Mike Birbiglia's New Comedy Takes a Serious Look at Life in an Improv Troupe

Comedy is conventionally defined as work intended to produce amusement and laughter; however, Don’t Think Twice, the new comedy from actor, comedian and director Mike Birbiglia, takes that definition and rips it to shreds.

The film, which opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, could easily be mistaken for a documentary. Following the lives of the Commune, a popular New York-based improv troupe, the film traces the highs and lows of a professional comedian’s life. It opens with a handheld camera shot of the improv troupe while it’s backstage preparing for a show. Led by their teacher Miles (Birbiglia), the troupe's members — Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Allison (Kate Micucci), Bill (Chris Gerhard), Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) and Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) — discuss the three most basic rules of improv: “say yes”; “it’s all about the group”; and “don’t think.”

Ironically, the group’s failure to abide by these three tenets ultimately leads to its demise. Jack gets a huge breakthrough serving as a recurring cast member on Weekend Live, a show one could only assume is a stand-in for Saturday Night Live given its prestige and the cameo appearances from Lena Dunham and Ben Stiller.

With Jack’s departure, jealousy inevitably overtakes the remaining five members of the Communes. Though they carry on with their performances as Jack rises to fame, their improv days end the moment Jack lands the Weekend Live audition. Jack breaks all the rules. Though the film primarily chronicles the lives of an improv troupe starving for fame and fortune, it dually chronicles the life of anyone in pursuit of a passion. Given the nature of the film, humor obviously takes center stage in much of the screenplay, but it isn’t the only player. Birbiglia weaves in many serious moments, perhaps moments that even teeter on the edge of despair.

But the juxtaposition of real-life humor and real-life realities — makes Don’t Think Twice so incredible. The humor isn’t over the top. It feels like a camera just so happened to be rolling when these funny people were talking; nothing seems staged, and nothing seems scripted. It feels real. And so do their hardships. The film also shows the struggles of a thirtysomething: a parent's death; an accidental pregnancy; and financial difficulties. Don’t Think Twice is hard hitting, but in the softest, most humorous way possible. 
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