Jun 06

Ophira Eisenberg Relates Her Traumatic Car Accident

Thanks to a link from Craig and Judy Kellem’s Hollywoodscript.com Newsletter, I recently learned of comic Ophira Eisenberg.

In a recent New York Times article, “Telling Tales With a Tear and a Smile,” writer Jason Zinoman states:

What distinguishes Ms. Eisenberg is how thoughtfully she adjusts to the form she’s working in while retaining the essence of her bleakly stylish humor. In her stand-up she cheerily describes suicidal tendencies or finding her husband’s ex-girlfriend’s severed head. (‘Oh my God, she’s prettier than me.’) When she was single, she says, she put on her JDate profile that her hobbies include ‘depression and making you guess why I’m angry.’ This same mordant intensity appears in her storytelling, but in a slower cadence with more gravitas.

Zinoman then points us not to one of her standup routines but to Ophira Eisenberg in storytelling mode. She tells her audience a true story about surviving a terrible car accident when she was a young child. In sharing this experience, “…she shows how a story can use humor but not be shackled to it, how it can be emotional without pandering, and how difficult ideas can be articulated entertainingly.”

Eisenberg has told this difficult story for The Moth,” which is “an acclaimed not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. It is a celebration of both the raconteur, who breathes fire into true tales of ordinary life, and the storytelling novice, who has lived through something extraordinary and yearns to share it.” The clip below runs over 11 minutes and is worth your investment:

In case you opted not to watch the clip, I’ll summarize. The gist is that when Ophira was eight years old she was in a car accident caused by an 18-year-old who ran a red light. Her mom was driving Ophira, her brother, and her best friend Adrienne.

Ophira spent months in the hospital. Adrienne’s mom was one of her visitors. “And I would always ask her like ‘Why aren’t you bringing Adrienne? I want to see Adrienne.’ But, somehow, she would just change the subject and I would go with it.”

Adrienne’s mother and Ophira’s decided one day it was time to tell her the truth. “‘We think that you’re healthy enough to hear this now. But remember when you described being unconscious? It felt like you were sleeping for a really, really long time? Well, Adrienne never woke up.’ I heard what they were saying but I don’t think I got it. I mean, I don’t think my 8-year-old brain could comprehend that. I didn’t cry ’cause I
didn’t know what that meant. I just knew that I should stop asking for Adrienne.”

Eventually, at the age of 16, she found a letter Adrienne’s father had written to Ophira’s mother. “I had
never thought of what my mother went through because she never showed me her pain or vulnerability
for one second. I can’t imagine the blame she felt, the guilt, the responsibility of taking care of
someone’s else’s child and then it all going horribly wrong. But she showed nothing but love.”

“…And my dad really was a pillar of strength…I wasn’t really the strong one. They were the strong ones because they had carefully led me to this place where I could live like an absolutely normal sixteen-year-old kid and Adrienne was never going to be sixteen. It hit me hard staring at the handwriting of her mourning father and I couldn’t run off to my Barbie Dream House. And for the first time I sat down at that dining room table and I cried.”

Jun 05

Mike Birbiglia: “Sleepwalk with Me”

Comic Mike Birbiglia has stated that some years ago his therapist suggested keeping a journal in order to “keep things in perspective.”

So he did. And he decided to share it. In “Yo therapist so crazy,” Birbiglia had stated, “I actually had an awkward thing happen where my therapist came to one of my shows and this other comedian saw her and said to me, ‘that woman looks crazy.’ And it really hurt my feelings. It was like someone had made fun of my mom.”

You’ve heard of a “Yo mama” joke? Birbiglia: “It was like he told a ‘yo’ mama’ joke but about my therapist:

‘Yo therapist so crazy, she interpretin’ her own dreams!’

‘Yo therapist so cheap, she already spent yo co-pay!'”

Standup routines were then created out of these entries and were subsequently recorded.

Birbiglia, who’s transitioned from standup routines to storytelling, had a big hit with his more recent one-man theatrical show “Sleepwalk With Me,” which led later to a book called Sleepwalk With Me and Other Painfully True Stories. States Booklist: “…(T)he lengthy title story, of his struggle with a sleep disorder, is as fascinating as it is hilarious.”

Mike Birbiglia explains his sleep disorder in an interview (NPR): “I was diagnosed a few years ago with what’s called REM behavior disorder, where people have a dopamine deficiency….And people who have this [disorder] are typically running away from some type of demon or wild animal — and people who have this, in rare instances, have actually killed people while remaining asleep.”

Reportedly, his condition has now become pretty well controlled with the use of medication and some “behavioral changes.”

The whole enterprise of Sleepwalk With Me-related products has now culminated in the making of a feature film which won the NEXT Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival this year and which will come to movie theaters this fall.

Below is the trailer to his upcoming film:

Update upon the movie’s release. Leah Rozen, thewrap.com: “Birbiglia is…a milquetoast Everyman, more than a little confused by life but still hoping for the best. As he slowly sorts out his personal life, his medical woes and his career, he and this modest comedy win you over as surely as he does the on-screen audiences hearing his stand-up routines.”