No amount of experience makes an actor completely immune to stage fright. At least, that's what Gillian Jacobs and Kate Micucci say. Jacobs, who has been acting since she was very young, rose to fame when she landed the role of Britta in the acclaimed ensemble TV comedy Community. Since then, she has guest starred on Lena Dunham's Girls, and snagged a leading role in Judd Apatow's Netflix comedy series, Love. Fans of Micucci's know her as one half of the sweetly saucy musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates, the ukulele playing nurse on Scrubs, and the voice of Velma in recent Scooby Doo reboots. Even with these extensive resumes in their back pockets, Jacobs and Micucci are quick to share that when they found themselves on stage without scripts for the first time, they were terrified.
The lack of scripts was not by accident. In fact, it was part of the job for Jacobs and Micucci as they prepared for their starring roles in Mike Birbiglia's film Don't Think Twice. The film follows the members of a struggling improv comedy troupe in New York City, and required Jacobs and Micucci to join their fellow cast members (improv comedy veterans Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher, Keegan Michael-Key, and Birbiglia) in performing live improvised shows all across New York. According to Jacobs, jumping into improv wasn't always easy. "I hadn't felt my heart race in terror like that in I don't know how long," she admits to Ophira Eisenberg, describing what it was like to perform live alongside her co-stars for the first time. "You walk out with nothing! Just your brain! And that's not enough!" she laughs.
To keep these guests on their toes, we wrote them a special edition of This That or The Other. We gave them a clue and they had to decide: Is it the name of an improv group that performed in the 2016 Del Close improv marathon, a restaurant in New York City, or a Scooby Doo monster? Then Micucci closes with an original song called "Have You Met My Robot?"
Kate Micucci on her early music career
The first ukulele song I ever wrote was called The Nap Song, and it was [about] how I wanted to sleep with this guy. But I only meant sleep with him. And that's it.
Gillian Jacobs on performing improv for the first time alongside an all-star group
You basically threw us on an NBA team, and were like "This is a basketball. Go."
Gillian Jacobs on the relatability of Don't Think Twice
There's all the dynamics of jealousy and bitterness, but also celebration for your friends. I think I've seen every variation of what the characters go through in my life.
JULIAN VELARD: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Julian Velard here with puzzle guru Art Chung. Now, here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thank you, Julian.
EISENBERG: Soon, we'll find out which of our contestants Jake or Ross will be our big winner. But first, it's time to welcome our special guests. They star in the new film written and directed by Mike Birbiglia "Don't Think Twice." It's Kate Micucci and Gillian Jacobs.
GILLIAN JACOBS: Hi.
KATE MICUCCI: Hi.
EISENBERG: Welcome, Kate. Welcome, Gillian. Now, Gillian, you wrote this great personal essay on Lenny about your experiences at Juilliard. So for any parent who thinks their kid must go to Juilliard for acting...
JACOBS: Oh, gosh.
EISENBERG: ...What would you say to them?
JACOBS: Think about it.
JACOBS: No, I've heard that the school is a kinder, friendlier place now than when I was there, so I don't want to say don't go to Julliard. That sounds like terrible advice, but, you know what? It was good preparation for this business because this is a very tough business where you have to have thick skin and be resilient. And I definitely learned that at Juilliard.
EISENBERG: I thought you made a great point of perspective where you were feeling very frustrated with the experience and then you had a moment where you're like that's right, no casting director is going to call up my teacher at Juilliard and be like, how strong was her neutral mask work?
JACOBS: Yeah. Which was a class. I didn't make that up for the essay.
JACOBS: They don't really care what your casting was like in your junior year of college, you know?
JACOBS: It's like you're not testing for a pilot, and they're like, well, they gave you the part of spear carrier number two in that production of "Julius Caesar." So we wish we could give you the part, but we just can't.
JACOBS: So yeah I tried to really let go of that and not carry it with me going forward. But, you know, it's like those negative voices - sometimes they like to stay in your head.
EISENBERG: Well, I'm sure a lot of them have been quieted by your success in TV and film. And I'm sure - do you still have people coming up to you everyday being like get "Community" back on the air?
JACOBS: Yeah. Well, now we had this hashtag which became a prophecy that was six seasons and a movie and we...
JACOBS: So we've done the sixth season, so now we have to do the movie. And I guess the latest news from Dan Harmon, the creator of the shows - he's waiting for us to be unemployed to write the script. So I don't know what the status is, but I think we'd all love to do it.
EISENBERG: Good to know. Good to know. Now, Kate, people know you as the ukulele lady from "Scrubs." They know you as half of the funny musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates. First of all, when did you start playing ukulele?
MICUCCI: I started playing the ukulele in the year 2000. That sounds so futuristic saying it like that.
