Fans of the 2012 film "Sleepwalk With Me," a dramatic adaptation of comedian/actor/monologuist Mike Birbiglia's acclaimed one-man stage show about chronic somnambulism and romantic failure, should be overjoyed to learn that a version of Birbiglia's theatrical follow-up, "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend," has just been released to Netflix. It's even better — meaning funnier, wiser and sweeter — than "Sleepwalk."
Taped this past spring at Seattle's Intiman Theatre, "Boyfriend" plumbs the same theme as "Sleepwalk": Birbiglia's love life. Anecdotes deal with the comic's awkward first kiss and first time falling in love. But where the earlier show ended with a slight sense of defeat, the new work is, in a way, triumphal.
That may seem an odd way to describe anything that Birbiglia does. The comedian has made a career out of celebrating, in a self-deprecating way, his own supposed inadequacies (physical, intellectual, social). In reality — or in this recorded stage show at least — he comes across as whip-smart, a master of the shaggy-dog story, cute and endearing.
"Boyfriend" opens with as close to a rant as the genial Birbiglia ever gets against the institution of marriage, which comes off sounding a bit like sour grapes, or at least a mild case of commitment phobia. At any rate, it's familiar stuff, not only for those who saw "Sleepwalk," but for anyone who follows stand-up comedy in general. Avoidance of the Serious Relationship is a staple of many male (and, increasingly, some female) comics.
As the show progresses through a litany of misadventures with girlfriends, however, it starts to become clear that "Boyfriend," like "Sleepwalk," is actually in pursuit of some larger truth. Along the way, there are some wildly amusing side trips into the realm of carnival-induced vomiting, Olympic gymnastics and, in one case, an extended impression of a dog eating spaghetti. Trust me, it all serves a purpose.
Therein lies Birbiglia's genius. Although "Boyfriend" superficially resembles a meandering stand-up concert documentary, Birbiglia's stage shows are much more than that. In the dramatic structure of his art, he's actually closer to monologuist and performance artist Spalding Gray than, say, Jerry Seinfeld. His work is about something.
In the last 15 minutes or so of "Boyfriend," the tone of Birbiglia's voice — always perfectly pitched to his material, whether trying to evoke comic resignation or astonishment — falls into a hushed whisper. For almost anyone else, the shift would come across as pretentious, let alone just plain not funny. It feels, at first, like a misstep.
But don't worry. Under the guidance of director Seth Barrish (who co-directed "Sleepwalk") and producer Ira Glass (whose "This American Life" has hosted Birbiglia many times), the comedian — part raconteur, part acrobat — sticks his landing.
Unrated. 75 minutes. Contains mild sexual references. Available on Netflix.