Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: Don’t Think Twice

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Don’t Think Twice (The Film Arcade)

Written & Directed by Mike Birbiglia

Starring Keegan-Michael KeyGillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Kate MicucciChris Gethard & Tami Sagher

It’s been proven that it’s hard to make a successful drama about comedy (or comedians) because the audience doesn’t know what to expect. Don’t Think Twice is a movie about funny people. The situations aren’t comedic but the characters in those situations are. It is a very good movie but as with all dramas about comedy; The King of Comedy, Jo Jo Dancer, Funny People, Obvious Child or Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me, it is a hard sell. It is a hard sell because it’s easy to expect a laugh a minute from these movies and be disappointed. Because serious movies about comedians are usually kind of depressing. Show me a comedian who isn’t quietly in pain and I’ll show you someone who only thinks that they’re funny. Don’t Think Twice handles this contradiction beautifully. The director Mike Birbiglia knows the subject well and does an excellent job of bringing it to the screen. Don’t Think Twice is really funny when it’s funny, but still really good when it’s not.

Verdict: SPARED

Don’t Think Twice is a movie about the skill of comedy improv and about a comedy troop of six friends. Each one, dreaming of success. And success for them is presented here as a call up to the show. (The Show is a baseball term for making it to the major leagues). “The Show” is an SNL type comedy called Weekend Live. They all dream about it. They all know someone who made it. And it all feels very real. Don’t Think Twice stars a bunch of funny people. Some stand-up comedians, some sketch comedy veterans, but all of them amazingly good in this as it hits close to home.

Mike Birbiglia plays the elder statesman of a group of twenty something actors. He was their improv teacher and he performs with the six-man crew at a little theater that charges five dollars for a chance to see extremely likable people make it up as they go along. It’s very cool. I wish I could do stuff like that. I love making people laugh.

One of the best things about Don’t Think Twice is that it is scripted. Completely scripted. I hate when directors turn the cameras on and let funny people wing it. As a writer (god I still call myself that), it’s insulting and it’s a continuity killer and stops the story in its tracks. In basketball it’s like passing the ball to a ball hog. You’re not getting the ball back without a fight. (a basketball is the big orange one that makes watching TV in March unbearable). I don’t know how this review became about sports but I’m just going to roll with it (like in bowling).

In Don’t Think Twice the theme is team work, one of the hallmarks of good improv. But as the group begins to compete to impress talent scouts, the idea of “Yes and…” (a central tenet of improv) becomes “No. But…” and the movie becomes a great example of how competition ruins friendships. Just like in sports, there is no I in team (a team is a group of athletes who work together to score points and win the game). Don’t Think Twice also shows us how not to act when a close friend succeeds and we don’t. And also how something like unilateral success can affect romantic relationships as well. Don’t Think Twice is a very good movie about the life of the show-biz adjacent.

Don’t Think Twice is wonderful. Great performances, great writing… and it’s very funny. It can’t help but be funny, it is about and it stars very funny people. But Don’t Think Twice is not a comedy. It is a great drama. There is pain behind the laughter and it’s beautifully performed. Keenan-Michael Key is fantastic, as is Gillian Jacobs as his girlfriend. I really loved Gillian in Community, but honestly everything she’s done since has been fantastic. I loved her on Girls. I love her in this. And the Netflix show Love (two seasons so far) is phenomenal. I love her in Love… love, love, love.

And Mike Birbiglia handles both of his jobs extremely well, directing and acting. I really like his direction here. You can tell it’s personal for him, and for all of them.

When you pull the drama mask from the actor, you find a professional at work. Someone who may be nothing like the characters they play.

When you pull the comedy mask from the fool, you find a comedian in pain. Someone who needs to make people laugh in order to keep from crying.

Don’t Think Twice is a funny drama. But make no mistake it is a drama. And also it’s very funny.  It is a beautiful, low-budget drama about show business and comedy and friendship and improv and varying degrees of success. And I enjoyed it profusely. It’s a really really good movie.

– Mel

Talk Shows – Variety Shows (Top Ten TV Mega Post Part Six)

The Mega Post continues with Part Six: Talk Shows

Most people, according to talk shows, get their news from talk shows. I don’t. I get my news from twitter like a sane person. But if you want to get a feel for what’s going on in the world all you have to do is listen to a late night talk show host try to make it into a joke. And then listen to the audience’s reaction.

