About eight years ago, my sister decided to completely immerse herself in the world of improv. This came as a bit of a shock to me, as my sister had majored in history and had never shown much interest in performing, let alone comedy. She would trap me for what felt like hours as she explained who Del Close was (the creator of “the Harold” and much of modern day improv), how the different improv schools were like colleges (Improv Olympic was the big state school, Upright Citizens Brigade was the small liberal arts school), and the importance of “yes, and” (you never deny what your scene partner says, you say “yes, and” and carry on). After years of her badgering me to give improv a shot, I finally took a few classes at UCB, where I found that improv was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
I met improvisers from all walks of life, some who were determined to make comedy their career, some who were actors, some who had day jobs and this was a weird outlet for them, some who were writers (the category I loosely fell into), some who had just moved to L.A. and wanted to make friends, etc. The community seemed to consist of a variety of oddball 20- and 30-somethings who embraced their quirkiness as well as each other. I was surprised at how supportive everyone in the improv community was, yet also felt like a bit of an odd duck since I would not say I am a "struggling artist" or even a comedian for that matter. I had difficulty relating to the struggles of many comedians, who used comedy as a way of expressing themselves and what felt like, at times, masking their real emotions. I enjoyed being on stage and fed off the energy from a crowd, but I longed to be back behind my computer, where I could be vulnerable on the page rather than on the stage.
Thus why the indie film, Don’t Think Twice, was of such interest to me. Directed and written by and starring Mike Birbiglia (“Orange is the New Black”), the film centers entirely around improv, specifically a struggling improv troupe trying to make it in New York City. The improv team, The Commune, consisting of Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Bill (Chris Gethard), and Miles (Birbiglia), have been performing improv for years -- and they don’t just perform together, they live together! Their lives are completely intertwined. But when they find out their beloved theater is going to be shut down and that one of them (Jack) has been cast in “Weekend Live” (an obvious take on “Saturday Night Live”), their entire world is thrown upside down. Don’t Think Twice shifts into an endearing -- and eerily accurate -- look at what it’s like to be around those in comedy, as well as questions if one should ever give up on their dreams.
While some of the characters could be given more to do (Micucci and Gethard come to mind), the film is still probably the most accurate depiction of improv to ever hit the screen. Miles disturbingly represents a type I have not only met in improv but many in fields -- a frustrated artist who never got his big break, so now he teaches and resents it when his students go on to achieve more success than him (although Mike does grow up quite a bit throughout the film). Despite being a comedian, Miles actually isn’t that funny; it seems that his bitter attitude blocks him from truly shining. Lindsay seems to live in a perpetual state of adolescence (another type I have met) due to her parents' trust fund. Jack handles fame well, but becomes quickly overwhelmed by his friends' constant requests to get them on the show. Although the characters are supportive of each other, they do quickly become jealous and do struggle to convey their real emotions. One of the most touching -- and accurate -- scenes is when the characters gather together to watch “Weekend Live” and eat pizza, all while commenting on how they could do a better job if they were on the show.
Don’t Think Twice is spot-on in its portrayal of the improv community -- from the stage and the price of the show (five dollars), to the audience drinking beer and the performers' dreams of making it on “Weekend Live”, as well as their constant riffing of one another and their persistence and love for comedy. Despite the rather cold, hard look the film presents at trying to make it in a creative field, Don’t Think Twice also offers a sincere optimism through Sam, the true heart of the film, who realizes that improv may be her one true love. Jacobs is quite remarkable in the role, especially considering she had the least improv experience of all the actors. As one who has been involved in this quirky community, Don’t Think Twice is the love letter that the world of improv deserves. No matter how hard life becomes, Don’t Think Twice reminds us that you must just say “yes, and” and carry on.