Give most any performer half a chance, and they’ll tell you how hard it is to be in show business. There’s the constant rejection, soul-crushing survival jobs and the unique hell of internet trolls. But Gillian Jacobs and Kate Micucci aren’t any performers. As they chiseled eccentric paths through the contemporary comedy landscape, both actresses have managed to keep their spirits high. And with the new showbiz dramedy “Don’t Think Twice,” the delightful duo finally had a chance to share the screen, much to our collective good fortune.
Written and directed by Mike Birbiglia, “Don’t Think Twice” centers on the improv The Commune. After years working together in a supportive and silly environment, the group and their dynamic are threatened as their comedy club is closing down, and one of their number gets a big break on a certain Saturday night sketch comedy show. Too many showbiz stories either mock the complaints of struggling artist, or over-romanticize their journeys to achieving their dreams or destruction. But the deft and insightful script by Birbiglia and the stellar chemistry of his ensemble — which includes not only Birbiglia, Micucci and Jacobs, but also Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Gethard and Tami Sagher — keeps the arc of each Commune member distinctive and humane.
Sitting down with Micucci and Jacobs in New York, IndieWire dug into these cheerful performers’ journeys to “making it.” For Micucci, the singer/musician/puppeteer first found internet fame as part of the musical/comedy duo, Garfunkel and Oates. With creative partner Riki Lindhome, she spun their catchy jokes about smug pregnant women, weed cards and gay boyfriends into a titular IFC series. On the other hand, Jacobs is a classically trained Julliard graduate who dug into drama before breaking through with the cult-adored sitcom “Community” and co-starring in Judd Apatow’s Netflix comedy “Love.”
As different as their paths to “Don’t Think Twice” are, both bubbly and bright stars share an inspiring determination to stay positive, even when someone says you have “Lego hair.” And when a moment of doubt does strike, there’s always the surprisingly solid life advice provided unwittingly by Micucci’s driver’s ed instructor.
Which “Don’t Think Twice” character’s journey do you most relate to?
Kate Micucci: I definitely relate to bits of every one, especially that hopeful feeling. I think that a lot of the group is really still thinking that it could still happen. And so I definitely relate to that part of it. I don’t know. I think that in performing, everybody’s path is so so different, that there’s nobody where I think, “Oh my god, that’s exactly what happened to me.” But I don’t know. (To Gillian) What do you think?
Gillian Jacobs: I think if you combined Jack (Key’s character) and Sam (her own character) into a blender–
Micucci: Oh, that’s good.
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Jacobs: Because I am definitely more ambitious than Sam, but I don’t think I’m as ambitious as Jack. Or I couldn’t get out of my own way in the way he’s able to clearly see and opportunity and capitalize on it. I feel like my path in this business is more like one thing, and then another thing, and then — “oh, that didn’t really work out the way I thought it would.”
There’s a moment in the film where one character considers kind of chucking the whole improv scene. Have you ever experienced a moment where you thought, “I just need to go do something else”?
Jacobs: I definitely remember a trip home to Pittsburgh at a very low point in my life and career, and just crying in my childhood bed, not knowing if–
Micucci: Did you think you’d maybe stay?
Jacobs: I didn’t know if I was going to stay. I just did not know what I was going to do with the rest of my life, or if I was ever going to make a living doing this. And you really just don’t know. There’s no way to know what’s going to happen.
Micucci: Yeah. Yeah, I think I’ve always had this optimism. I never questioned it ever. I’ve had times where I’ve joked like, “I’m going to move Vermont and become a painter.” And sometimes that joke felt like, “Oh that’s a good idea.” But it was only like a daydream for a moment to like escape. (Laughs.) It was never a real option.
Jacobs: But I think an amazing thing about Kate is that she has always self-generated material, art, puppets, songs. You’re constantly creating. I felt very stuck in waiting to be given and acting job, and not being productive, not being creative.
Micucci: I guess there is a difference there, where if I was having a bad day, I would just go make something. And then go share it. It would be hard to wait for that call. But I have been there too, waiting for that call. It is a little bit of a different thing.
Going back to those characters in the movie, I guess I would most relate to my character Allison, because she’s a cartoonist. She has another outlet.
Conversely, have you experienced a moment where you thought, “This is it. I’ve made it”?
Jacobs: “Community” changed my life and career in a really significant way. And of course there’d been a lot of things building up to it. But that was the first job where I was like, “I’m going to be okay. I think I’ll continue to work when this ends.”