Kristen Bell

I don’t watch TV live. More accurately, I don’t watch pre-recorded shows when they air. The only things I watch when they air are things that are LIVE when they air. I watch the news live. I watch sports live. I watch award shows live (and that’s about it). Everything else I record, Tivo, DVR (it’s a verb), wait for DVD, Download, find online and watch later…

Rhianna SNLHowever, the exception to this rule is the talk show. They aren’t really live. Most of them are taped in front of studio audiences in LA or New York at around 5 or 6 pm EST and broadcast six hours later. But what happens is, sometimes… sometimes a talk show is so juicy. A guest is so current or a news event is so interesting, that I have to watch a talk show when it airs. It just won’t wait.

Cher DeNiro Pfeiffer Saunders Norton

I grew up on Johnny Carson and I was into Letterman when I was in college. Me and my friends would smoke a bowl and watch Dave (it’s a cliché but there’s a reason it’s a cliché). However, even though a talk show is only as good as its guests, there are those rare shows that are even better when nobody good is on. The hosts and the comedy and the band more than make up for it.

So, here are ten talk shows where it does not matter to me who the guest is. I’m gonna watch it. And sometimes, if someone good is on, I even watch it live.

to the list…

First – my new favorite talk show…

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

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Hosted by John Oliver

30 minutes

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is the newest talk show on the list. He talks about current events. He does comedy bits. Shows some video clips. He has the occasional guest and even a band or two. But it is the host and the writers that make this show great. John Oliver is very funny. Very cute. And very likeable. His smile is infectious. And he doesn’t shy away from the big subjects. Hell, I think he’s tackled a major issue head on in every single show. Good job.

John Oliver

“In fairness, the world is pretty fucked up right now.”

John Oliver was one of my favorite correspondents on the Daily Show who really came into his own when he filled in for Jon Stewart who had left to make a movie. John Oliver was spectacular pinch-hitting. And even when Stewart came back, you could feel it. Oliver was different. He was just as good as Stewart and everybody felt it. They had to give that man his own show.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

And now that he’s on HBO, he doesn’t have to watch his language. He can go past the line of too controversial for standard cable. And since he’s only on once a week, he can pack a show with a weeks worth of comedy goodness. Recently he did a song about the prison crisis in the US with puppets that was pure genius dealing with rape and prison mortality and cost saving inhumane budget cuts and low-level drug offenses becoming a death sentence. It was amazing and he’s going to get an Emmy. Great show.

Watch it. Re-watch it. Share it. John Oliver does amazing work.

Next…

@midnight (Chris Hardwick/The Nerdist)

Chris Hardwick

Hosted by Chris Hardwick

22 minutes

I’ve only been a Chris Hardwick fan for maybe the last 3 or 4 years. But now I listen to the Nerdist podcast religiously. I like the questions Chris asks and the detail they go into with their guests. I really enjoy the “hostful” shows when they have no guest on and Chris and his two cohorts (Matt Myra and Jonah Ray) riff off of each other and talk about real life stuff. (Pretty much anything). A great set of guys.

The Nerdist

They did a show at the end of last year (2013) that some fans complained about because it was so serious and it dealt with loss and loneliness but I think it was the best hour of entertainment and information and emotional honesty I had experienced that entire year. I would love for them to take that show and transcribe it and bring it to the stage. I know there was a lot of “realness” there and it is hard to do that, but if great actors played the four roles (Chris’s GF joined in to the discussion) it would be a powerful and successful play about friendship, loss, love, and Christmas. (The feeeeeels… honestly I think I cried four times during that episode) Great stuff.

@midnight

But Hardwick also hosts talk shows (and that’s what this post is about). He had four at one point and now he has two and possibly a third. @midnight, a very funny show where comedians come on to make jokes about social media and pop culture. And also Talking Dead where cast members and other celebrities talk about The Walking Dead (One of my favorite shows). And most recently he hosted a Doctor Who after show called After Who which I hope continues all season.

Here’s a segment from Talking Dead with Lauren Cohan and Sonequa Martin-Green…

Watch him. Listen to him. Follow him. Chris does outstanding work and I think it’s because he comes across as genuine, egoless and pure hearted… and you can’t fake that shit.

The man is one of my hero.

Next…

The Soup Live with Joel McHale (E!)

Joel McHale

Hosted by Joel McHale

22 minutes

I don’t watch reality TV… but I love the Soup on E! (Now The Soup Live!). It shows the worst (or the best – depending on how you look at it) of reality and daytime talk and even news and niche channels. It condenses a week’s worth of the funniest clips and allows me to see and know the references that everyone talks about without having to watch those god-awful shows that are destroying society.

