Mike Birbiglia: How sleepwalking paved path to success

Mike Birbiglia

Mike Birbiglia has long been called a rising star in comedy as he prowled stages across America over the past decade. Now, a string of successful movies has given his star some extra sparkle, reports CBS News contributor Jamie Wax.

Although Mike Birbiglia has conquered the worlds of stand-up and now movies, there's something undeniably and genuinely humble about him that always seems to shine through.

In fact, take his latest movie. While Birbiglia wrote and directed the new ensemble comedy-drama, "Don't Think Twice," he ceded the starring role of Jack to Keegan-Michael Key.

"Well, my friend Yorma actually said to me once... 'You should play Jack, it's the best part, you've got to play that part!' And I was like, 'I'm not talented enough to play Jack,'" Birbiglia said. "'The guy who plays Jack has to be so overwhelmingly talented that you're like, that guy should get whatever he wants.'"

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Instead, he took the smaller role of Miles, who is left behind when Jack makes it big.

"I always say, 'Has anybody had a particularly hard day? Or a hard week, or a hard month, or a hard year?' Because I want to work from the place of pain and figure out if in real time we can turn that into comedy," Birbiglia said.

"Are you conscious that a lot of pundits are saying this is your year and this film is something that's going to move you to a new level?" Wax asked.

"I don't know. It's - yeah, I feel like since I was in my 20s, I've gotten people saying like, 'This is going to be Mike's year... he's going to break out' and all this kind of stuff," Birbiglia answered. "At a certain point, I'm just like - it was exciting the first few times, and now, I'm just like, 'I just want to be able to continue to make shows and make movies.'"

But he almost never made it to this point.

"I have a sleep disorder, where I jumped through a second-story window in my sleep and lived to tell the story and I was diagnosed with REM behavior disorder," Birbiglia said. "And it's, you know, it's embarrassing when you have a physical disorder and it's hard to talk about in front of strangers, but then ultimately, it's very freeing to talk about it."

Birbiglia turned his sleeping disorder into the off-Broadway hit "Sleepwalk With Me," establishing himself as both a master storyteller and stand-up comedian.

"You had success with stand-up. At what point did you say, 'This isn't all I can do, maybe I can do more than this?'" Wax asked.

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"I think it was the sleepwalking story, where when I got on stage and I would tell these stories that were very personal to me and I felt almost uncomfortable even repeating them out loud where I thought like, there's a connection between me and the audience unlike anything I've ever felt telling jokes," Birbiglia said.

"This American Life" host Ira Glass helped produce the movie version of "Sleepwalk With Me" and "Don't Think Twice."

"Is there a single quality that you think sets Mike Birbiglia apart as a storyteller?" Wax asked.

"I think one of the things that people underestimate with Mike is what a great of a performer he is. I think what he's doing seems so natural you don't think that he's acting," Glass said. "It's been really interesting watching him wheel himself from the person he was - who was like a really successful, young stand-up into the person who he is, who is a kind of like proto-Louis C.K., Woody Allen figure."

Like many comics, Birbiglia got his first big break on David Letterman's stage when he was just 24. He spent his early years sharpening his comedic timing at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, which also launched the careers of stars like Amy Poehler and Ed Helms.

"When you think about where your career was when you started performing here and where you are now, do you feel like a success?" Wax asked.

"Not really because it's weird. I'm still doing the same thing when I'm here, which is I'm trying and failing or I'm trying and succeeding," Birbiglia said, laughing.

In his off-Broadway show 'Thank God For Jokes," Birbiglia talked about how far humor can be pushed in today's world.

"Did you find the edge for yourself?" Wax asked.

"Yeah, I think it's a good question. What I always say about that is... that people have the right to tell jokes and people have the right to be offended by jokes. And those two ideas are not mutually exclusive," Birbiglia said.