Mike Berpiglia discovered he could make a living out of a personal crisis.
Since 2008, longtime comedian and most recently independent film director and star, Berpiglia has presented stand-up comedy shows on and off Broadway about his struggles with sleepwalking, his recovery from bladder cancer, and his path to parenthood. But his recent “The Old Man & the Pool,” a soliloquy about facing his own death, may be among his most outspoken. (The show begins on Broadway November 13 at the Vivien Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center.)
“I think I tend to be autobiographical because a lot depends on passion,” Berpiglia, 44, said on a recent call from his Brooklyn home. “I am interested in paying tribute to the strange series of things that almost killed me.”
New show ideaDeveloped by Berpiglia since 2018, From an annual medical exam in 2017, when his breath test results were so poor that his doctor thought he might be having a heart attack right there in the exam room. Berpiglia, whose father and grandfather had heart attacks at the age of 56, was pushed to improve his health. Show details Trips to the YMCA pool as well as a meeting with a naked old man in the locker room when he was seven years old.
“I’m much better off now,” said Berpiglia, who is set to appear alongside Tom Hanks in the upcoming comedy drama “A Man Called Otto,” in theaters December 25. “I do cardio five days a week.. I’m experimenting with the idea of riding a bike from my Brooklyn apartment to Lincoln Center every day for work.”
In an interview last month, Berpiglia discussed what he paid for Taylor SwiftHow reading poetry helps in writing his jokes, And why not hate the YMCA. This excerpt has been edited from the conversation.
Jerrod Carmichael: Ruthaniel: Jerrod is an artist who doesn’t filter what he says to your liking – he doesn’t back down from what he says. A lot of artwork will still be with me after a week, but the things I cherish stay with me a month later, years later. Ruthaniel had this effect. It sounds like “Hadestown” – I saw it a few years ago and I still play the cast album all the time.
deep dive: This is something my wife, Jenny, and I like to do together – we start at a certain point and then continue where it leads you, through the many rabbit holes on YouTube. One of my favorite discoveries is this three-part British documentary series called “Unknown Chaplin” featuring excerpts from the Charlie Chaplin films. He made hundreds of shots for some of his shots! It’s one of those moments where there’s a huge upside to streaming – I don’t think I’d be able to find things like this if it wasn’t available to all streaming services.
“Little Astronaut” by J-Hope Stein: This is a wonderful book of poems by my wife about her pregnancy and childbearing experience. Jane really got me into poetry — she introduced me to Paul Muldoon, Ada Lemon, and Paige Lewis. I learn a lot from reading poetry and this comes in handy when I write films, stand-ups and solos. There is a real focus on the word economy.
“Kitbull”: My daughter is 7 and not in the throes of wanting to be involved in full-length Pixar feature films just yet, but there are all these amazing shorts on Disney+. Some of our favorites are Rosana Sullivan’s “Forky Asks a Question,” “Purl” and “Kitbull,” about a baby and bull who become friends — if you don’t cry during “Kitbull,” I don’t think you’re human.
Sarah Sherman on ‘SNL’: Sarah is a completely original voice in the comedy. She’s worked alongside her on Comedy Cellar, and even as a live-action actress, she’s amazingly alive, present, and going where the audience takes her. She has a series of guest clips with Colin Jost on “SNL” and they’re all just excuses for her to toast it. She basically gets rid of everything he says, then he’ll stand up for himself and she’ll put up a fake address that says like “Hamptons homeowner Colin Ghost Mooks” with a picture of what his mansion is supposed to be. It is a phenomenon.
comedy vault: For my money, Comedy Cellar is the best club in the world. There is the olive tree upstairs, which has great middle eastern food – great hummus and kebab, great bar. Then there’s an intimate 150-seat club downstairs—the other night I was there, and Ray Romano showed up. You should make a reservation weeks in advance, but it’s worth it.
Improvisation is life: The “yes, and” principles apply to everything I do: directing films, doing solo shows, working with a director, collaborating with a designer, and working on a family trip to Iceland. This spirit of things is what I find every day to be the most useful piece of learning I have ever had.
rev’pod: I talk a lot about sleepwalking on my shows – I jumped through a second floor window several years ago – and people always ask what I’m doing about this problem. At first my doctor told me to sleep in a sleeping bag, and I did for a while, but then I found this thing! The idea is to get a more restful sleep; It’s kind of like a cocoon cloth experiment. … They recommend it for flying on a plane to avoid germs. It’s not foolproof, but I find it a good solution.
No more tapping on art: In my forties, I swore not to be arrogant about popular art – there were certain things I just missed because they were and I didn’t think they could be any good. Starting with Taylor Swift, I was kind of like, “Oh, that’s pop music, maybe that’s not right for me.” But her music is so personal, evocative, and sexy in a way that even if she wasn’t the huge pop star that she was, I think she’d have a massive cult following after she tours her.
YMCA I mock him mercilessly on my show – there’s too much chlorine, too much annoying nudity in the locker rooms, and the towels are too small. But a group of YMCA officials in New York ended up attending workshop shows a few years ago on Cherry Lane, and were impressed with it! I do something on my podcast called “Working Out for a Cause” and I’ve presented to the YMCA a few times. Part of it is because the more I research the YMCA, the more I realize that it’s not just a recording facility, it does an extraordinary amount of community outreach and great nonprofit work. I like them very much. I laugh because I love.
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