero, a freshman majoring in writing for screen and television. Her one-liner tweets and contributions to Websites like Funny or Die and HelloGiggles have already earned her a reputation on the comedy scene. She and Birbiglia performed some of her best tweets, such as: “Have some self-confidence, Mexican restaurants: take that hamburger off the menu.”

Later, as an encore, he invited questions from the audience about his life and career.
“He’s a very responsive comedian,” said Emma Ward, a sophomore theatre major. “He tailors his show specifically to the audience reaction. It’s really fun to be a part of.”

USC Spectrum’s remaining fall lineup includes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tracy Kidder, street artist and graphic designer Shepard Fairey and “Project Runway” star Tim Gunn, who will appear during Trojan Family Weekend. The spring schedule will feature the staff of “The Onion,” a satirical weekly newspaper.

In addition, USC Spectrum works with campus partners such as the School of Theatre and KXSC to sponsor and market events, creating a well-rounded season of arts and culture that educates while it entertains.

Timo Yates, a junior visual and performing arts studies major and a member of USC’s Uncensored Students of Comedy, believes that experiences such as Birbiglia’s show are “really valuable for broadening horizons, which is one of the reasons I’ve found college so successful.”

For more information and event details, visit sait.usc.edu/spectrum.

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