I met Mike Birbiglia at an improv school in San Francisco’s Mission District where he had just taught a class despite coming down with a cold. As art imitating life imitating art, it was ideal. His film, DON’T THINK TWICE, follows an improv troupe whose members are about to be thrust into the next stage of the lived and careers, and Birbiglia plays the troupe member who also teaches classes in the art and philosophy of improv. The film, while very funny, also sharply dissects the ideas of success, failure, art, and commerce, hence my first question to Birbiglia on June 9, 2016, was about his definition of success, and the delicious irony of having the most successful member of the troupe being just as miserable as everyone else. We moved on to the sense of camaraderie found in improv troupes that not only allow, but all but demand teasing someone with totally inappropriate jokes.
He also took a moment to praise the pizza in Brooklyn and how it was an important component to the workshopping of the script for DON’T THINK TWICE.
We moved on to comedy as a bonding mechanism, as well as a valuable public service to get through tough times, as well as how Birbiglia started in improv, then walked away only to return. We finished with him describing how he applied the rules of improv to filmmaking, getting a little philosophical about the truth that improv can reveal that, and the how and the why of Birbiglia wanting to hire talented actors with no experience in improv, and then train them in the craft.
DON’T THINK TWICE is a film about beginnings, endings, and the odd way that success can make people miserable. Birbiglia plays Miles, founder of THE COMMUNE, star attraction of Improv for America, and a group shortly to lose its home thanks to Donald Trump. That’s not the only psychic blow. Weekend Live, that hip live network show broadcasting from New York City, has invited two members of the group, not including Miles, to audition. When one of them gets the job, and another member suffers a family crisis, the dynamic of the group changes in ways that were perhaps inevitable. The film co-stars Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Chris Gethard as the member of the troupe with the most soul-sucking day job. Birbiglia directed from his own script, and his previous work includes SLEEPWALK WITH ME, which won the Sundance Film Festival’s “Best of Next” Audience Award, and was based on his own experiences striking karate poses and walking out of second story windows while sleeping. His one-man shows include My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, and his latest, Thank God For Jokes.