Mike Birbiglia started young. He appeared on Comedy Central at age 23, Late Night With David Letterman a year later. His self-deprecating albums relied less on high-energy, laugh-a-minute witticisms than endearingly awkward storytelling, winning legions of similarly young, predominantly college-age fans in the process. Birbiglia then did something completely unexpected, aiming for the high ground, taking to the NPR airwaves and landing the producing talent of one Mr. Nathan Lane for an engrossing off-Broadway one-man show that bestowed a whole new level of critical fame upon its star. And then he more or less took a well-deserved year off. Now Birbiglia is back, and he has a book to show for his time away, the memoir Sleepwalk With Me and Other Painfully True Stories. It's not clear exactly to whom he's showing it: the theater buffs more interested in Nathan Lane, the NPR set likelier to attend a Tea Party rally than set foot in a comedy club, or the onetime college kids who have taken up with Aziz Ansari and Zach Galifianakis? Birbiglia's book/concert tour stops at New York City's Caroline's instead of Town Hall; his L.A. venue has been relocated from the Wiltern to Avalon. Strangely, it all comes at a time when Birbiglia's the best performer he's ever been. He's not loud or over-the-top, all style and no substance. His work is certainly, as Sleepwalk With Me's title assures, “painfully true”-er than ever. He's not really a relationship guy or an alternative guy. Birbiglia is a comedy anomaly, carving his own path, exploring where few other stand-ups dare, and leaving an industry simultaneously impressed and bewildered by his integrity in his wake.

Thu., Oct. 21, 8 p.m., 2010

LA Weekly