Improv Nerd

Improv Nerd Announces New Fall Season

Improv Nerd, the live comedy podcast hosted by Jimmy Carrane, is excited to announce our guests for our upcoming 2014 fall season!

This season’s guests include Antoine McKay of Comedy Central’s “Review with Forest McNeil” and the new Fox drama “Empire”; stand-up comedian and former Second City cast member Chris Redd; and Rachael Mason, star of the Second City Improv Allstars!

Sept. 28: Mark Beltzman
Oct. 5: Jay Sukow
Oct. 12: Tim Paul
Oct. 19: Chris Redd
Oct. 26: Stephanie McCullough
Nov. 2: Jack Newell
Nov. 9: Antoine McKay
Nov. 16: Rachael Mason
Nov. 23: TBA
Nov. 30: TBA
Dec. 7: Jack Bronis

Also this season, audience members who attend at least six shows will receive a FREE Improv Nerd T-shirt.

In each interview, which is recorded as a podcast, Jimmy talks with an improv icon about his or her creative process and career in comedy. Then laugh along as Jimmy performs a totally unscripted scene with each of his guests and learn how they created the scene in a revealing interview and question-and-answer session.

All shows at 5 p.m. at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago

General admission: $10, $8 for improv students

To purchase tickets, call Stage 773 at 773.327.5252 or purchase online at


How Do You Get Out of an Improv Rut?

I am in improv rut. The last couple of shows I have felt like I’m experiencing improv-vu, doing the same flat, uninspired, boring scenes over and over again. I am pulling the same stock characters out, making the same choices, and I can’t for the life me understand why it’s not going better.

If you’ve been to any of my shows lately, you’ll recognize this. I play a stern, uptight dad who finds out his kids are doing drugs, and then when they admit to it, he tells them to keep doing drugs because it will make them cool. I’ve done this same scene hundreds of times, and it’s not even funny. Why do I keep going back to it?

Of course, when I’m doing this, I’m not listening. I am stream rolling or trying to control the scene. Worse, I do not feel funny, on stage or in my life, and as you can figure out, I am not having any fun. I am not challenging myself, I am going through the motions and watching as other improvisers that I perform with make smart choices, commit emotionally and are vulnerable — all the things I teach in my classes. I must be a fraud! It’s like I am incapable of doing what I have been teaching for years.

I feel like I have lost my edge, and the funny has dried up. I tell myself my improv career is over and that if I was a race horse, I would be headed straight to the glue factory.

How did I get to this place? When I retrace my steps, it is clear I have never been more busy in my career, traveling and teaching and doing Improv Nerd and not leaving any room to have fun. None. Fuck the self-care or taking care of myself. I’ve got to keep moving before all the abundance evaporates. Every artist needs time to just piss away, hang out in a book store for hours or go to a museum or go to lunch with a friend and talk and laugh until the wait staff starts giving you dirty looks because they want you out so they can set up for dinner.

This is different than wasting time. It’s the time you need to creativity re-stock the trout pond. There is no joy in my life, and I am not one of those people who can fake it or manufacture it on stage.  I am “method” when it comes to joy. I need a little in my life to draw from in my improv.

I do not know how to get out of an improv rut. I do know that time usually helps, but, as you know, I don’t have all the answers. So I am open to your feedback. If you have been in an improv rut before and have some experience, strength and hope you would like to offer on this particular issue, I am more than open to it. Actually, I’m desperate. So go ahead, I’m all ears.

There’s still space in Jimmy’s upcoming Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy Class, beginning Saturday, Sept. 13! This class is limited to 10 people, so you’ll get lots of individual attention and stage time. Click here to sign up.

Jimmy Carrane John Hildreth

5 Reasons to Do Object Work in Improv

I promise I will make this brief. Yes, more and more improvisers are eliminating object work from their repertoire, myself included. But really, when we do this we are only cheating ourselves.

Today’s improvisers often think object work is gimmicky and silly, something that’s beneath them. But recently, I interviewed Todd Stashwick – a well-known TV and film actor who was trained in improv – for Improv Nerd, and he reminded me why practicing object work is so important.

Here are my 5 reasons to do object work in an improv scene:

1. Object work make you more creative
Creating a premise or scenario on stage is a lot easier if you are doing something physical, such as creating an object with your hands. By keeping your hands busy, you’re able to free up your mind on stage and stay more in the moment. It helps take the pressure off having to think of the “right” thing to say, and instead lets you react more honestly with believable dialogue.

2. Doing object work helps you judge yourself less on stage
Todd explained that Martin DeMaat, the legendary improv teacher, said doing object work on stage suppresses the judgmental part of the brain because we are too busy doing something physical. It shuts up the critic. Even if we only cut the judgmental part down by 10 percent, I say, it’s something worth doing.

