As someone who has only recently started doing improv, this movie is aptly named. My first improv teacher told me once, and I quote, “I wanna see you just going for it. If someone comes into a scene and says, ‘Hey! I’m here to kill you!’ you’re gonna say, ‘Alright! Let’s do it, baby!'”
That’s the idea. Abandon conscious thought and just exist in the moment; inside that scene. It’s sort of like Vegas. Whatever happens in the scene stays in the scene. Never to be recreated exactly the same way again. That’s one of the things that makes improv so genuine, challenging, and — to that end — entertaining for both the performers and the audience.
Don’t Think Twice is about a tenacious New York City based improv troupe called The Commune, comprised of six players; Jack, Samantha, Miles, Bill, Allison, and Lindsay (Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, and Tami Sagher, respectively).
Close-knit and deeply supportive of one another, the group functions as a family unit. They’re like a way less gooey version of The Partridge Family. While ready and able to ‘Yes, and…’ the crap out of each other, they’re also in that nice, comfy nook of familiarity where it’s totally cool to poke fun and even criticize — for the most part — without hurt feelings.
Their shows are typically sold out and the dynamic is super solid. Unfortunately, improv is rarely a lucrative career. The heart is invested but the rent still needs to get paid. The Commune has their collective eye on the prize, the prize being a popular sketch show on television called Weekend Live.
No matter how well things seem to be going, reality will always come barging in like the Kool-Aid man. When a couple of members of the group are invited to audition for Weekend Live after a successful show, tension builds and ties begin to sever, leaving everyone on the edge of an existential crisis.
For some, improv is a hobby; a fun thing to do with friends. For others, it is everything. But the universe will always inevitably draw a line in the sand at some point and we all wind up having to make a choice.
The crushing fear of failure is often the motive to our actions as people and artists. It can make us do things we mightn’t normally do. One of the writers of the film — and one of my favorite dudes — Mike Birbiglia has touched on betrayal and slandering amongst those trying to make it in comedy. It’s such a strange notion, but at the end of the day it’s like any other competitive field; Our natural instincts kick in and we do things out of desperation to get ahead.
As for The Commune, I think Birbiglia’s heart is bigger than his brain. We never see true savagery within them; the kind that might occur outside the confines of a passion project. Birbiglia wrote and directed the film. He also produced it along side Ira Glass of WBEZ’s This American Life with whom he co-wrote his first feature film, Sleepwalk With Me. Rounding out the foursome of producers on this movie are two wildly talented and funny women, Miranda Bailey and Amanda Marshall, both of whom also produced one of my favorites this year — Swiss Army Man.
It’s no surprise that the movie is sharp, authentic, and — at times — quite dismal. It’s also absurdly funny. Duh. The cast is packed with brilliantly entertaining, watchable actors. The story is honest and a little heartbreaking and that’s refreshing. Not everything in life has a happy ending.
After the screening I attending at the Music Box Theatre here in Chicago, Improv Nerd Podcast host Jimmy Carrane lead a Q&A with Birbigs. One of my favorite quotes of the night from Mike was, “As artists, all you have to give is yourself. That’s all you have. If you can’t, why do it?” It’s a lovely sentiment and couldn’t be more true.
When it was my turn to ask a question, Birbigs had made it undeniably clear that he was hot. It was very hot in the theater. Unfortunately, I went fangirl on him and just had to tell him what a huge fan I am before asking my question.
The exchange went a little like this:
Me: Hi Mike! I’m such a huge fan.
Birbigs: That’s great. Do you have a question?
Me: I do! At this point, you’ve done it all: improv, stand up, television, movies…
Birbigs: I know what I’ve done. That’s me. What’s your question?
Birbigs: I’m sorry. It’s so hot in here and people are leaving. I feel bad.
— turning back to me —
I’m sorry. What’s your name?
Birbigs: Katie, what’s your question? I’ve done stand up, improv, movies…
Me: Yes, you’ve done all of that, and I was wondering…
Birbigs: (shouting) Katie, I know!
Crowd erupts again.
Me: What’s been your favorite?
Birbigs: (to Jimmy) What’d she say?
Jimmy tried his best to reiterate, but the theater was a sweaty, hot ass mess at this point. People laughing. People leaving. Mike, sweating through his jacket.
Me: No. That wasn’t my question. My question was, out of those things, what has been your favorite?
He said that he’s really enjoyed doing film because of the creative freedom it offers. I sat back down and got ready. I’d brought a copy of Jaws and a sharpie. I wanted to be the only person in the world with a copy of Jaws signed by Mike Birbiglia. Unfortunately, when the Q&A came to a close, he high-tailed it outta there. I would’ve too, to be perfectly honest. I run at Human Torch temps all the time and I get it.
Anyway, I got a Mike Birbiglia patented, “I know” loudly addressed directly to me. Mainly because he was expiring under his button-down right before our eyes. That’s like Aaron Paul calling somebody a bitch. It was very special and I’ll keep it in my pocket forever.
Don’t Think Twice opens July 22nd. Don’t give it a second thought! Just go see it!
Sorry. I’ll show myself out.