An Authentic Look At The Life Of The Improv Artist
Director: Mike Birbiglia / 2016
Improv life seems a lot like real life, or at least it feels like the kind of life you hope for. If it’s true that the pillars of improv are to say yes, make everything about the group and lastly not to think, then there’s a ton of purpose and truth to that kind of life. It’s this, the unique art form of improv that is the subject of Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice. Birbiglia tells an sincere, funny and important story based on his own life experiences.
I connected with Don’t Think Twice instantly because I’m a woman in her thirties that wonders if you can pursue a profession that you are passionate about in later years without becoming completely self absorbed. At one point in the film Bill, played so well by Chris Gethard, says “I feel like your twenties are all about hope and your thirties are all about how dumb it was to hope.” If I could add anything to that it would be you feel dumb for hoping but against all understanding you still hope. Hope that you can create something worthy, inspire someone, accomplish something great, have a purpose and meaning beyond just making enough money to get by.
In Don’t Think Twice all of those great things that are hoped for are a reality but not in the way the improv troupe imagined. Jack, the extroverted flexible funny man, played by Keegan-Michael Key, gets the call from Weekend Live, an SNL-esque show, and his life changes. He’s put in the hours, lived the life of constant impersonations, worked really hard, and now he’s lucky, he gets his dream job. At this same time Improv America, the group that has been his family, is dealt a hard blow. Their rent controlled space where they can offer cheap seats to the public is sold, to none other than Donald Trump, and they are now searching for a new home that’s affordable. Birbiglia weaves a beautiful story about identity, jealousy, brokenness and making tough decisions in Don’t Think Twice. But Jack’s shot at making it big isn’t the beautiful thing that’s accomplished. It’s not his interpretation of an old-fashioned ticket-taker on Weekend Live that inspires. Nope, in the end you have real friendships, family, passions and partnerships that are prized. The community is the artwork that has great value. The directions gained from fire and failure have worth. And there is hope! This improv troupe agreed with the reality that they each made and built off of it. They’ve got each other’s backs and they got out of their own heads and cared for one another. They followed, failed and learned from those pillars of improv.
“Improv life seems a lot like real life, or at least it feels like the kind of life you hope for.”
For me Don’t Think Twice was an encouragement. It gives an honest look at the ups and downs in the entertainment industry and shows what it takes, selling hummus at a grocery store by day, to pursue your passions. Maybe you’re like me, there are passions you wanted or still want to pursue but where is the time, where is the drive? Why is it so easy to binge watch something on Netflix? I’ve swapped my drive and desire with comfort and ease. I look at my life and wonder, what does it matter, what is it worth? Movies like Don’t Think Twice remind me of the long view and the simple joy that is found when you do something you love. And it doesn’t have to be your full time gig, it can be a hobby and that’s okay. But… (Big picture here) I really learned that the way I have cared for and shared life with people has great value. This is my most valued contribution, love. Sappy, yes, but totally truthful. And PS… Get out there and watch some improv or stand-up or community theater and buy artwork made in your community not at Hobby Lobby and send your kids to tap lessons at the local spot and pay real money for music and movies and SUPPORT THE ARTS! #soapbox
You might watch Don’t Think Twice and get something completely different, but I believe it is a film almost everyone will enjoy. Don’t Think Twice opens in St. Louis today, August 12th at the Tivoli Theater.