And the TRAINWRECK interviews keep rolling, with one last stop for two of the more prominent supporting players in the new Amy Schumer-written and -starring/Judd Apatow-directed work. Mike Birbiglia has long been one of my favorite comedians/storytellers, gaining a great deal of popularity with his one-man shows as well as regular appearances on NPR’s “This American Life.” He adapted his book “Sleepwalk with Me” into a successful indie hit in 2012 (which he also co-directed), and has been making memorable appearances in such films as CEDAR RAPIDS, YOUR SISTER’S SISTER, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, ADULT BEGINNERS, ANNIE, HOT PURSUIT, and the upcoming Joe Swanberg comedy DIGGING FOR FIRE. He’s also had key roles in television series like “Girls,” “Inside Amy Schumer,” and most impressively in the current season of “Orange Is the New Black.” In TRAINWRECK, he plays Amy’s brother-in-law, who is in no way sexually appealing to any other woman other than Amy’s sister.
Vanessa Bayer plays Amy’s best work friend Nikki, who is essentially a professional punching bag for their boss, played by Tilda Swinton. Bayers has been on “Saturday Night Live” since 2010, and probably first stood out for her Miley Cyrus impression, followed by characters such as Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, Brecky the porn star looking to get free stuff by doing horrible infomercials for them, “Fox & Friends” Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Kourtney Kardashian, and many more.
I had a chance to sit down with the pair ecently, just a few hours before they took part in the TRAINWRECK Comedy Tour stop in Chicago. I’ve seen Birbiglia perform before, but Bayer as a stand-up act was new to me. She did some of her more famous characters, but she also did an extended bit involving an impression of herself telling telling a sex joke that killed, because she has real hang ups about talking dirty. With that, please enjoy my chat with Mike Birbiglia and Vanessa Bayer…
Mike Birbiglia: How are you doing? How’s your day going?
Capone: Good. I’ve actually paid money to see you now since we last met [for SLEEPWALK WITH ME].
MB: Oh my god. When was this?
Capone: I went to one of the MY GIRLFRIEND’S BOYFRIEND shows that you performed for a few weeks here.
MB: Oh, yeah. I love that theater. Did you ever do anything at that theater?
Vanessa Bayer: Which theater?
MB: Right by John Mulaney’s parents’ house.
Capone: It used to be the Biograph Theatre. It’s now called the Victory Gardens Theatre.
VB: Oh, yeah!
MB: Have you done anything there?
VB: I feel like I have.
MB: That place is as nice a theater as there is.
Capone: I also saw you perform the last time you were here with the “Thank God for Jokes” tour.
MB: Chicago Theatre in the fall. That was fun.
Capone: And I’m going tonight. Vanessa, I’m really curious to see what you’re up to. I’ve never seen you do stand-up before.
MB: She’s so good. Oh my god. You crushed so hard last night.
MB: Yeah, Judd and I are the lesser-known stand-ups.
Capone: These characters are both these weird punching bags in this movie.
VB: Someone else just said that to us.
MB: We both have great abs, and that’s why it works.
Capone: What were the guidelines you were going for?
MB: We’re punching bags on the tour, by the way. We never get our room keys. They withhold them. We check into he hotels, and it’ll be two or three hours before we’re even able to get in the rooms. A lot of times they don’t feed us, so we’ll sneak food into like this interview right now.
Capone: I don’t think you realize, but that plate made a tour of the room outside before they brought it to you. Colin [Quinn] walked around showing it to everybody, saying, “Look how gross this looks, these sausages and a smoothie.”
VB: That’s cool. So low carb. Yeah, that’s the kind of thing that’s been happening to us a lot.
MB: That’s been a huge problem with Colin. I didn’t think about that, though. There’s no excess carbs or sugar whatsoever.
Capone: How do you play someone that’s being brutalized verbally, repeatedly?
VB: In my mind, I was trying to get Amy to laugh. So we would get to improvise quite a bit, and my goal was trying to get her to break.
MB: It never worked, right?
VB: Never. It never worked [laughs]. No, it did.
Capone: Of course it did. I can’t wait to see it.
MB: As a matter of fact, when I showed up to set, Vanessa had shot a lot of stuff already, and Judd was showing every new person who would come on set footage of Vanessa from the previous days and how funny it was. That was our introduction piece of cake to set. It was like the appetizer.
VB: Mike told me about that when I was doing one of his live shows, and it made me look so cool. And now you’re telling it to a journalist.
MB: It’s pretty cool.
Capone: What about your character?