Micucci: And you can pay the bills.
Jacobs: Yeah! But also just keep getting jobs. Because there were points in my acting career where I was like, “I don’t know if I’ll ever book a job ever again.” Like each one can feel like it’ll be the last. And after “Community,” I was like, “I think I’ll work. I don’t know what, or what level. But I think I’ll work.”
Micucci: I don’t know that I ever felt that. Maybe I haven’t. If you said it, I’d be like “I don’t know. I’m working on it!” (Laughs.) You know? For me there hasn’t been that one moment. Every year has just been a little more exciting and a little bit more interesting. It’s always been just a very gradual step each year for the past ten years.
Keegan told me that he thinks the Emmys broadening their focus to web series and streaming series is a really great way for inclusive representation to grow within the industry. What are your thoughts on that?
Micucci: I think it’s where everything is shifting to in a way. And also it’s just being able to put something out on your own, and having it be on the internet. Anybody can see it. So it’s just a way to put your work out there, and to have it get recognized is pretty crazy.
Jacobs: I agree!
Micucci: TV is the internet. That’d be a good bumper sticker.
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Speaking of the internet, how much positive interaction you’ve had with fans versus trolling?
Micucci: I just ignore the bad ones, more so on Youtube. When I started Garfunkel and Oates (with Riki Lindhome), I was not prepared for the terrible things people would say on Youtube. It was scary. Like I just couldn’t believe it. And then after a while — sadly — you just become immune to it. You’re just like, “Huh, okay.” I don’t even look at those anymore.
But there was a time in the beginning where I was like, “Oh my god! People are saying the worst things ever.” And funny things, like, “You have Lego hair,” which I do agree.
Jacobs: What does that mean?
Micucci: I have hair that looks like you could just take it off and plug a new style on. You know what I mean?
Jacobs: I don’t agree! I think you have beautiful hair.
Micucci: Thanks, Gil! Maybe if you’d seen it back in 2009. (Laughs)
Gillian, have you experienced any of that?
Jacobs: I have to say without Twitter, “Community” would have been cancelled. So I was really grateful for the fact that we had such well-organized fans. They were so well-organized that they would make a list of all the people who advertised during our show, and would write them tweets like, “We saw that you supported ‘Community’ with an ad. Thank you so much. I look forward to enjoying your product.”
Jacobs: I don’t think there’s any way we’d have made it six seasons without them. There’s no way. We’d have been cancelled after like the first two.
Micucci: That’s like a movement.
You took improv classes together to prepare for the film. What was that experience like?
Jacobs: Oh my gosh. Kate and I were the two in the cast who had never done improv before!
Kate, had you never done it before? I’d read you had.
Micucci: Well, I took a 101 class back in 2006.
Jacobs: Oh, I didn’t realize that. You had a leg up on me!
Micucci: (Laughs) I barely recalled any of it. I’d never continued with it. You didn’t know that I’d–
Jacobs: (Mock outrage) No. (Micucci laughs.) Well, now I’m putting myself in a very special category: The only one in the film who’d never taken an improv class. (Laughs.)
Micucci: Well, you were fine. You were great. Basically — this is the thing about Gil — I looked at Gil, and go, “Okay, we’ve never done this.” Okay, now I sound like I’m lying. (Jacobs laughs.) I only did a 101 on Santa Monica Boulevard in 2006. But I looked at Gil, and I’m like, “We’re in this together.” And then (looks to Jacobs), you just hit the ground running. And I’m like “Eh-ge-ge-guh!” I don’t know how you spell “Eh-ge-ge-guh!“
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Gillian, what was it like for you, diving into improv for the first time?
Jacobs: It was both terrifying and exciting. I think it’s that thing, why people perform, because when it’s going well, it’s the best thing in the world. So when we would have moments on stage at UCB doing a show, and something is going great, and the audience is really responding, and we are all having fun, it was electrifying. And you get why people get so obsessed with it. And then when you do something that doesn’t go over very well, it’s so embarrassing.
Micucci: It is addicting though, because I think even when it doesn’t go well — more my experience just being onstage and not so much improv specific — but I bomb, I want to get back up there, figure it out and try to right my wrongs. I want to do it again so that’s not my last go. So it is addicting in that way too, where you’re like, “Well, that one didn’t go well. I’ll try again.” Live audiences. Gil did a lot of theater. Do you love the live audiences?