The Soup

Reality Shows are a big part of what’s destroying society. It’s the Glorification of bad behavior. So when Joel McHale rips them a new one for some outrageous act or racist comment or train wreck of an over-share. I laugh my ass off. I guess it makes me feel better about myself. Mostly because these people are so self-absorbed, superficial and short-sighted that I feel sorry for them.

Here’s a Soup short called Comedians in Cars getting Cocaine…

But even while adults like me pity them, kids want to be them. Kids who don’t see that these pseudo-celebrities are miserable people. That you can try to collect all the superficial crap and money and fame and stuff and it will never fill the hole left from having no personality, no self-awareness, no emotional maturity or human compassion, self-respect or a fucking soul. (end of rant)

The Soup - Season: 9

But watch The Soup. (Because these idiots are fun to laugh at)

Next – The Great One…

Late Show with David Letterman (CBS)

Robin Williams David Letterman

Hosted by David Letterman

62 minutes (with commercials)

I started watching David Letterman when he was on NBC after Carson. And I watched him for the band. David Letterman has the best band in late night TV history.

Late Show with David Letterman

I love it when Paul Shaffer and The World’s Most Dangerous Band (or The CBS Orchestra or whatever they’re calling themselves), plays with the musical guest. Because other than that we only heard them for the opening song, the end song and before and after commercial breaks and that was it. The band is amazing. The band was nasty from the beginning. The drummer; Anton Fig, and the bass player; Will Lee, are two of the best around. And they’ve had a host of great guitarists and then a horn section that’s just filthy. And frequent guests who would sit in with the band. Seriously, I started watching David Letterman’s show for the band.

The President with Dave

But I also enjoyed his interviews. Mostly because he doesn’t take shit from anyone. A lot of people don’t like him because they say he’s mean to his guest. But if you watch, he is professional and respectful until they cross the line or try to make fun of him and then he lets them have it. And I love him for that.

Here he is interviewing Emma Watson from 2009…

Watch him while he’s still here. (When I was in college it was a nightly ritual to roll up a fatty and watch Letterman. I am sad to see him go. End of an era)

Next – Let’s get stylish…

Fashion Police with Joan Rivers (E!)

Fashion Police Cast

Hosted by Joan Rivers with Kelly OsbourneGeorge Kotsiopoulos & Giuliana Rancic

60 minutes

I’ve been a fan of fashion since High School. And I know Fashion Police concentrates more on celebrity fashion but I love it anyway and I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m a big fan of award shows already, but the red carpet pre-shows (just showing the celebrities arriving) have become these amazing celebrity fashion shows and that’s just awesome.

Fashion Police Banner

I have never been a fan of runway models showing clothes. You could roll out the clothing on a hanger and it’s pretty much the same thing (sorry ladies but it’s very cookie cutter). I like seeing the designs on real people. Beautiful people – yes – but with real bodies. To me, award shows are the best fashion shows. Hands down.

Fashion Police

So every week Joan Rivers and friends cover every major fashion worthy event in the world and they critique the styles and the different celebrities and then Joan makes fun of them in that Joan Rivers way that some people call mean but I think is plain funny. At least once a show she makes me spit out my coffee. I like Joan (she should have gotten The Tonight Show after Carson… I’m just saying). She is very funny. Although she is better with writers than without them because she tends to repeat herself (I’m still just saying).

Here she is destroying Justin Bieber…

Watch it. (I love this show and I shouldn’t even call watching Fashion Police a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure)

Next…

Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)

Bill Maher

Hosted by Bill Maher

60 minutes

I love this HBO political chat show even if I think the host is a horse’s ass. Bill Maher is one of those guys who thinks he’s smarter than he is (takes one to know one).

Bill Maher and Dr Tyson

He is often overmatched in political discussions and allows his guests to talk circles around him. He is slow on the uptake (too much weed maybe) and even though I agree with many of his views, he has little idea on how to articulate them. It’s infuriating.

Bill Maher and Jay Z

But I still watch and on occasion he has a good panel, or just a panel that includes a smart liberal who can answer the repeated talking points on the right. And his New Rules segment can be really funny at times and always ends with a well-written rant. (Thank god for the writers… right Bill)

(Can’t embed your videos, Bill? Well screw you, sir)

Watch him anyway. (I’ll be over here yelling at the screen)

Next… Live from New York

Saturday Night Live (NBC)

Anne Hathaway

Hosted by a lot of very cool people through the years

93 minutes

I know it’s not a talk show. It’s a variety show. But there is a guest (sometimes more than one) and a musical act and a house band (a pretty good house band that was once led by the great Paul Shaffer) and comedy bits and jokes based on the news. So it has all the essential elements. I’ve watched SNL from the beginning.

