“Don’t Think Twice” Stars Keegan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci, And Mike Birbiglia Talk Improv And The Definition Of Success

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dont think twice cast

The world of improv is a cult for talented up-and-coming comedians, joyous laughs, and a universe where “yes and” is the magic phrase to enlightenment. Stand-up comedian, actor and director brings this world to the big screen with his sophomore film DON’T THINK TWICE (read our review here), a story that follows a small New York City improv group and their relationships with each other on and off the stage.

But the movie isn’t just comedy. As Birbiglia wants everyone to know, “It’s a drama, too!” The movie cleverly shows how the details of improv can go beyond the stage and apply to every day lives. For the masses of thirtysomethings aimlessly following their dreams, Don’t Think Twice can serve as a manual for what success is — even if there isn’t a concrete answer. Birbiglia, and play members of the film’s improv group and they are all going for their dreams of making it big in comedy, but some of them realize that they may be chasing the wrong dream. We had the chance to talk with them about the film, the world of improv, and whether or not they feel like they have “made it” in the industry.


 

On where the idea for the movie came from…

Birbiglia: I was performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York City and my wife came one night and said, “It’s interesting to watch this group on stage because everyone is equally talented and funny, yet offstage this person is a movie star and this other person is on SNL and this person lives on an air mattress in Queens. When she said that, I pictured a movie of it. It felt like a Big Chill-type of comedy set in the world of improv theater. I just thought, “I have to write this.”

On the theme of the movie…

Key: This film is set in improv and part of my is in the improv world and for us, the major leagues is Saturday Night Live and this movie has a Saturday Night Live-type of program called Weekend Live— so very similar, which Mike did on purpose with a heavy wink. All the characters in the beginning of the film say, “this is what we want” and all of a sudden there’s an opportunity for them to get on the show but it only happens for one of them and the interesting thing is, once that trigger gets pulled, the rest of them have to say, “I didn’t get it, now what do I do? I’ve been told that my dream that I have had is not going to come true now what what do I do? Now where do I go? Now what do I focus my energy on?” That’s the theme of the movie.

Micucci: The script was so beautiful. I read it…I cried and I related to it. The thing about the movie is that everyone can relate to it in some way even if you’re not a creative person.

On working on a scripted feature about improv…

Birbiglia: The scenes are scripted and while we were in those costumes, we would do 10 minutes of real improv — and that stuff is sprinkled through the movie. It was somewhat of a miracle that Gillian Jacobs pulled it off. She has the least improv experience among us and she is the heart of what it is to be an improviser.

Key: I’ve been in improv and acting for over 20 years, so being in improv is like breathing for me. The bigger challenge is that there’s a camera running around that gets right in your face in the middle of you acting in a scene. It’s a very, very scripted film for a film about improvisation. More than anything, most of the improv shows that you are witnessing in the film are heavily scripted because important plot points are being made in the scene — so we can’t improvise.

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On their relationship with their improv co-stars — specifically Tami Sagher…

Micucci: I fell in love with everyone very quickly. I knew everyone a little bit. I knew Keegan from doing a couple of things at the Improv and knew Mike from when (Garfunkel and Oates) almost opened for him. And I saw Tami do improv at a Halloween party in 2007 and I was like, “I want to know this person!” We all got together and just clicked and that’s the kind of thing you can’t plan for. After two weeks of hanging out, it felt like we’ve been together for so much longer.

Key: I’ve known Tami Sagher, who plays Lindsay in the movie, for 15 years and she’s one of my improv heroes. The very first time I improvised with her it was just as exciting as when I heard Key and Peele got picked up. As for everyone else, we all had a rehearsal process prior to shooting for two and a half weeks and we truly became friends. We took improv workshops so that we would all become a cohesive group and to Mike’s credit, it worked.

On the definition of success…

Birbiglia: In my 20s, I felt that success meant having a sitcom, movie , talk show or whatever. In my 30s, I started to have this realization that success doesn’t have to be this one thing. It can be a number of things on a certain spectrum — and that’s a pretty freeing realization. I was always chasing this brass ring and then I realized maybe that’s not what’s right for me. What’s right for me is writing these solo shows and writing these movies and working on a small movie with a low budget and making exactly what I want instead of a big budget, making something that I kind of want.

Key: It’s a movie about when you get to a certain point in your life and the dreams you have set for yourself start to go in that direction, what does that mean and how do you navigate it? All the characters in the movie are in their mid-30s and that’s when it starts to happen. You start to think, “Uh-oh, it hasn’t happened yet, I’ve been doing this for 10-15 years, what do I do?” Is it time for me to do another hobby or should I stick to it?

On how this is a movie about “growing up” and moving on from your dreams…

Micucci: The same feeling I felt when I first read the script is the same feeling I had when I watched the movie and that just shows how great of a storyteller Mike is. It tells a story that everyone can relate to: the motions of going for your dreams. People seem to be really responding to it. It’s kind of gut punch. We all put off being grown up. I have friends that are my age and they are married and have kids and I’m like, “What?! You’re nuts!” and then I realize, “Oh wait, everybody else is on 2nd or 3rd marriage and their kids are in high school.” Here in LA we put off growing up as much as we can and the movie says a lot about that.

On whether or not they have “made it” in the industry…

Birbiglia: When I was a junior in college, I started working the door at the Washington DC Improv and I could watch the comics for free, I made it. That’s how much I love comedy. So in some sense, just watching comedy shows I couldn’t afford to go to for free, that’s totally “making it.” When I was 24, I was on Letterman I was like, “I made it!” When I made my first movie I said, “Now I’ve made it!” There’s a sense, along the way, of these victories and challenges that intermittently come at you in between these things and you can lose perspective and sight of it all. I mean, I feel like I’ve made it now because I’ve been able to make 3 one person shows and 2 feature films in the last 8 years outside of the system and I feel really lucky to have been able to do that.

Micucci: I love raspberries and that’s a more expensive fruit. I would get apples because I could afford apples and I remember the day when I brought raspberries and I didn’t look at the price and I thought, “Oh my God! I’ve made it!” Also, the moment you stop crying about rent or when you pay off your student loans — that was a big one for me. “Making it” isn’t really walking down the street and people see you and know what you do. I feel like it’s more of of putting your stuff out there and paying your rent while doing it.

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One last thought about what they would rather be if they weren’t an actor…

Key: I would probably be a veterinarian or a psychologist..or study theater and gone in as an academic. I would have written papers no would read and taught classes. But I am fortunate because I never cared about being poor or having money. In my life, I’ve always had just enough money for beer, food and to do what I want…so being in the theater is the perfect . If you like money, don’t go into acting.

One last thought about relationships with their cast members…

Micucci: Chris’s character and mine were kind of at the same level as far as where we fit in the group. I think our characters see themselves in each other. In real life, my last name is Micucci and Chris’s name is Gethard, like “get hard.” So we thought that we should really do a show in real life called “Get Hard In Mi Cucci.”  I’m really hopeful that will happen.

One last thought on success…

Birbiglia: A lot of the movie is asking, “What is success?” and it doesn’t answer it. A lot of the times drama doesn’t answer questions as much as it explores questions and makes you as an audience member ask that question in relation to your own life. If there is anything the movie achieves it’s to make people laugh, entertain them and have some sense of questioning of what success means in their own life because we have this cultural understanding of success that it’s this one thing. A lot of the people mistake visibility and exposure for success, but I think success has more to do with affecting, helping and connecting with people and I think that is often lost in this culture.

 | Staff Writer
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