MICUCCI: The year 2000. But I was in Hawaii for three months kind of trying to figure out my life, not really sure what I wanted to do and I was living on my aunt and uncle's porch. I was like - I didn't even have a bed. I slept in a giant chair.
MICUCCI: Yeah. And it was great. And every morning I would see the cruise ships come in, and I grew up playing classical piano. And I was really missing having an instrument in Hawaii. And so my grandpa was also living there, and so he bought me my first ukulele. And so that's when I started playing.
EISENBERG: And what were your first songs about?
MICUCCI: The first ukulele song I ever wrote was called "The Nap Song," and it was how I wanted to sleep with this guy. But I only meant sleep with him, and that's it. Yeah.
EISENBERG: OK. So...
MICUCCI: I was a virgin when I wrote it.
EISENBERG: OK. Now you are in this film that deals with an improv troupe. And one of them has great success, and it's sort of how the rest of them deal with that. As you're reading the script, did any of it hit close to home?
MICUCCI: For sure.
JACOBS: You know, we play an improv comedy troupe, and so there's all the dynamics of jealousy and bitterness, but also celebration for your friends. And I think I've seen every variation of what the characters go through in my life. And, thankfully, you know, I've had friends who are not performers see the movie and say like I'm a creative director at an ad company, and I totally relate to this movie. So I think it's applicable to a lot of jobs in professions where you're like why'd that person get that...
JACOBS: ...And not me? And maybe, you know, it'll all work out in the end, but it's pretty tough in the moment.
EISENBERG: But you both had never done improv before.
EISENBERG: OK. So preparation to be in an improv troupe and make it seem believable for the film - what did you do?
JACOBS: Well, it wasn't just that we had to be in an improv troupe. Kate and I had to perform alongside Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia and two legends of New York improv Chris Gethard and Tami Sagher.
JACOBS: ...Yeah. You basically like threw us on an NBA team and were like this is a basketball. Go.
MICUCCI: It was really terrifying, you know, especially because we were doing shows around town as The Commune which is the name of our group in the movie. And we had just, you know, pretty much...
JACOBS: There was no asterix next to our name in the program. Like, they've never done improv before. Don't judge them too harshly. It was just like Kate and I were clinging to each just terrified.
MICUCCI: It was like, OK, well, we've done this for a few weeks, so here we go everyone. And it was still Gil and I looking at each other like, oh, here we go.
EISENBERG: Did you like it? Did you think, I wanted to become part of an improv troupe?
JACOBS: I hadn't felt my heart race in terror like that in I don't know how long. You walk out with nothing, just your brain. And that's not enough.
EISENBERG: I mean, did you find any strength of yours that you didn't know that you had before by doing these improv scenes?
JACOBS: I realized that I have a tendency to make weird, bold choices and then not really know what to do with them and just let them clean up my mess. That was my technique.
MICUCCI: There are some lines in the movie that you improvise that I couldn't believe they came out of your brain. Like, I was like where, how - it was really something to watch Gillian improvise. You're really - and she's a natural. She really is.
JACOBS: Aw, Micucci.
EISENBERG: And now that you have built this rapport between the two of you, have you thought about going out on a live performance tour together doing anything?
JACOBS: Not improv.
EISENBERG: (Laughing) I like how you keep stressing that, Gillian.
MICUCCI: We could put an act together for sure.
JACOBS: Sure, if it's scripted and somebody writes it and we have rehearsals. I'd be happy to do that.
EISENBERG: All right, well, I wouldn't say I'm going to hold your hand through this next one. But you are going to enjoy it. Are you up for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
MICUCCI: Woo-hoo (ph).
EISENBERG: All right, Gillian, Kate, your movie "Don't Think Twice" is about New York City improv. Kate, you've voiced Velma in a new version of "Scooby Doo." So that inspired us to create a version of one of our favorite games, called This, That or the Other, where we give you a name and you just have to tell us which of three categories it fits into. And the categories are the name of an improv group that performed in the 2016 Del Close Marathon, the name of a restaurant in New York City, or the name of a "Scooby Doo" monster.
EISENBERG: OK, so we're going to go back and forth. You don't need to buzz in. But if you get it wrong, the other person can steal. And the winner is going to get an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.
JACOBS: Ha, ha, ha, ha.
EISENBERG: I know, I know. Think about it.
JACOBS: All right.
EISENBERG: All right, here we go.
JACOBS: Going down, Micucci.
EISENBERG: Kate, we'll start with you.
EISENBERG: King Noodle. Is it an improv group, a New York restaurant or a "Scooby Doo" monster?
MICUCCI: New York restaurant.
EISENBERG: That is correct, yes.
