Mike Birbiglia on Adulthood, Touring and Orange Is the New Black

Mike Birbiglia Talks Orange is the New Black
Mike Birbiglia
Evan Sung

10/15/2014 AT 03:00 PM EDT

Mike Birbiglia has made his way from low-key comic's comic to NPR personality to director and star of films like Sleepwalk with Me to a newly announced role on Orange Is the New Black without ever losing any of his down-to-earth charm.

We caught up with the newest Orangehead – an unofficial term for cast members of OITNB we just made up – in the midst of a 100-city tour: He was about to deliver an address to the Society of Grownups in Boston, an organization that provides ongoing education, seminars and financial services for adults, when we spoke.

How's the tour going?
The tour is outrageous. It's a 100-city tour of America, which is sort of a Katy Perry-style tour. I think it's pretty awesome, though – every show that I think is going to be a downer ends up being pretty great. Like a few weeks ago, I was in York, Pennsylvania, and I was like, 'Well, let's see how this goes,' and it was one of the best of the tour. Same with like, Fargo … some of these remote towns are actually really thrilled you showed up. And then I played the Chicago theatre last week, and that was amazing, and then I played BAM [The Brooklyn Academy of Music], but you'd expect those to be thrilling.

Hey, I grew up close to York, so be careful.
I am careful! I liked Fargo too. Nice place.

In Sleepwalk with Me, there's a lot about life on the road as a touring comic. How accurate is that?
I tried to make it as accurate as I could. The moment that people usually identify with the most in that section of the film is when I check into the hotel for the first time and I'm jumping on the bed. There's something about being in your own hotel room for the first time, regardless of the circumstances, where you're like, "This is my dream true. I've made it."

That seems like an appropriate segue: Tell me about how you got involved with the Society of Grownups.
[Laughs] Well, I do deal with coming-of-age stuff a lot. I mine my leaps into adulthood a lot. When they called, I was in the middle of one of those moments, actually: The Society has a whole thing about, like, "Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse," but it's actually about prepping your will. And my wife and I were just dealing with that! We've been putting it off. And at a certain point, you're like, "Oh yeah, I'm 36. I'm not a child." I kept telling myself, "Well, I don't have to do that, that's for adults," so then you're like, "Oh, no. I am an adult."

There's so much written about today's generation having a delayed adulthood. Do you put any stock in that? Is that definitely a thing?
I can only speak for myself and my friends, but I would answer on behalf of those people with a resounding "yes." Two of my favorite shows are Louie and Girls and certainly those are the themes that they're picking up, among others. It seems to me that it's indicative of our generation.

What can you tell me about Orange Is the New Black ?
Well, a lot of it's under lock and key. All the scripts are secret, the plot lines are secret, the characters are secret… to the point where, when I was cast on the show this summer, I couldn't even tell anyone about it, at least according to my agent. And I was like, "Well, I have to go to work. I have to tell people I'm going somewhere." And was like, "Just make something up." And so I'd be going to work and people would ask me where I was going, and I'd have to say, "Well, I can't really talk about it, it's like a secret thing I'm doing," so it seemed like I was having some sort of affair.

And then they announced it, and that was kind of a burden lifted, but now I have to do like, hundreds of interviews without really being able to talk about it at all. And people guess at it – "Are you a guard, are you an inmate?" – and I can't reveal anything, so I have to be silent throughout the entire conversation and "no comment" it. I really feel for people who come out of courtrooms now and are harangued for comments.

But I will say it's thrilling. The people involved are obviously brilliant and it's an important show. I'm very proud to be a part of it: When I look at the show, it's achieving so many things simultaneously. It's funny, and it's dramatic, and it's commentary on the massive incarceration in America, which is so out of proportion with other comparable countries in the world. I was such a big fan of the show before I was on it, that it's kind of a fantasy sequence to be involved.

What's in the pipeline for you?
I'm working on a movie with Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer called Trainwreck. And I'm working on two screenplays that should be ready for the first half of 2015. One of them's an adaptation of My Girlfriend's Boyfriend [Birbiglia's Off-Broadway show], which I've been working on for a year or two, and then the other one is actually kind of top-secret. I'm not really telling people about it, because it's got kind of a zeitgeist-y concept that someone could just pluck and make before I do. Which I would hate. But I've had a bunch of readings at my house and I'm very excited about it.

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