Alison Becker couldn’t lose the kid, even as she walked all the way back to her dorm, even as she dismissed him. So the actress who would later make a name on “Parks and Recreation” spent part of one of her first days at Georgetown University in the fall of 1996 listening and relenting.
No, her new acquaintance wasn’t interested in a date. But he was in love.
"He was like, 'Well I think the improv troupe is what we should do,' and 'The improv troupe. . .' and blah blah blah blah blah," Becker recalls. He "was giving me his plan for his comedy trajectory. And I was like, Okay, dude. Take it easy."
The dude did not. And as a result, 21 years after he successfully annoyed Becker into joining the Georgetown Players Improv Troupe, comedian Mike Birbiglia is just about where he had always prepared to be.
At 39, he has followed his trajectory to a third standup special, released in February; to a recurring role on Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black”; to a supporting role in Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck”; to directorial acclaim for his second film, “Don’t Think Twice,” last year; and now back to Washington on Friday, for back-to-back performances of his latest one-man show at the Warner Theater.
“I do feel different,” Birbiglia said of his recent successes, in a phone interview from Boston last week.
The path to this point began with an epiphany, a cliché he otherwise doesn’t really believe in. (“So many characters have epiphanies,” he said, “and you’re like, ‘I should have epiphanies, too.’ ”) But when Birbiglia was 16, at a show on Cape Cod, a deadpan Steven Wright made him laugh so hard his face hurt and his future was hatched.
“It really changed the way I view the world,” Birbiglia said. “I went home and I started writing jokes in my notebook. I didn’t know how to write jokes; I just started writing things like he said.”
His current longform-storytelling style bears little resemblance to his early one, and little resemblance to Wright’s. That first style, though, gave him his first break: By winning a Georgetown standup competition as a sophomore, he earned a set at the DC Improv, opening for a pre-“Chappelle’s Show” Dave Chappelle. It went, Birbiglia said, “okay.”
He wanted to try again, wanted any job that would get him near the stage of what he calls “hands-down one of the top-five, top-10 comedy clubs in America.” They handed him a mop. He took it.
“Something about Mike that was true in high school and that’s still true today is that he was always a hustler,” said “Star Trek: Discovery” co-executive producer Jordon Nardino, a friend and classmate at St. Mark’s School in Massachusetts and later at Georgetown. “He never was interested in staying in his lane.”
In high school, that meant leading the sketch-comedy club and publishing a fake edition of the newspaper. At Georgetown, it meant joining improv and pestering the occasional stranger like Becker. And at the D.C. Improv, it meant eventually opening for Brian Regan and Kathleen Madigan and absorbing anything they’d let him.
“I would just bug them and ask them for advice, and I find that when you ask someone for advice, whether they’re the biggest comic in the world or the smallest, people will generally give you about one piece of advice,” Birbiglia said. “And so I have a lot of gathered wisdom.”
He has passed along more than one piece in turn.
In 2005 and 2006, after the release of his first album, “Dog Years,” Birbiglia took a recent Georgetown alum, a Chicagoan named John Mulaney, with him on tour. “It was life-changing,” Mulaney, now one of standup’s biggest talents in his own right, told The Post after one of his shows in July. “I loved him as a friend, and then he taught me almost everything about being a comedian.”
Birbiglia’s own education continued. He found his voice, and his way into film, with his off-Broadway show and first movie, “Sleepwalk with Me.” The follow-up success of “Don’t Think Twice,” an improv-troupe-centered feature that Birbiglia wrote, directed and starred in, means he can finally start to take it — at least a little bit — easy.
There are no more constant auditions, or searches for voiceover work. He instead is able to devote more time just to writing the material, for whatever the platform. “At a certain point,” he said, “it’s just f---ing exhausting.”
Still, this stretch is busy. Coming off six shows in five days in Boston, Birbiglia will perform twice at the Warner Theater on Friday, first at 7 p.m. and then again at 9:30.
He is tweaking some parts of the act, he said, but he’s satisfied with it. Satisfied, too, with where he is in his career, with how his freshman self’s comedy trajectory has unfolded. Satisfied with the odds that when he goes on stage this time in his college town, the crowd will watch and laugh and experience, just maybe, that telling sensation of a face beginning to hurt.