People often assume that comedians have the greatest job in the world. In many respects, they do. Anyone who’s pursued a career in comedy, however, will tell you that it’s not all fun and games. We’ve gotten numerous movies and TV shows that have tried to explore the serious side of comedy, from Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 to Judd Apatow’s Funny People. Yet, Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice feels like the first film to truly address the hardships of being a comedian. It’s uncomfortable, challenging, and even tragic, but also full of passion, good cheer, and of course humor.
The film follows a New York improv troupe of six, all of whom are battling inner demons. Birbiglia stars as Miles, a seasoned comedian who believes he’s on the cusp of a big break, but is actually nowhere near success. Gillian Jacobs is a delight as Samantha, who loves being on stage, but is reluctant to take her career to the next step. Chris Gethard gives the film’s most heartbreaking performance as Bill, a comic dealing with the sudden loss of a family member. We also get some wonderful work from Tami Sagher’s Lindsay, who lives off her parents, and Kate Micucci’s Allison, who’s a comedian/cartoonist of sorts.
Keegan-Michael Key, who keeps growing in popularity, is appropriately cast as Jack, the improv troupe’s MVP. When Jack becomes a cast member on an SNL-like sketch comedy show, his friends wish him the best of luck. Deep down, though, they’re all overcome with envy. Jack’s success forces the rest of the group to confront the sad truth that not all of them will hit it big. While Jack has seemingly made it, he’s not without his own problems. Torn between his friends and his dream job, Jack does everything he can to have it all, although his efforts prove futile. It goes to show that sometimes achieving success can be just as difficult as living with failure.
Being a comedian himself, direct/writer/star Birbiglia understands how show business works. All of his characters feel brutally honesty and have identifiable insecurities. Given the backstage drama all of these people endure, some people may wonder why they don’t just give up. Whenever this improv troupe is on stage together, though, we can see why they keep following their dreams. Don’t Think Twice encourages artists everywhere to do what they love, even if things don’t turn out exactly how you wanted.
The film additionally demonstrates that improvisational theatre deserves a lot more attention. The entertainment industry typically views comedy itself as a lower art form, but nothing is harder to making people laugh. Improv can be especially daunting, considering that the performers are given so little to work with and can easily bomb. Even if you’re one of the greatest improv performers on the planet, there’s a good chance that you’ll never become a household name. If you truly have a passion for comedy, however, fame and fortune shouldn’t be the most important factors.