EISENBERG: Gillian - Cheese Monster.
JACOBS: Improv group.
EISENBERG: Should be, but I'm sorry. You are incorrect. Kate, can you steal?
MICUCCI: I would say it's a "Scooby Doo" monster.
EISENBERG: It is a "Scooby Doo" monster...
EISENBERG: It's a giant humanoid made out of oozing orangey cheese. Kate - Banana Pancakes.
MICUCCI: Improv group.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah, that's an improv group.
EISENBERG: Gillian, this could change it all...
JACOBS: It could all change in an instant.
EISENBERG: Flex Muscles.
JACOBS: (Laughter) Flex Muscles.
EISENBERG: Now, you can ask one question if you need to about that...
JACOBS: Oh, I may? What's the answer?
EISENBERG: Yeah, that's - that was a good idea. That was a good idea.
JACOBS: Well, OK, I'm going to think this through. Hers was just an improv comedy troupe.
JACOBS: Flex Muscles?
EISENBERG: Flex Muscles.
JACOBS: Probably not a restaurant - maybe. I don't know. I haven't lived in New York in a while, could be. Or - what's my third option, "Scooby Doo" monster?
EISENBERG: Yeah (laughter).
JACOBS: That sounds like more of a command than a character name.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yes it does.
JACOBS: I'll just go with improv comedy troupe.
EISENBERG: Sorry, that is incorrect.
JACOBS: What is it?
EISENBERG: Kate, can you steal?
MICUCCI: Is it a "Scooby Doo" monster?
EISENBERG: I'm sorry, it is a restaurant.
MICUCCI: What? What do they serve...
JACOBS: We're out of the game...
EISENBERG: They serve muscles.
VELARD: You don't say.
MICUCCI: I love that I had to ask that question.
EISENBERG: I know. It's terrible. It's terrible.
JACOBS: I am not good at this.
MICUCCI: I was just thinking lots of protein, Muscle Milk. All right...
EISENBERG: All right, Kate, this is for you - Fish Freaks. New York restaurant, improv troupe...
MICUCCI: Improv troupe.
EISENBERG: It's a good idea for an improv troupe, I agree. But that is incorrect. Can you steal, Gillian?
JACOBS: I guess restaurant.
EISENBERG: Sorry, that is incorrect.
JACOBS: There is - what? That's a "Scooby Doo" villain?
JACOBS: Fish Freaks?
EISENBERG: Yeah, it's a...
JACOBS: Multiple freaks?
EISENBERG: Well, it's - yeah. They're swimming green mutants with glowing green eyes who have this plan to cause an offshore oil spill that will wreak havoc on the environment...
MICUCCI: That was before my time at "Scooby Doo."
JACOBS: Yeah, ugh (ph).
MICUCCI: Oh, man.
EISENBERG: Yeah, I had no idea "Scooby Doo..."
JACOBS: Now I'm taking pride in not getting any of these correct. I hope I don't get any of these right.
EISENBERG: This is your final one. Gillian - Doppelganger.
JACOBS: Doppelganger - improv comedy troupe.
EISENBERG: That is correct.
JACOBS: I only wanted one.
EISENBERG: Yep. Puzzle guru Art Chung, how did our special guests do?
JACOBS: Oh, my...
ART CHUNG: Congratulations, you both got some right.
CHUNG: So we're going to give both of you ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.
EISENBERG: Give it up for the stars of "Don't Think Twice," Gillian Jacobs and Kate Micucci.
EISENBERG: And now we have a special treat. Kate is sticking around to play a song for us.
MICUCCI: Here's a song called "Have You Met My Robot?" (Imitating robot) Have you met my robot?
MICUCCI: (Singing) Have you met my robot? He's a weird one. He's a funny one. He has soup cans for feet. And he dances around the apartment, and he sings to the things that he meets. He says la-di-da (ph) to the fish in the fish tank, ho-diddily-hum (ph) to the coins in the bank. And he dances his dance steps accordingly. For that, Arthur Murray he thanks.
He's my best friend. Some say that makes me crazy, but I say come on, we're both products of the '80s. And if he falls apart, it's not a bother because I know how to glue and I know how to solder. I'm happy to fix him. Have you met my robot? He's a weird one. He's a funny one. He had salad tongs for hands. Did I mention he's in love with a robot? He especially likes her cans.
Those are her feet.
MICUCCI: (Singing) And together they walk but not hand in hand, more like salad tong in salad tong, robot lady, robot man. And together they might have a baby. And together they might start a band. And it would sound like this.
VELARD: (Playing music).
MICUCCI: Julian everybody.
MICUCCI: Thank you, guys.
EISENBERG: One more time for Kate Micucci.
(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.