“Don’t Think Twice”: Envy in the Improv Community


I recently saw the movie “Don’t Think Twice” written and directed by Mike Birbiglia about an improv team that goes through some changes and while it was an enjoyable movie, I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again. Why not? The emotional roller coaster of that movie was too much to handle. The subject matter, the journey, the characters are all so close to my heart that watching them go through it made my heart ache so much. There were parts of every character that I could relate to or identify with.

In the movie, they are all part of an ensemble called The Commune, who has been together for 11 years when they get the news that their improv home, the place they’ve been the big fish in the small pond for ELEVEN years is closing. I’ve only been on improv teams that have been together for a year, max, and in that amount of time, we grew very, very close, that even imaging what it would be like to have a team dissolve that had been together that long brought out deep, if quiet, sobs from the bottom of my soul.

THEN they go on to experience something that all actors, if you stay in the game long enough, experience; deep, deep jealousy and envy. Two of the characters, played by Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs land an audition for “Weekend Live”, the movie’s version of “Saturday Night Live”, while their teammates don’t. When Keegan gets cast on the show and misses improv shows, isn’t available for his girlfriend, and struggles with whether or not to hand over his friends writing samples to his boss, it sends their world spinning. A few times a year at iO West, UCB, Second City and the Groundlings, SNL asks for showcases of all of the talent the theatres have to offer and everyone puts on 3-5 minutes of their best work, hoping and praying that they get that call. OF COURSE, we are all happy and excited for those who do get the call, but it’s not always easy to stay in that mindset. I’d be lying if I said I’d never reacted poorly to someone else’s great news. We’re all human. At least, I’m human. If we’re not all human, maybe don’t tell me, because I have a good handle on ghosts now, but aliens and robots, I’m not ready to deal with.

2016-09-18-17_10_10-elizabethmihelicharticle9-protected-view-wordWhen you’ve been around for awhile, like I have, you see people start to succeed, like really, really succeed. I LOVE seeing my friends succeed. I honestly and truly LOVE when they win an Emmy, or are featured on a billboard on Sunset that I walk by every day as I head to my serving job. I know you don’t believe me now, after I wrote the above paragraphs, but I really do. Recently, while walking down Sunset, I came across my friend Desi Lydic, on The Daily Show billboard. It’s a GREAT Billboard! It brings my heart so much joy. I texted her immediately that I thought she was the best part of the picture that she was the only one who really seemed committed to the idea. She’s so funny.

Look at her! She’s SO intense!

When Eric Stonestreet, who was one of my first improv coaches, won an Emmy for Modern Family, I stood up and applauded in my living room! I haven’t seen Eric regularly over the years, but because of the nature of improv, how open and vulnerable you have to be, I still feel like we are really close.

I find myself behaving that way towards a lot of people I’ve been lucky enough to do improv with. Chris Tallman, world’s greatest dad on The Thundermans is easily one of my favorite people I’ve ever done improv with. I can recall one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done in improv and it was with Chris. His attention to detail, with the fanny pack that he was wearing in the scene is something I’ll never forget. But, when I see him post that his show got picked up for another season my heart literally soars.

I ran into Amy Procacci the other day, she and I went through iO West’s Levels 1-6 together (because we’re old and back then there were only 6 levels), and when we saw one another it was like no time had passed at all. We delighted in one another’s career successes, our own individual paths, though I was a little jealous of her great group of friends she had!

“Don’t Think Twice” affected me so much because its got every fear, outburst and personality conflict that happens between actors, all in one movie. Watching it in that theatre, I was squirming in my seat because I knew what that felt like. I could imagine myself too scared to go to the audition for “Weekend Live” like Gillan’s character was. I felt sucker punched in the stomach when the girl Mike Birbiglia brought back to his basement loft left in a huff exclaiming, “You’re almost 40!” and I could just imagine the guilt that you would feel when you got hired and your best friends didn’t so you’d actually hide the fact that you got the job, like Tami Sagher’s character did.

Ugh. So many parts of this business are tough. I want to make a pact with each and every one of you, right now. I pledge to only be happy, supportive and to celebrate every, single, one of your wins, even if I’m having a bad day. Even when I don’t get the part and you do, when I don’t get placed on a Harold team and you do, I will celebrate and post sweet nothings on your Facebook wall, because the alternative, that feeling I felt while watching “Don’t Think Twice” is not a feeling I want to get comfortable with.

Staying focused on yourself and helping others celebrate their wins will inevitably bring more joy, happiness and success into your own world. Just as Mr. Stonestreet said in his 2012 EMMY acceptance speech, “I want to share this with every actor out there who has an audition tomorrow at 5 o’clock in Santa Monica, I went to every one of them and I never missed one. I’m proof that if you do that and stick to your craft and be motivated and positive that you can stand up here in front of all you beautiful people. Thank you very much.”

Listen to Eric’s speech here.

THANK YOU to everyone who has been a part of my improv journey, family and experience. If one day I run up to you and embrace you like we’re best friends, just say “Yes, and.” and go about your day. ☺