“Orange is the New Black” creator Jenji Kohan couldn’t get “This American Life” host Ira Glass to agree to be a character in the show, but in netting actor and comedian Mike Birbiglia, she came close.
Birbiglia will play a recurring role in the third season of Netflix’s hit series. “This American Life” fans will recognize him as a personality on the weekly WBEZ radio show that Glass hosts. Glass and Birbiglia also co-wrote the 2012 feature film “Sleepwalk With Me,” which Birbiglia directed and starred in. The movie grew from Birbiglia’s uproariously funny one-man show with the same name.
“I’m a huge Ira Glass fan,” Kohan told “Fresh Air’s” Terry Gross. “I’m a huge fan of radio in general. I don’t have a whole lot of time to watch TV, but I am a big podcast listener, and radio listener and a fangirl, to a certain extent. And I actually asked Ira Glass if he would do it, and he politely declined.”
The first season of “Orange is the New Black” includes a character named Maury Kind who is an obvious send up of Glass. Kind hosts a public radio show called “Urban Tales” — the “This American Life” of “OITNB.” Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is betrayed by her horrid, narcissistic fiance when he goes on “Urban Tales” and complains that her prison sentence is making him miserable — even though she’s the one actually doing time. What’s worse, everyone in prison with Chapman is listening when it happens. The storyline is one example of the show’s trenchant social criticism of privileged, white, do-gooder liberalism and its blind spots regarding race and class. That same ethos permeated the first season of “Weeds,” which Kohan also created.
“I find ‘This American Life’ so compelling, and I engage on a very deep level with these stories, so I wanted that in our show — where everyone is quiet and listening,” Kohan told Gross.
With Birbiglia’s casting in the third season, “Orange is the New Black” is coming full circle.
You can watch Birbiglia perform his show “What I Should Have Said Was Nothing” below.