MB: Amy’s sister in real life is married to a guy named Vinnie. Originally the part was named Vinnie. We changed it to Tom when they cast me, because I don’t look like a Vinnie, even though my dad’s name is Vinnie.
MB: Yeah. Vinnie Birbiglia: “Fuggedaboutit!”
Capone: So did you base any of your performance on him?
MB: No. We never met. I worked from the script and the direction. I feel like with everything, you just need to find yourself in the character, and the character is a boring loser and it took me about three or four minutes to get there. It was funny, because on the set, Amy would be in character, and she would be so mean to my character. She cuts me down at every turn, and she’s such a great actress. Comedically, she’s great, but dramatically, she’s also really, really powerful. I was joking, but it’s true: I’m not that different from the character. After a while, I started to take it personally. I’m like, “Maybe I am a loser.” I’d come home and say to my wife, “Am I a boring loser?” And she’d be like, “You’re not boring,” which isn’t the full sentence.
Capone: Both of you got to work in two really gifted actresses. You were with Tilda Swinton, and you were with Brie Larson in a your scenes.
MB: Brie is phenomenal.
Capone: Does that make you up your game a little bit as an actor?
VB: I was so intimidated to work with Tilda, but I have to say, she was so sweet and warm, and she’s so hilarious in this movie. She does not have an ego. I was intimidated, and then once I met her I was like, “We’re just going to have fun.” It was so cool to get to work with her, and she’s so talented, and she looks so different in this movie.
Capone: I didn’t recognize her the first time I saw the trailer.
MB: I didn’t recognize her on set. For four hours, I had no idea who she was, then they’re like, “That’s Tilda Swinton.” And I was like, “What is she doing here?”
Capone: You’ve had the great fortune of working side-by-side with terrific actors on SNL, but it’s different when you’re spending day after day with someone like this.
VB: It’s different. The script is funny, but it also has a lot of heart, so it’s not slapsticky at all. I was trying to focus and act, in addition to trying to make Amy break.
MB: With Brie, I didn’t know how great she was in the movie until I saw it the other day, because on set she’s very unassuming, very grounded, very real, and very sweet person. So you just play scenes like you’d play with anybody. But when you see the final product, you can see why she’s a movie star. She’s such a tremendous force on screen. I loved her in SHORT TERM 12. [to Vanessa] You ever see that? It’s so good. It’s on Netflix now. You’ve seen it, right?
Capone: Yes, I interviewed him for that, actually.
MB: I worked with her on Swanberg’s movie DIGGING FOR FIRE. It comes out in August.
Capone: I’m a programmer at a festival here in Chicago, and that was our opening night film.
VB: Wow. That’s so cool.
MB: She and I rehearsed for TRAINWRECK in L.A., and then we drove to the DIGGING FOR FIRE set together. We had a day we were rehearsing one movie and filming another movie. So bizarre, right? The synchronicity is great. Did you like the movie?
Capone: I did. I saw it at Sundance, and I had already talked to Joe like six months earlier, and he really wanted to be in our festival, and after we saw it there, we locked it in.
MB: And he’s a Chicago native, of course.
Capone: You’re both used to working in front of live audiences and getting that immediate reaction if something is working or not.
VB: The nice thing about movies is you have some time to figure it out a little bit and try things out different ways. If you don’t like how you did it the first time, you get to do another take.
MB: It’s a sense of time. You can take your time. I take projects where I’m learning. I learn from working with Judd, I learn from working with Amy, I learn from working with Joe Swanberg. And same thing with “Orange is the New Black.” I learn from working with Nicole Holofcener, who directed one of the episodes. There are really cool, interesting writers and directors on that show. You and I have shared this: The whole thing is this process of trying to get better and understand different types of roles and collaborate with different people. Judd and Amy are dream people to work with.
Capone: You’re coming back again for “SNL” next season?
VB: We’ll see. I assume so. We sort of take the summer off, and it gets all figured out. But, you know…
Capone: As far as you know.
MB: [laughs] So evasive.”
Capone: And I hear you're gearing up to direct your next filim? Is it an original?
MB: Totally different. Original screenplay.
Capone: So not based on something you’ve done before?
MB: I was writing the adaptation to MY GIRLFRIEND’S BOYFRIEND. I was really happy with it, and I came up with this other idea that was totally different, and I thought this is what I need to make now. This is on my mind now. And so I’m making this film in August, and I think you’ll like it.
Capone: I cant wait.
MB: It’s a pretty cool film. Secret film.
Capone: Definitely secret. I read about it somewhere and I’m like, “I have seen nothing about this and I’ve actually been looking.” It’s great to meet you both. Best of luck with this.