by Adam Kaplan –
Mike Birbiglia isn’t terribly funny.
However, he will be the first one to admit that to you. In one of his most famous stand-up bits, Birbiglia re-tells the story of being part of a celebrity foursome in a charity golf outing- and he was the celebrity. He wasn’t that well-known at the time (he still probably isn’t?) and since he didn’t have any prepared bits, he wasn’t terribly funny during the outing. Birbiglia recounts how embarrassed he was that someone donated a lot of money to charity to play golf with an unfunny and unknown person. Even though Birbiglia is recounting a time in which he wasn’t funny, he’s still telling a funny story. That’s the basis of his stand-up career. Mike Birbiglia doesn’t have one-liners or thirty second set ups with a payoff and a tag, certainly not the way comedy works now, but he does tell very funny stories. He’s a born storyteller. That’s why he’s been so successful as a stand-up comedian, and that is why the transition from stand up to movie maker has been so fluent and easy for him.
Birbiglia’s first film is a semi-autobiographical one entitled Sleepwalk With Me. It tells the story of how a young man, played by Birbiglia himself, gets into stand-up comedy and hones his skill while dealing with a relationship he doesn’t really want to be in. The film is co-directed with a friend of Birbiglia’s seeing as this was the first time Birbiglia wrote, starred, and directed a full-length motion picture. Kudos to the former stand-up for realizing that moviemaking is really hard and giving himself a safety blanket just in case.
Despite how overwhelmed Birbiglia may have felt going into Sleepwalk With Me, the final project turned out wonderfully. It’s more of a drama than a comedy, which would have been a surprise coming from any other stand-up comedian besides Mike Birbiglia, but as the man admits to, he is not terribly funny. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its laughable moments, it most certainly does, and it’s a great little Indie drama about trying to make it in comedy.
That is a theme that seems to be near and dear to his heart, as Mike Birbiglia’s sophomore film Don’t Think Twice is about the same thing. Produced by This American Life’s Ira Glass and written and directed exclusively by Birbiglia, Don’t Think Twice follows six improvisational actors, part of a group called The Commune, as they navigate the world of semi-underground comedy in New York City. The Commune is clearly meant to be a version of L.A.’s The Groundlings or Chicago’s Second City / Improv Olympics. The Commune is a long standing comedy improv troupe that’s also a breeding ground for Saturday Night Live (or Weekend Live as it’s called in the film).
The Commune is filled with six people who clearly love comedy and love improv, and they are great at what they do. But when the producers of Weekend Live come to see a show, two of the members are called in for an audition and one of them eventually gets the gig. The film deals with the fall out of that both internally within the group and within each member of The Commune. It’s a fantastic experience to be a fly on the wall watching a slice of life you only hear about years later on a WTF with Marc Maron podcast. Even if you’re not a comedy nerd like myself, Don’t Think Twice is still a fun Indie flick relatable to all people about moving on with your life.
Like Sleepwalk With Me, Don’t Think Twice is more of a drama than a comedy, despite the films being set in the comedy world. But that’s just who Mike Birbiglia is. A funny guy who loves to tell interesting stories. Since the man spent years perfecting his storytelling on stage, both of Birbiglia’s films are fully formed right out of the gate (despite the low production value). While Don’t Think Twice may not be as autobiographical as his previous film or stand up bits, it’s still the perfect story to tell coming from Mike Birbiglia.