Comedian Mike Birbiglia has been performing to packed college auditoriums this spring. Which made his return to Georgetown University, his alma mater, all the more triumphant. Or not.
"It was one of the smaller shows, actually," Birbiglia told me. "I don’t want to downgrade their experience like they didn’t have a great time, because I had a great time. It’s just, what’s the phrase? You can never go home again."
No wonder his Comedy Central tour got called "Medium Man On Campus."
Birbiglia laughed. "The Medium Man returns to his own school and is met with a lukewarm reception! I think I’m going to write about it in my secret public journal."
The 27-year-old Shrewsbury, Mass., native turned his journal entries into a CD, and now an online series for Comedy Central, which also put out his latest CD/DVD, "Two-Drink Mike," in February.
Birbiglia won a comedy contest at Georgetown when he was a sophomore. "But I was never the class clown in school," he said. "The class clown was always a jerk who walked into the room and said, ‘You’re fat! You’re gay! I’m outta here!’ I was always a little fat and a little gay, so I never got along with that guy." That said, he noticed a lot of childhood friends in the audience the last time he performed in Boston.
Birbiglia has other talents, too. He took the photograph of him that appears on his CD/DVD cover. His advice for self-portraits? "For starters, camera phones are total garbage. Nobody should take pictures with those," he said. "I use a Canon Elph." He gets a lot of mileage out of his camera. "One, it’s interesting to have a lot of photos. And as a road comic, you tend to forget what you did in your daily life. You don’t even know sometimes. But now, if somebody says, ‘Hey, what’d you do last week?’ I can pull out my laptop and say, ‘Look, I went to San Francisco, and I saw Alcatraz, and I visited Berkeley.’"
UPDATED! More from my conversation follows…
The cover photo for "Two Drink Mike" that he obviously took (note his arm and camera in the reflection) not os obviously got snapped in Reno. "I was in Reno, I was doing NACA…I was so bored out of my mind in Reno because I don’t really gamble," Birbiglia told me. "I went for a long walk and I found a trailer park. I took a lot of photos there. I went to the laundromat there and took a lot of photos at the laundromat. It was one of a million photos…someone, I think it was my girlfriend, who said, that photo is really good. It’s a decent photo."
Birbiglia grew up outside of Boston but really got his start while in college at Georgetown, working the door at the D.C. Improv. "And then, eventually, I developed an act where I felt like I had a half-hour, 45 minutes of material, and moved to New York," he told me. Lucien at The Comic Strip kind of adopted him. "He took me under his wing, gave me a lot of stage time," Birbiglia said. All of that stage time eventually helped him land New Faces at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival, and that helped him get his first spot on Letterman. He would perform in Boston, though, while home from college breaks. "My brother Joe, who I’m very close with, collaborates with me on a lot of writing," he said. Joe used to go to the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square and introduced Mike to that scene. And when he learned how quickly one can go broke in New York City, Mike moved back with his family on Cape Cod and would perform at the Studio for a summer, entered the Comedy Central Laugh Riots contest, "where I met Eugene Mirman."