Sex Advice From Ira Glass and Mike Birbiglia

The men behind Sleepwalk With Me and This American Life on love, infidelity, and Terry Gross.

by Alex Heigl

Mike Birbiglia is a stand-up comic who weaves confessional, emotional stories into his comedy, so it's no surprise that This American Life host Ira Glass would want to join forces with him. And join forces they did, turning Birbiglia's one-man show Sleepwalk With Me into a film of the same name, out this Friday. We sat down with Glass and Birbiglia for a freewheeling conversation about relationships, art, and the relative sexiness of Terry Gross.

The big relationship issue in Sleepwalk With Me (other than sleepwalking) is feeling pressured to get married. Mike, in real life, you’re now married. Was it just a question of finding the right person, or did something change in you?
Mike Birbiglia: My one-man show that I’ve been touring with, which is a one-man romantic comedy called My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, is all about how I met my wife and how we decided to get married despite the fact that I don’t really believe in the idea of marriage. The conclusion of it is basically, I still don’t believe in marriage, but I believe in her, and I’ve given up on the idea of being right.

There’s a part in Sleepwalk where your character says, “The best thing going in my life is my girlfriend.” For all of us who might be the... less successful partner in our relationship, how do we keep things level, or keep from getting bitter?
Ira Glass: That’s a really hard situation to be in. When I was in my twenties, I had two girlfriends in particular of whom I just thought, “Wow, you’re smarter than me, and way funnier than me, and more interesting than me, and you have better values than I have." And in one case, she totally agreed with me. The drama of our relationship was, “Am I good enough for her?” And that was her question and also mine. And I think that those are the relationships you just have to get out of.

MB: That’s probably what I would say, actually.

IG: It was really only when the relationship ended that my work got better and I felt a sense of confidence. After we broke up — because she was a better person than me in every way — she moved to Texas to do like, legal aid for migrant workers, and I stayed in New York to work on my dumb little radio stories. Another person infects your personality in ways you don’t understand, and until you can be with someone who infects you for the better, that kind of question — am I good enough? — can just rip at you.

Your girlfriend in the film, played by Lauren Ambrose, moved to New York to sing in a band, but ended up moving into a stable career. In contrast, your character is bartending and struggling to stick with being a comic. At what point does the struggle to be an artist vs. "getting a real job" start to affect the people you love?
IG: You are asking that question to the two worst people in the world capable of answering.

MB: Neither of us have kids. We’re both completely career-driven.

IG: And also totally delusional. Both of us spent years believing, “I am going to get somewhere with this thing I’m doing that no one sees but me,” and that delusion paid off. Basically, our motto was “Eliminate all other life responsibilities, keep expenses low, and do what I want to do.” We took the fundamentally selfish path.

NEXT: "Terry Gross. She’s got a sexy voice."

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