Jacobs: I miss it. That’s why I do things like (the old-school radio show) “The Thrilling Adventure Hour,” where Kate and I – -did we ever do that together? Or were we just there around the same time?
Micucci: I don’t think we’ve ever done it together.
Jacobs: Yeah? Or I’ve done these one-day Shakespeare benefit performances or 24-hour play festival. I’ve really jumped at those chances to be in front of a live audience again, because there really is nothing like it. And it’s fun to feel nervous like that (turns to Kate), you know?
Jacobs: It’s fun to feel scared in that way. So, I’d like to do a play again.
Micucci: Do you want to start a two-person improv team?
Jacobs: No! (Micucci chuckles) No more improv!
One of the themes in the film is professional jealousy. Is that something you’ve experienced?
Micucci: I’m very oblivious when that’s happening towards me.
Jacobs: You haven’t noticed when people have been jealous of you?
Micucci: Yeah. But also, for me there’s not been that quick turn of fortune. I think all of my friends have gone on the ride with me. I don’t know.
Jacobs: I try to have a very well-rounded group of friends that did a lot of different things and weren’t just performers. Because I feel like there’s both less feeling of competitiveness, and it put my own career in perspective. Because when you only hang out with performers, you start to feel like movies and TV and comedy is everything. Especially being in LA, where it feels like you walk into a coffee shop and you see 15 laptops with screenplays being written.
But it’s hard when you really want something and someone else gets it. I’d say in most cases looking back now, I understand why I didn’t get it. I always try to have a bigger picture view of my career. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t cry about not getting jobs. But your agents and your managers will always say stuff to you like, “It’s really important to make a good first impression on a casting director. And even though you didn’t get that job, because you did well that means they’ll keep bringing you back in.” But when you really just need a job to pay your rent, that stops being very consoling.
Micucci: But also that’s not your personality either. Like I don’t think that’s your go-to. I’m sure there are people who are more likely to think like that. But you’re really more grounded.
Jacobs: Oh, that’s nice.
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Micucci: And just a sweet soul. So it’s not like you’re going to be like (affecting cranky witch voice), “I’m going to get that person.”
Jacobs: You’re very sweet. I do remember there was one girl that I used to audition with when I was in New York. I can’t even name names because I don’t remember her name. But I noticed that she would do this thing. At auditions, you sign in in the order you arrived. And a lot of times a casting director will come out and be like, “Kate, you’re up next.” And you’re like, “Okay, I’m up next. I’m really looking at the sides.” And I noticed that every time someone would do that, that girl would walk over and sit down next to the person who was going to be up next, and start talking to them to distract them before they went in.
I remember it was after I realized that, that I was at an audition, and the waiting area was this big, big warehouse space. It was this huge room. People were all over. They said, “Gillian, you’re up next.” And I was like, “Okay. I’m going to walk to this far corner. Nobody else is there. Let’s see if she finds a way to come over.” And sure enough–
Jacobs: (Nods) She crossed the entire floor to come sit down next to me. But somehow because I had figured out what she was doing, it didn’t have any effect on me anymore. And I booked that job. But I think the last time I saw her was at my first audition for “Community.” And she was kind of doing it in the room. But I was so sick that day that I couldn’t focus on anything but no throwing up.
It sounds like the two of you pull through what is a very tough career path by just staying positive and focusing on the upside of things.
Micucci: This is going to sound funny. But there’s this thing that my driver’s ed teacher would always say: Stay in your lane. Stay in your lane.
Jacobs: That’s a great motto!
Micucci: He was applying it to a very practical thing, which is driving. But I constantly think that to myself with work and acting, because if you stay in your lane and you do the thing that you do, no one else is going to do it the way that you do. And no one else can! So it’ll work out. Just staying in your lane and not worrying about what other people are doing. There have been times where I lost a job or whatever, and I think, “Okay, well that’s just not part of my lane.”
Jacobs: I also think the more experienced you get as an actor, you start to hear the conversations about why people get cast and not cast, sometimes it’s so arbitrary. They decided the moment you walked in the door. And there’s nothing you could have done to sway them, even if you’d the greatest performance of all time. And you stop taking it so deeply personally. Have you felt that way?
Micucci: I think maybe just getting older is like that too. You know what I mean?
Micucci: Not that you care less, but that you care in a different way. Like–
Jacobs: –like that was never going to happen. No matter how deeply I felt connected to that part, or I’m sure that was mine. You’re just like, “Oh, I was never going to get that part.”
“Don’t Think Twice” opens Friday, July 22.