“Don’t Think Twice” Looks Inside Improvisational Comedy
By Skip Sheffield
For a movie about comedy, “Don’t Think Twice” is a bit depressing. Stand-up comics do not have it easy. Every time they get onstage they face judge and jury in their audience. Some audiences are kinder than others, but inevitably comedians will get their feelings hurt. Comedian Charlie Chaplin explained the paradox most eloquently in his song “Smile.”
“Don’t Think Twice” is an ensemble comedy starring actual improvisational comedians in a fictional Chicago comedy troupe called The Commune. Writer-director Mike Birbiglia was obviously inspired by Chicago’s famed Second City, which since 1955 has been a farm team for some great talents like John Belushi, John Candy, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Harold Ramis, Tina Fey and many, many more.
Birbiglia is one of a half-dozen improvisational comics playing fictional versions of themselves. The lead character of Jack is played by Keegan-Michael Key, who is half of the comedy duo of Key and Jordan Peele. In the movie his partner is an attractive blond woman named Samantha (Gillian Jacobs). Other Commune members are Shy Sarah (Emily Skeggs), little Allison (Kate Micucci), plus-sized outgoing Lindsay (Tami Sagher), balding, bespeckled Bill (Chris Gethard) and exotic Amy (Sunita Mani).
The group aspires to win a spot on the comedy variety show “Weekend Live,” which is obviously inspired by “Saturday Night Live.” A problem arises. Jack kills at his audition and is accepted as a provisional member of Weekend Live. Sam was so nervous she didn’t even show up for the audition. Will Jack leave his loyal friends in the dust for TV stardom? An unlikely hero emerges in the face of yet another crisis with the troupe. Comedy is never easy. Improvisational comedy is the hardest of all. If you would like an inside look at the anxieties of performance, “Don’t Think Twice” is a good place to start.