SNL Original Cast

When I was a kid I would pretend to go to bed and then wake up and sneak watch it. Through the seventies and eighties it was all we talked about Monday at school. And though it has gone through some crappy periods. And shitty line-ups as well as writers, there were resurgent years and many great people who came through the cast and the writer’s room. Many many great people.

Saturday Night Live

The newest cast members (especially the women) are insanely funny and depending on the guest host, the show can feel just like it did when it was at the top of its game.

Jennifer Lawrence

But whether or not a show is good really has more to do with the host than anything else.

Here’s Louis C.K. on Black Jeopardy…

Watch it. It’s getting better. (Just no more Justin Bieber hosting… I beg you)

Next…

The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)

Stephen Colbert

Hosted by Stephen Colbert

22 minutes

In the last year of the Colbert Report (Stephen is taking over for the departing David Letterman) Stephen has softened a bit. His on-screen alter ego (with the same name) has gotten him into trouble and he has pushed the line a bit with his character’s uncomfortable views on race. However, he still has the best writers on TV. And he is one of the best deadpan comedians working. And no one is better at showing the absurdity of the right and the right-wing pundits on Fox News.

The Colbert Report

But for a talk show host, Stephen Colbert gives the worst interviews. They are the worst. The man is a genius (literally), so he is often able to use his persona to get his point across during the interviews (especially with right-wingers) but most of the time he fails and really only succeeds in being disrespectful to his guest. Because of this, I can’t stand his “Better Know a District” series. They are the most cringe inducing interviews of elected officials since The Ali G Show.

Stephen Colbert 2

And I love Stephen as a performer. I really love his voice work on Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law and on SNL (The Ambiguously Gay Duo). He is one of my favorite performers and I’m excited to see what he does with the Letterman time-slot and if people still like him once he drops the act. (Or if he even does)

Here he is addressing the #CancelColbert movement…

Watch his show while he’s still around. (He has the best writing staff on TV)

Next – we go across the pond…

The Graham Norton Show (BBC America)

Graham Norton

Hosted by Graham Norton

50 minutes

I love this British talk show because it throws a wrench into the one guest at a time classic talk show format and has all the guests come out at once and one by one Graham asks them a question each enabling the other guests to chime in on the discussion.

Depp Gervais

Graham Norton is an incredibly likeable host and the show’s open interview free-for-all is fantastic and even when I don’t recognize a guest or particularly like one, the other two celebs are always there to spice things up.

Lopez someguyidontknow Gillan

The Graham Norton Show is rarely if ever dull.

Graham Norton 2

The music guests are often very Britpop and most of the time I have no idea who they are. But then he ends the show with audience stories that are usually enjoyable and if they aren’t there’s a lever he can pull that flips their chair over and sends them away.

Here is a crazy conversation featuring Kylie Minogue, Russell Crowe, Cameron Diaz and Richard Ayoade that is hysterical…

Love it.

Lastly…

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (CBS)

Craig Ferguson and Geoff the Robot

Hosted by Craig Ferguson

40 minutes

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson features the funniest side-kick in late night, Geoff the Robot. And a host; Craig Ferguson, who doesn’t play by your rules, man.

Craig and friends

I remember early in the show’s run when the fire marshal told him he couldn’t light a sparkler without a fireman present and he thought that was ludicrous and ridiculous, so he lit it anyway and lost his permit to have an open flame on the set. So that he couldn’t have cooking segments for years. And the only reason he did it was because they told him he couldn’t. That’s Craig Ferguson in a nutshell. He does not give a fuck and it’s not an act. And that’s why I watch the show. (And he’s also a big Doctor Who fan… so there’s that)

Karen Gillan

But his sidekick, Geoff; a robot, is the funniest, quickest, most entertaining sidekick in late night history (sorry Andy Richter). And that’s why I love it. From the songs that they make up on the spot, to the voices, to the running gags, it is just plain madness.

Craig Ferguson

There’s no band. So Instead two guys in a horse costume come out and dance during commercials. It is the silliest and craziest thing I have enjoyed seeing on TV since the old UHF channel 68 (before cable) Uncle Floyd Show in New York. Craig says he’s leaving with Letterman at the end of the year. Say it ain’t so, Craig. We are going to miss you.

