Mike Birbiglia, the writer, director, and actor of the comedy-drama Don’t Think Twice, recently penned an essay for the New York Times offering advice to aspiring talent entitled “Mike Birbiglia’s 6 Tips for Making It Small in Hollywood. Or Anywhere.” Even though the comedian humbly considers himself the maker of “small films, small one-man shows,” he’s been repeatedly asked, “How do I get started?” by numerous creative hopefuls.

Birbiglia’s path to success is certainly unique. He suffers from rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder which at times causes him to unconsciously act out his dreams. In fact, once the sleepwalking disorder caused him to run out of a motel’s second-story window! As a result, Birbiglia transformed his nightly experiences into fruitful content for stand-up comedy.

His one-man off-Broadway show entitled Sleepwalk with Me was based on his life as an aspiring comedian who’s dealing with increasing stress regarding his relationship and career, all the while contending with his emergent sleepwalking disorder. The show was well received, and this lead to Birbiglia authoring a book based on the show. The book indeed made it onto the New York Times Bestseller List. From there, the determined comedian ventured into filmmaking, turning Sleepwalk with Me into an independent comedy film. It proved to be an award winner at the Sundance Film Festival.

Birbiglia’s other work includes roles in the films Trainwreck and The Fault in Our Stars as well as playing Danny Pearson in Orange Is the New Black. Additionally, he recently went on a 30-city tour with his new movie Don’t Think Twice, a film about a thriving New York improv group whose members’ relationships become strained after only one of them is cast in an enormously popular weekend comedy show.

With this kind of career momentum under his belt, Birbiglia advises talent to do the following:

  1. Don’t Wait. He insists, “There’s no substitute for actually doing something. Don’t talk about it anymore. Maybe don’t even finish reading this essay.”
  2. Fail. Birbiglia argues failing is “not just encouraged but required.” As far as refining his own work, he reveals that it took twelve drafts to write Don’t Think Twice, and he worked six years on his one-man show Sleepwalk with Me.
  3. Learn from the Failure. This tip requires collaboration from people with whom you surround yourself. Find people whose opinions you value, and then receive their feedback with gratitude. “I’ve learned that harsh feedback, constructive feedback, even weird, random feedback, is all helpful, if you know the essence of what you’re trying to convey,” he writes.
  4. Maybe Quit. Birbiglia doesn’t try to paint a rosy path for artist types. “There is going to be an insane amount of work ahead, and your time might be spent better elsewhere,” he says.
  5. Be Bold Enough to Make Stuff that’s Small but Great. He describes how dissatisfied he once felt after working with a network and studio. He felt his work was getting watered down by the “Hollywood gatekeepers.” After building a body of work in which he had creative control, he now suggests, “As far as I’m concerned, what you create in a 30-seat, hole-in-the-wall improv theater in Phoenix can be far more meaningful than a mediocre sitcom being half-watched by seven million people. America doesn’t need more stuff. We need more great stuff. You could make that”
  6. Cleverness Is Overrated, and Heart Is Underrated. Last of all, he believes offering yourself honestly is the only thing that matters in the end.

 

 

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