Although they were feeling a little bit under the weather during their trip to DC, Mike Birbiglia (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) and Gillian Jacobs (COMMUNITY) were incredibly friendly and down to earth for our interview about their funny, heartfelt new film DON’T THINK TWICE. The film follows an improv troupe, similar to the Upright Citizens’ Brigade (UCB), who are as close as family, but face problem when some members achieve more success than others. In the cutthroat world of Hollywood, can friendships withstand the pressures of fame?
Birbiglia, who wrote, directed, and starred in the film, spent a good portion of his life in DC. He attended Georgetown University, not too far from where we conducted our interview. Birbiglia was a member of the University’s improv troup, and furthered his early career in comedy by doing standup around the city and working as a door person at the DC Improv. Back in DC again for our press day, he described the city’s burgeoning comedic scene as a “real 180 since I started here… There was a dearth in comedy options [in DC], but now there’s the Washington Improv Theater and the Bentzen Ball, like you said, and it’s great and seems like comedy is really thriving here.”
Despite having a cast stacked with seasoned improvisers, Jacobs didn’t have a background in improvisation. So, she did what anyone else would do who is lucky enough to have friends in the industry, “I went to the Mike Birbiglia School of Improv, which was a two week sort of trial-by-fire boot camp that he hosted in New York. He had coaches from UCB and other places come and do workshops with us and then threw us out there in front of unsuspecting paying audiences.” Jacobs quickly became a part of the crew and was so natural in the role, you would have never known she didn’t have a background in improv. The most important aspect of the film is the chemistry between the actors and ensuring each person has their own distinct character arc. Much like improv, where one player shouldn’t stand out from the others, DON’T THINK TWICE is certainly a team effort. As Birbiglia says, “You want to be the player with the most assists. You’re setting someone up to dunk.”
Despite the realistic dialogue and chemistry between the actors, don’t think that means the film was unscripted. Unlike the improvisational subject of the film, DON’T THINK TWICE largely stuck to the script. “It’s a surprisingly written film for a movie about improv. I wrote about 10 or 12 drafts that were entirely different from each other and made revisions up until the first day.” But Birbiglia did allow the actors some flexibility because he wanted the dialogue to feel as real and accurate to their characters as possible. “I want something that feels more like life than a movie. There are a bunch of improvised lines in the movie.. I like the illusion that is all life.” What’s most interesting about the film is that the issues the characters face aren’t just relatable to people in comedy, but are also universal concepts. “The goal is to just hit human themes and have people respond to it in that way.”
DON’T THINK TWICE blends drama and humor to present a multi-layered character studies on the cost and benefits of success. Based on the universality of its subject matter that transcends improv and relates to the overall human experience, the film will be relatable to all ages and demographics. As Birbiglia said, “I think comedy at its best is giving a gift to the audience, giving catharsis to the audience.” So, like the #1 rule of improv states, always agree and say “yes and”… go to the theater.