Mike Birbiglia Says 'Don't Think Twice' Is 'Fictional' but Keegan Michael Key Says the Jealousy Was Real in His Career

The filmmaker and actors talk about the struggles of seeing your peers succeed.

Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty

While Mike Birbiglia’s new movie, Don’t Think Twice, about a struggling improv group, fits perfectly in sequence with the first semi-autobiographical film he wrote/directed/starred in, Sleepwalk With Me, Don’t Think Twice is “oddly not autobiographical. It is fictional,” Birbiglia told PEOPLE at the NYC premiere of the film.

At the same time, it is extremely factual for one of the stars of the film, Keegan-Michael Key. “It’s pretty accurate,” he told PEOPLE when asked how close the storyline came to his real life.

The film is about a group of 30-something best friends, who are also the members of an improv group, confronting the idea that not everyone will make it when one of them climbs the ranks to a fictional version of Saturday Night Live, leaving everyone else behind. The Key and Peele star played the character who made it, and could relate, he thinks, to the jealousy and resentment that ensued.

“The part about the friends being very resentful about their friend getting the job, that part I don’t know about because I think there were people shielding me from that,” Key said. But he’s sure it happened. “Everyone was like, ‘we’re so happy you got the job,’ and then, [turns his back to us] ‘this freaking hack, why did he get the job?’ But I never heard any of that. I’m sure it happened, because humans are humans but I never experienced it. I’m lucky I guess?” The Emmy nominee could be referring to when he got cast on MadTV in 2004.

While he plays the resentful friend convincingly in the film, Birbiglia would not have been one of the guys talking behind Key’s back. “I’m generally excited when people who are good make things that I like,” he told PEOPLE.

But that doesn’t mean people don’t wish they had what others had sometimes, as Key said, we’re humans. “The parts that are true to life are the feelings of it. The feeling of jealousy, the feeling of wanting to have someone else’s cherry picked things that people have in their career,” Birbiglia added.

He would know. “I’ve lived in the world of comedy and improv for 16 years, I’m not unfamiliar with people like this.”

Birbiglia recalls watching Kate McKinnon rising to fame and passing Louis C.K. in the halls of comedy clubs. “In New York you see it constantly…I remember when Kate McKinnon was in her first year on SNL and my wife and I would be like, ‘she was amazing,’ even when she was in small parts, ‘that woman was amazing,’ and now she’s shooting into the stratosphere and is gonna be even bigger from Ghostbusters. And she was a New York Upright Citizens Brigade sketch person. Louis [C.K.] is certainly someone I would see at the comic strip and the comedy cellar in the early 2000s, kind of like ships passing, like ‘hey how are ya?’ And now he’s in the history of comedy.”

Key misses those pre-fame days. “I do sometimes,” he told PEOPLE. There are days when you’re tired and you just want to go to the movies and you want no one to gasp, and there are just days where you want it to be like that, and now you’re done, you never get that again,” he expressed.

“Everybody wants to be famous, and then it happens, and you never think you’re gonna say the sentence I just said.”

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