Despite all of the laughs, comedy is a brand of entertainment based on failure. No comedian has become popular by doing stand-up about how great they are or how successful they are with women. No, comedy is a genre about taking one's greatest embarrassments, rages and all-around bad moments, and exposing them in the hopes of achieving a good chuckle.
It takes a brave person to become a comic. I suppose it's fitting that "Sleepwalk with Me," an indie comedy about a wannabe stand-up comedian, is a pretty brave movie. It's an honest look at the world of stand-up, while also a heart-wrenching look at a relationship on the edge of either marriage or oblivion. Most importantly, it's really funny, an important attribute for a movie about comedians to have.
Real-life stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia plays Matt, a milquetoast 20-something coping with a lame job and an even lamer stand-up routine. Most of his barely 10-minute set comes from his first stand-up attempt in college, and the jokes haven't gotten better with age. Making matters worse is his stagnant long-term relationship with a vocal teacher named Abby (Lauren Ambrose "Six Feet Under").
Matt finally gets his break when he meets an elderly agent with plenty of tiny gigs to offer the fledgling comedian. He struggles at first, but as he begins to incorporate his real-life relationship woes into his set, he begins to find success. He also finds himself having vivid sleepwalking episodes that have him kicking imaginary jackals and hopping out of hotel windows.
"Sleepwalk with Me" is based on Birbiglia's (who also co-wrote and directed) well received comedy show and book about the comedian's real-life issues with his girlfriend and sleepwalking (the end credits feature photos of the actual hotel window he launched himself out of).
It's a surprisingly honest look at his life and often times unsparing. Birbiglia's cinematic doppleganger Matt is relentlessly non-committal, refusing to come to terms with his career, his relationship or his increasingly dangerous sleepwalking. At one low point, he even has to remind the audience that they're technically on his side.
The story is also very earnest when it comes to the life of a comedian, while also bringing the funny (something Judd Apatow's comedy epic "Funny People" forgot). It looks at the sad realities of the business – the traveling, the womanizing, the sense that some nights "human beings don't like you" – while also showing the hilarious and inspiring moments, like when a joke in a struggling set gets that first laugh or a supportive underground community of comics.
The film is produced by the people behind "This American Life" (host Ira Glass also co-wrote and makes a brief cameo), and it feels like it. Birbiglia narrates much of the movie, mostly by addressing the audience during a road trip, and the pre-credits sequence narration even teases the rest of the story as a NPR radio show would.
I normally viciously hate narration, especially voiceover, but in "Sleepwalk with Me's" case, it fits the intimacy of the story, as well as provides a nice tribute to the movie's source material. The narration also blends with Birbiglia's affable everyman character, whose conversations often sound like he's testing jokes and lines for his set. The audience is just another person he's trying his stuff on. Luckily, a majority of it is pretty hilarious.
Birbiglia's tale does meander after a while as it transforms from a romantic comedy into a road trip film. As a result, when the movie's emotional climax and resolution do finally hit, they seem to come and go without anyone in the audience or on-screen really noticing.
For the most part, though, Birbiglia has a good reign on the emotions, the humor and the pacing of the story. Plus, his dream sequences are perfectly on the right side of whimsical. A grumpy car ride with an audiotape psychologist that talks back is a humorous highlight.
Birbiglia may have lots of comedic tales about professional and romantic failures, but he can't count "Sleepwalk with Me" amongst them. It's a stand out stand-up tale.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published July 5, 2015
It shouldn't have come as a surprise to see the Marcus Amphitheater a maybe generous 50 percent full - albeit an extremely enthusiastic and appreciative 50 percent - on Saturday night for The Avett Brothers. But while the bluegrass folk rock band had apparent problems filling the venue with fans, the band had no problem whatsoever completely filling the venue with strong, soulful music on the Fourth of July.
Published July 3, 2015
In fact, other than some busy confetti cannons - and I mean very busy - OK Go's 90-minute set pushed aside any sign of the viral video prop-heavy gimmickry the band is most famous for and instead relied on its power pop rock music and some charming banter to click with the Summerfest crowd. And, as it turns out, that was more than enough to deliver an awesome and entertaining evening.
Published July 2, 2015
Barely two years after his first show in 2013, WebsterX is now living his dream world he created of being a rap star. The 22-year-old rapper has risen to become one of the Milwaukee music scene's biggest stars, grabbing local and national headlines and, most recently, opening for global superstar Lupe Fiasco at the Miller Lite Oasis on Friday, July 3 at 8 p.m.
Published July 2, 2015
During his Amphitheater performance Wednesday night, Kendrick Lamar noted the last time he was here, "the energy was so motherf*ckin' loud," and if that was a 10, he wanted this show to hit a 12. Well, it certainly felt like a 12, with the packed crowd bobbing their heads, swaying their arms and just generally going crazy for every verse. And even though it barely lasted 60 minutes, Lamar's vigorous fireball of a set gave them plenty to go crazy about.
Published July 1, 2015
I'll admit it; before Tuesday night's Marcus Amphitheater show started up, one of those people was me. I wondered why a band, whose last seemingly notable moments came at the service of three-fourths of Michael Bay's "Transformers" franchise, was a Big Gig Amp headliner. Well, one large serving of crow, please, cooked medium rare.
Published June 30, 2015
Most bands desperately hope that their music videos will go viral. For pop rockers OK Go, at this point, it's almost expected. With a Summerfest headliner set scheduled for the Uline Warehouse on Thursday, July 2, I chatted with bassist/vocalist Tim Nordwind about the band's stories behind some of their viral sensations.
Published June 30, 2015
After traveling the globe in support of its star-making self-titled debut album, PHOX's tour is bringing the band right back to where its journey started in the first place: Wisconsin. Before it heads home to Baraboo, the band is dropping by its "home away from home" of Milwaukee to play Summerfest, opening for Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros on Thursday, July 2. Before then, we talked to Matt Holmen about his own fond Big Gig memories.
Published June 29, 2015
According to, well, herself, DJ Paris Hilton is one of the top paid DJs currently working. Unfortunately, much like the "Transformers" movies, her Summerfest set was one of those situations where the amount of the money involved was inversely proportionate to the amount of skill on display. Also like the "Transformers" films, it was loud, clunky, sporadically dull despite all of the noise, unnecessarily lengthy and, by the end, left me in a little bit of pain.
Published June 28, 2015
If you've seen Disney/Pixar's latest animated hit "Inside Out," there's a good chance a certain song has been rattling around in your mind ever since. No, not that TripleDent gum jingle, but the chorus to "Lava," the brief and beautifully rendered short about a volcanic island looking for love. While the short takes plenty of inspiration from Hawaii, as it turns out, Murphy's journey to get there made a stop right here in Milwaukee.
Published June 28, 2015
As clearly proved Saturday night at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, "Shut Up And Dance" pop rockers Walk The Moon can now draw a packed house. The only question: Would they put on a show worthy of the face painted mob they gathered? Most certainly.