by Adam Riske
This might be a bit of super-specific hyperbole, but I think with Don’t Think Twice writer-director-star Mike Birbiglia has made the definitive movie about improv comedy. Coming off of his feature debut Sleepwalk with Me (which took a similar look at the ground-level of stand-up comedy), the filmmaker has carved out a very interesting place for himself in modern cinema. He’s flat out making the best comedies about comedy around right now. He’s like Judd Apatow circa 1999, when he was producing autobiographical output like TV’s Freaks and Geeks. This has actually been a pretty good summer for independent cinema, and Don’t Think Twice may just be the best one yet. It’s refreshingly alive, urgent and involving in ways that put most of this summer’s movies to shame.
The film is an excellent multi-person character study, telling the story of a popular New York City improv troupe who are facing a period of transition where some of their comedy careers are about to flourish and the window on others is about to close. The troupe consists of Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher and Chris Gethard. They’re a wonderful ensemble and each have some great moments of insight and humor. This is a very funny comedy but it plays just as well as a drama. I think the movie will work for those who’ve never taken the stage to perform comedy or theater, but if you have, this movie will really hit home in a personal way.
The film also has some very interesting things to say about comedy and hobbies in general, including the toll it takes on your hobby when you turn it into a career, when you realize that you are not the virtuoso performer you may have thought you were, the jealousy (as well as the support) within your respective peer group (e.g. comedians don’t laugh at other comedians – they’re ultra-competitive), etc. Plus, the movie is also a masterful skewering of Saturday Night Live. Some of the best moments of humor in Don’t Think Twice are the cutting observations it has of the long-running program, which, in this film, is thinly veiled as a show called Weekend Live. I also appreciate how the movie is knowledgeable enough to know that people get into improv for a number of different reasons: some to be part of a peer group, some to launch a career, some to get laid and others to feel a sense of self-worth. It’s rarely about wanting to make people laugh.
What I love most about the movie, though, is its heart. The character that touched me the most is Samantha played by the invaluable Gillian Jacobs. Her character started as a fan of the improv troupe (known as The Commune) who was then later asked to become a member. A large part of her life and identity are tied into The Commune and I could relate to that in a way to how I feel about F This Movie!, which is a site where I began as a fan and then was lucky enough to become a contributor. I found an affiliation here I didn’t have elsewhere. Ironically, I didn’t feel that way about improv comedy. I knew pretty decisively when I wanted to walk away and it was a decision I have not regretted.