Del Close

You are an artist

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If Del Close, one of the founding fathers of improv, had a mission (other than terrorizing some of his students in his classes), it was to make improv an art form. And if that’s true, that makes you an artist.

Back in the ’80s, improv had very little respect. If you told people you were an improviser they would say “Oh, so you do stand up?” People outside of the tiny improv community did not get it. It was not legitimate form of anything.

So Del had a daunting task: Take a small group of wayward improvisers and try to convince them they were artists. His gift was to make us believe that what we were doing was noble and worthwhile, way before it became popular and respected.

I have mixed feelings about Del, like I do about my own father, but I am grateful to him that today I can call myself an artist. I know some people have a hard time with that word. They think it’s pretentious. For me, calling myself an artist is about having self-respect.

Del used to say, “If we treat each other as if we are geniuses, poets and artists, we have a better chance of becoming that on stage.”

Seeing myself as an artist doesn’t only apply to my improvising. It applies to my teaching, acting, interviewing people on Improv Nerd and writing this blog. It means that what I’m doing isn’t just a hobby, but a way of life. How much money you make off your art has nothing to do with calling yourself an artist. I don’t care if you have day job and work 40 hours a week or you have six jobs, if you’re an improviser, you’re an artist.

You are an artist when you say you are an artist. The believing comes in the doing. Artists create. That is what we do. And the more we create, the easier it is to believe when we call ourselves artists.
When an artist fails, she does not care what the audience thinks. Del used to say “A groan from the audience was as good as a laugh.” He was right. Our job as an artist is to make the audience think, and more importantly, to feel.

The audience is coming to us for our help. They want us to take them to places they are afraid to go and to make them feel emotions they cannot access in their own life, which is why they reward us with their time and money. The audience gets a huge return on such a tiny investment. They get to feel and think and see themselves up there, and that is a gift.

We deserve to call ourselves artists because we are making an impact on people’s lives. Don’t ever forget this. We have things to say and ideas to contribute to the world.

We need to declare this out of respect for ourselves and for the other people who work in this field. And the more that we do that, and the more people join us, we will continue to elevate this art form, or any other art form or creative project we get involved in, and in the process everyone will be better for it.

I cannot think of better contribution to the world.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? He has recently announced a new Art of Slow Comedy Intensive on Aug. 10 from 12-4 p.m. Only $79 if you register before July 31. Sign up today!

6 replies
  1. Brian Morgan
    Brian Morgan says:

    Thanks for this! I love the quote about treating each other as geniuses, artists, etc. I’m in the process of developing my “philosophy of comedy,” and this article very much fits right into a touchstone phrase I’ve been tossing around: “Every human is valuable.” I try to reflect this idea in every piece of humor I create. Improv is a wonderful tool to express that!

    Thanks again, artists! (Both Jimmy and Lauren)

    Reply
    • Jimmy
      Jimmy says:

      Tim my classes are in Chicago either at Greenshirt Studio or Stage 773. You can go to the classes page to get more info.

      Reply
  2. Jordan Weimer
    Jordan Weimer says:

    Cool piece, Jimmy. This is one of those things that I struggle with the most. I grew up around no one that was an artist so my self respect has basically been none existent. An artist, where I’m from, gets about as much respect as a gay communist. In fact, they’re basically always depicted as interchangeable characters. It’s been nice to realize recently that none of those people deserve the type of shame cast on them. It’s just their way of enforcing status quo. I think some of that seeps into the comedy community too but by in large I’ve seen that people are embracing the nuances. It’s not simply the American Character vs. the European sophisticated fop anymore. You can still be humble and consider yourself an artist. The fact that you consider yourself an artist doesn’t mean that you believe yourself to be more of an expert than you are, it just means you have respect for the work.

    Reply

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  1. […] believe the following excerpt (emphasis added) from one of Carrane’s recent blog posts, You are an artist, nicely summarizes what the weekend workshop was about […]

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