Keegan-Michael Key and Mike Birbiglia on "Don’t Think Twice" | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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From (L) to (R): Tami Sagher, Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci

Keegan-Michael Key and Mike Birbiglia on “Don’t Think Twice”

Going With The Flow

Jul 22, 2016 Keegan-Michael Key
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By any conceivable measure, Keegan-Michael Key and Mike Birbiglia are comedians at the top of their games. Key is fresh off a year which saw him wrap up his hit Comedy Central sketch show, Key & Peele; in which he was invited by President Obama to perform at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and is now headlining comedies. Birbiglia recently completed the run on his acclaimed one-man, Off-Broadway show, and is now releasing his second feature as a filmmaker, Don’t Think Twice, to rave reviews.

It’s incredible, then, to learn that these two successful individuals still question whether they’ve made the right choices within their careers. The philosophy they’ve chosen to follow is closely linked to Birbiglia’s new movie, which they star in together. Don’t Think Twice takes its name from one of the primary rules of improv—which translates, roughly, to “just go for it.”

“There are no mistakes; mistakes are gifts,” Key elaborates, paraphrasing the influential improv teacher Del Close. “Challenges and mistakes are learning experiences and opportunities. Mike really lives by that, and it’s an amazing thing. That’s why this movie feels so real and abrupt and heartfelt: it has all these fissures and nooks and crannies because of that process.”

As in improv, a key to successful filmmaking is in trusting your collaborators. Birbiglia and Key’s co-stars are an eclectic ensemble of professional funny people: Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, and Tami Sagher round out their on-screen improv troupe, known as The Commune. In the film, the close-knit group’s bonds are tested when their NYC theater space is closed, and one of their own is cherry-picked to join the cast of a SNL-equivalent network series.

“I spent two years writing this script, and I would tell people it’s about improv. And then they would go, ‘Oh, so the whole thing is improvised?’” Birbiglia laughs. “I wrote 12 drafts of the script!” But that doesn’t mean he left out room for new ideas. “When we got to rehearsal, I would scrap whole pieces of dialogue because what these geniuses brought to it took it to a whole new level.”

As a team-building exercise the six comedians took to the stage, performing as The Commune in front of real audiences. Key and Birbiglia both come from improvisational backgrounds, and still turn to the medium when they need to kickstart their creativity.

“Improv has this idea that you can do anything if you play to the height of your own intelligence,” explains Birbiglia. “I can get up on stage and do standup and know that such-and-such bit will kill, or such-and-such bit will get laughs. But I think that’s refuting the idea that I’m a work in progress, as a performer. And so I believe in improv, and I try to engage it as a life philosophy.”

“Sometimes I need to throw my bag of tricks into the refuse bin,” Key goes on “Why not jump off the cliff and figure out on the way down what you need to figure out so you don’t die? That’s what helps you gather and generate new tricks.”

Once again, the topic turns to the concept of success: what it means, when has it been reached, and will it necessarily lead to a sense of satisfaction? That theme is explored thoroughly in Don’t Think Twice, as each member of The Commune is forced to re-evaluate choices they’ve made in their careers, or their values as artists. For all of the achievements already to their names, neither Birbiglia nor Key feel they’ve reached their ultimate goals yet. While Birbiglia could easily choose to only do stand-up the rest of his life as one of the field’s most acclaimed talents, he’s challenging himself to build a second career as a filmmaker. Key walked away from one of the most popular comedy shows on television to pursue new avenues as an entertainer.

“I’m 45 years old and only now am I getting comfortable in the medium that I’m in,” Key explains. “I’m a dramatic actor who found myself on a 19-year detour doing comedy—specifically sketch comedy. This was never my plan, but they say if you want to make God laugh, tell him you have plans. But I’m at a point where I’m being afforded opportunities to go back and do what I initially do with my career, and it’s as if I’m starting over again.”

“I set such high goals for myself in college that I haven’t reached them yet,” elaborates Birbiglia. “It’s silly, yes, I made my second feature, but at some point in college I’d said I wanted to make films like Woody Allen and James L. Brooks and Cameron Crowe. I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’m getting better. I think I’m going to peak in my 40s.”

“You are,” Key tells him, turning to him and speaking in a serious voice. “I can guarantee that.”

“I’m 38 now,” Birbiglia says, smiling. “Strap yourselves in, everyone. 2019 is going to be crazy!”


Don’t Think Twice opens in NYC on July 22nd. For opening dates in other cities, please check out the movie’s Facebook page.


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Junaid Syed
August 21st 2016