Here’s a Doctor Who themed show opening song that never aired…

Watch Craig while you still can.

And that’s ten…

Now you may have noticed that one of my all-time favorite shows is not on the list.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)

The Daily Show

I love Jon’s work. And I’m a long-time fan of his show. Though I get angry with him sometimes for trying to show both sides of an argument that doesn’t have two sides. He tries to placate his critics on the right and he gives too much credit to people like Bill O’Reilly and viewers who hate-watch his show.

But he’s fallen off of this list because of a noticeable drop in quality as he has lost many of his long-time writers and several of his best correspondents. (John Oliver’s departure left a huge creative hole in the show and it shows) And now with Colbert leaving the channel as well, I wonder if Stewart will be able to keep up even this reduced quality. Or if he will instead hand The Daily Show reins over to someone else… Chris Hardwick perhaps.

Points

But these are just my top ten. So don’t get me wrong, I’d still watch Fallon or Kimmel or Seth Meyers or Conan if someone interesting were on but none of those guys are breaking any new ground. They’re doing Letterman’s act. Even if you asked them they would tell you that they were all doing a fresher version of Letterman. Letterman Jr. And like I said I grew up on Dave and Johnny. So I already know what they’re going to do. I already know the punchlines before they deliver them. I already know the questions before they ask them. So guys, try to surprise me or I’m just going to be bored. (Okay? Good talk)

And in the end we’ve learned two things: A talk show is only as good as its host. And there are not enough women in late night. (News or Talk Shows). What’s up with that?

Drama is up next.

Bring on the drama.

– Mel

Jails, Judges & Jokes

I enjoy making judges laugh.

I guess that’s a weird thing to say isn’t it.

But when you’ve been homeless and a drug users as long as I have, and have impulse control problems (and are mentally ill. But of course I didn’t realize it back then because I was always high or drunk, literally self-medicating) you find yourself in front of judges often. (Usually after a day or two in a cell)

And if you’re like me and you take absolutely nothing seriously and you like making people crack up in intense situations, you try to make the courtroom laugh.

Not a hard thing to do really.

In a tension filled room, a properly timed and appropriately short, respectful and funny comment said loud enough so that everyone can hear can cause the entire room to explode with laughter.

Okay maybe not easy for everyone but it’s easy for me. I’ve been doing shit like that all my life. But if you can make the judge laugh as well then you’ve done something.

There’s a line, a few lines actually, that you cannot cross. So much so that it’s better to not say anything than to do it wrong.

Firstly, it can’t seem like you’re making a joke. Self-defacing humor is good. An epic exaggeration is good. If you can throw in the fact that you just spent 2 days in a holding cell that’s always good too.

Secondly, it has to come organically meaning you can’t ask to speak just to tell your joke. You have to wait until you have been asked a direct question and it has to seem like it’s sort of the answer to the question.

Thirdly, and very important you cannot laugh or smile at your own joke. Especially if it goes over well. A well placed “I’m sorry” during the laughter is a good idea and a good humble statement right after is also a good practice.

Lastly, speak the hell up. Everyone has to hear you and hear the humbling statement afterward in the silence. You have gotten everyone’s attention. Say something sweet and humble.

Then shut the hell up and lower your eyes. You’ve won over the room & you’ve made the judge actually look at you, quite possibly like you. Don’t spoil that by showing ANY EGO.

Trust me. I’ve been arrested more times than I can count and I have never spent an hour in prison (hell, with my ego and my temper I wouldn’t survive a day).

But after several trips to court, the last guy kind of blew my whole act up and basically said If you come before a judge again (it will be me and) I will send you to prison. I don’t care why.

I think I made him like me too much. So he wanted to help me. And He did really. I haven’t been arrested since. I guess that’s all I needed to hear.

“You’re charming. You’re funny. You’re going to prison.”

“Huh?”

“Because I like you, I’m sending you to prison.”

“Oh.”

You know who else I like to make laugh?

Surgeons.

Right before they’re going to work on me. I like to break the entire operating room up. Somewhere between the gurney & the table I’m doing schtick.

So that just as I’m going under I’m thinking: “Everybody in this room likes me, I’ll be just fine.”

I haven’t died in surgery once.

I guess what I’m trying to say is; If someone holds your life in their hands, make ’em laugh.

– Mel