Don’t Think Twice — Review and Interview

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I loved the movie and book Sleepwalk With Me, the first film written and directed by comedian Mike Birbiglia. I remember at the time reading the late Roger Ebert’s review and he said “I like Mike Birbiglia.” And after watching that movie, how could you not?

In his second film, almost five years later, he’s less likable; but he’s giving you another great glimpse at the not-so-funny moments behind stand-up comedy and improv troupes.

Birbiglia plays Miles, the leader of a New York improv group called The Commune. They’re on the verge of collapse for many reasons. A lot of them are getting older and ready to move on to other things. One member does move on to bigger and better things — bringing resentment and jealousy. The theatre they perform at is also raising the rent, and they just don’t sell enough tickets to justify the expense.

As a huge fan of Key and Peele, I was thrilled to see Keegan-Michael Key as Jack. I was pleasantly surprised that he wasn’t the main focus of this. It was a much smarter decision by Birbiglia to make the actor truly part of an ensemble. We see early on that he might be the one with the most natural talent, and he seems to be the funniest off stage as well. That’s yet another highlight of this movie — the backstage shenanigans. People this funny never seem to turn it off. They’re always trying to rib each other and crack the others up. Even if it’s at an inappropriate time, when Bill (Chris Gethard) is dealing with his sick father.

It’s nice to see small bits of how they got to this place, too. One of them is artsy, another comes from money. And when petty fights come up, these things sometimes get thrown back in their faces. Yet in one of my small complaints about the movie, I felt it needed to get a little darker in places. Perhaps Birbiglia didn’t want us hating any of these people. In fact, he makes himself the least likable, but we still kind of dig him. It may seem a tad creepy that an “older” comedian is trying to sleep with the younger improv students, especially after all this Bill Cosby stuff has come out. Yet most of us realize that…men try to use whatever they have to impress women. And improv and comedy is what he has, and these younger comedians look up to him. It’s also hard to feel bad for the women, when they have no qualms about telling him he looks like he could be their uncle.

It was interesting to watch the troupe as they all vied for a spot on a Saturday Night Live type of show. In the horrible movie Punchline, watching Tom Hanks and other comedians vie for a spot on The Tonight Show was so poorly done. In this, it’s just perfect. A few of the cast get mad when they perceive Jack to have done more than the usual improv bits in trying to impress them with his Obama impersonation. Yet all of them have their own little ways of trying to get onto the show, without much worry as to whether of the others in The Commune make it.

When one cast member does get the much coveted spot on that show, it’s brilliantly done. You can see the pain in their faces as they congratulate the person. In a film like this that a big studio would’ve done, we’d hate the person who made it. He or she would’ve become arrogant, and we would’ve been manipulated into despising that person. In this…the person still does want the other members to make it on the show, even if that’s just as writers. They also continue to come back and perform with the troupe…which also leads to some unexpected things happening.

The film is poignant and you really care about these characters. It did need to get grittier than it got, and I would’ve liked just a bit more humor when the troupe was onstage. For example, one bit, that ends up making it on to Saturday Night Live — just doesn’t work (yet in Punchline, none of their stand-up worked, and they got spots on The Tonight Show, so…).

There’s a scene with a relationship ending that I thought could’ve ended for completely different reasons, and been a lot stronger to the story.

Yet when it comes to stand-up comedy, with this and Sleepwalk With Me, there’s never been anybody like Mike Birbiglia to do such a wonderful, and loving tribute to the craft.

I thought comedic talk show host Adam Carolla was going to nail it with Road Hard, and he didn’t.

This is the comedy people should see this summer. It’ll be at the Ken Cinema, and it’s worth the trip to Kensington.

3 1/2 stars out of 5.

don't think twice USE 2

As someone that owns the DVD and book for Sleepwalk with Me, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to chat with writer, director, and star of the movie, Mike Birbiglia.


JOSH BOARD:  Saturday Night Live was on the news a lot lately for getting rid of three cast members. One of the premises of the movie Don’t Think Twice is that the cast members of the improv troupe want to eventually make it to “Weekend Live” which is basically SNL. Did you ever have an audition for the show?

MIKE BIRBIGLIA: I never had an audition. I never got to a point where I was even that low on the totem pole. Everyone dreams of it. When I was in my ‘20s I thought about it. My friends had the same dream. It was our ultimate goal.

JOSH BOARD: Sleepwalk With Me was a great debut film. Why did it take so long [four years] before your second movie?

MIKE BIRBIGLIA: I found out the hardest thing to do is direct a movie. The hours I was involved with that were so long. It’s a lot of work. I did learn to listen to people, though. I would be working on My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, and I’d start writing things for this movie. I’d have to tell myself to stop doing that, and finish what I was originally working on.

(Mike went on to talk a lot about how talented and successful Aidy Bryant was in improv, and on SNL; I was shocked to find he’d praise somebody so much that wasn’t even in his movie).

JOSH BOARD: It was interesting how the improv troupe in the movie showed a bit of jealousy toward the cast member (Keegan-Michael Key) that made it onto Weekend Live. I have to think a lot of that happens in real life.

MIKE BIRBIGLIA: Well, Aidy has had success on Saturday Night Live. She was in various improv troupes, on Second City…and when she made it to SNL, she was still hugely respected. So, that’s not always the case. We did a few weeks of improv before we started this movie. Tami Sagher…she was terrific, and helped a lot.

JOSH BOARD: What I love about this movie, and Sleepwalk with Me, is it showed stand-up comedy in a realistic way. It’s one of the many reasons I hated Punchline (Tom Hanks).

MIKE BIRBIGLIA: (smiles, long pause) Yeah. Uh…don’t get me talking about Punchline. I agree with you, though.

Birbiglia went on to tell me how supportive his wife (Jen Stein, who he married in 2007) has been. We talked briefly about Amy Schumer, who he’s known since the early days of her stand-up career (she was involved a bit in Sleepwalk with Me, and Birbiglia had nice part in Trainwreck). He also told me how in each city he’s going to and promoting the movie, he’s doing improv with the local improv troupes. He said, “I really like doing it, and I feel like I should.”

The conversation we had about improv and comedy was thrilling, especially since I’ve enjoyed his two movies so much. Unfortunately, as we sat in Starbucks eating breakfast and chatting, I stopped taking notes. And that’s a shame, because he told me a great story about Jimmy Kimmel, but I can’t even begin to remember it now, two months later.

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