DON’T THINK TWICE’s Mike Birbiglia provides life-affirming advice for those staring in the mirror

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IMG_3657Preston Barta // Editor

Today, we’re often told, “Go to college” and everything will be better.

While it definitely does help, I personally didn’t expect to be where I was a year after graduating. I thought I would have a bit more figured out and would have a direct path laid out for me to conquer getting my ideal job. If not the job, maybe something at least linked to the field I wanted to be in. But none of that is true, and it really isn’t that true for a lot of people coming out of college.

We expect so much from life and expect for all the stars to align, and when it doesn’t happen for us, we feel defeated.

Mike Birbiglia’s comedy-drama, titled DON’T THINK TWICE, is very much about how unromantic the life of a dreamer can be. It centers on the crushing world of improv comedy and features a handful of comedic talents including Keegan-Michael Key (KEANU), Gillian Jacobs (COMMUNITY) and Birbiglia (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK).

In the film, six members of a New York improvisational comedy troupe share a common goal: to move beyond the walls of their small comedy theater and make it big on “Weekend Live” (a fictionalized version of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE).

As one of the members puts it, “Your 20s are all about hope, and your 30s are all about realizing how dumb it was to hope.”

“I really wanted to ask that question of what success is,” Birbiglia said when he stopped in Dallas last month to speak at a local comedy house. “In our culture, there’s a sense that success has to deal with visibility and less to do with how you’re helping and being of service to other people.”

L-R: Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci, Mike Birbiglia and Tami Sagher star in DON'T THINK TWICE as a New York City improv troupe that performs under the name the Commune. Photo courtesy of The Film Arcade.

L-R: Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci, Mike Birbiglia and Tami Sagher star in DON’T THINK TWICE as a New York City improv troupe that performs under the name the Commune. Photo courtesy of The Film Arcade.

Unless you have crazy connections or an internship at a place beforehand, the chances of you landing your dream job is thin. Every opportunity is a stepping-stone to help you reach your fantasy. However, DON’T THINK TWICE is about failure and how we can settle for what’s real in life.

“There was a point about eight years ago when I was working towards getting a network sitcom, because it seemed like the thing you were supposed to do as a stand-up comedian,” Birbiglia recalled. “I got a network sitcom pilot and filmed it. Bob Odenkirk (BETTER CALL SAUL) played my brother and Frances Conroy (SIX FEET UNDER) played my mom on the show.”

Birbiglia said it was a dream-come-true opportunity for him, even though the show was tonally different from the kind of comedy he likes to explore.

“It didn’t get picked up and at the time and I was crushed” Birbiglia said. “But now as I look back, it ended up being the luckiest thing that ever happened to me.”

From there, Birbiglia went on to direct his 2012 debut film SLEEPWALK WITH ME, put out three Off Broadway solo shows and other projects that he had more creative control over.

“All of it came from veering away from what the Hollywood idea of success was,” Birbiglia said. “My advice for students coming out of college is to simply try a lot of different things and know that failure is inevitable.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” It’s important to remember that trial and error is a part of growth.

“Life is about trying things and understanding them,” Birbiglia said. “If you try and do things outside of your comfort zone, you’ll ultimately learn more about yourself and the world around you.”

DON’T THINK TWICE is a film that, of course, makes you laugh, but it also cuts deep and serves as a wake-up call to those still trying to find out what they’re doing with their lives. It may not be the most ideal piece of escapism out there on the big screen, but sometimes a film that’s a little different and honest can pay off.

The film opened regionally on Friday (8/5). It’s currently playing at the Angelika Plano and Magnolia Theatre in Dallas. It will expand to Ft. Worth on August 19 at the Modern Art Museum.

Feature Photo: Mike Birbiglia (left) speaks at the Dallas Comedy House on Monday, July 11, 2016. Photo taken by Preston Barta.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.