3. Your object work is not as bad as you think it is
Sometimes I will give students in my improv classes an exercise to work on their object work or environment work, and afterwards, they’ll complain that their object work sucked. “I didn’t really see the glass of water I was holding,” they’ll say. I’m here to tell you that most of the time, a student’s object work is 100 times better than the student thinks it was. Trust me, when it comes to object work, your perception of how good it is is way off.

4. It leads to discoveries about your character
Discovery is not limited to the words we speak. When we create a birdcage on stage with a turquoise parrot inside, we learn things about our character. By creating those actions, we might discover that our character is single and lonely, or he is older and agoraphobic. He is definitely low status. All of this by building that bird cage.

5. Object work makes you more interesting to watch
There is nothing more boring to watch than people standing still, acting like talking statues. And doing object work is a great way of freeing you up and getting you to move around. Last weekend, I taught an improv workshop at the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival in Austin, and in the class, two girls did a scene where they were seducing a guy in their apartment. They both went to make the guy a martini in a shaker. And they shook those shakers so damn sexy that they got an enormous laugh from that action. These two improvisers were showing the audience how they were feeling through the activity, rather than telling us how they were feeling, and it was a joy to watch.

If you have any other benefits of doing object work,  please feel free to join the conversation and let us know by commenting below.

Last chance to take Jimmy’s new Intermediate Classes, which now include a performance! There are only a few spots left in this fall’s two sections, starting Monday, Sept. 8 and Saturday, Sept. 13. Register today!

Jimmy Relaxing

There is no blog this week

This week there is no blog. I am taking the week off. I am exhausted. I have been traveling across the country teaching Art of Slow Comedy improv workshops and doing live Improv Nerd shows.

Trust me, I’m not complaining, I am grateful. Never have I been so in demand. Sure, I could sit down right now and squeeze out a blog on the computer, but if I did that, I would have a resentment. A big, juicy resentment. And I’ve learned that if I’m going to have a resentment doing something, it’s better to not do it.

Resentments make me think crazy thoughts like, “Why am I even writing this blog that I am not getting paid for? Nobody appreciates all the hard work I do. It doesn’t fill up my classes fast enough, anyway. I am wasting my time. So, fuck it. Let’s blow the place up and quit writing this fucking blog.”

I am not going to do that. I am going to do something different, because I value our relationship too much. I enjoy writing this blog too much. In fact, I have built something pretty nice here. So if you have not heard already, I will tell you now — this week there will be no blog, and no apologies to you or to myself. It’s OK. I need to recharge the batteries, because I have a big week coming up in Austin at The Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, where I will be teaching and doing four live Improv Nerd shows, and hopefully, when I return next week, I will feel invigorated and inspired because I took the whole week off and did not write this blog.

That is how it works. It’s called self-care, and that is what I am doing by not writing a blog this week: Self-care. Remember those words, and the example I have set for you. In my improv classes I often tell my students: “Show, don’t tell.” That is what I am going to do right now. So, instead of telling you that I am not going to write a blog this week, I will show you.


I am sitting on the couch not writing. I feel great.  I am looking out the window, and am thinking how nice it is to take some time off from writing. Why did I not do this sooner? You know what’s interesting when you take a break and don’t write a blog? You have time to put your feet up and relax. I am putting my feet up on the coffee table. I didn’t even know why we had this coffee table in the first place. Now I know it’s to put your feet up on it. See, that’s the kind of discovery you make when you decide not to write a blog.

I wonder if you’ll miss me if I don’t write a blog this week? I hope you do, actually, but no matter how much you please with me, I’m not going to do it. Just think of how excited you’ll be when you get my blog next week, after a whole week off. 

There are still a few spots left in Jimmy’s next Intermediate Level classes, starting Sept. 8 and Sept. 13. New this term — the Intermediate Class will include a performance on Oct. 18. Sign up today!

Jimmy Carrane

5 Tips for Getting Over Perfectionism in Improv

Have you ever been afraid to start a scene because you didn’t think you had the perfect initiation? Or do beat yourself up when you make a move that your teammates don’t seem to understand? If you suffer from these symptoms, there is a word for what ails you, and it’s called perfectionism.

If you think perfectionism in your improv is about making better art, you are wrong. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It robs you of the joy of improvising and ultimately causes you to want to quit. If there’s no joy, you are not making art, you are creating pain.

Improv is a very intimate art form. When it’s working, we are exposing our imperfections and we don’t even realize it.

The bad news is I am a perfectionist. The good news is I cannot think of anything better for a perfectionist than improvising. Doing improv shows and taking classes helps you confront your perfectionism and become more comfortable with our imperfect selves.

Perfectionism in improv for me can show up before, during or after a performance. It’s an obsession, it has no boundaries, it’s a black-and-white thinker. It may show up as over rehearsing or not rehearsing at all. It may look like having panicked notes session after a particularly rough show, or like taking too many classes at once.

In my life, my perfectionism can be so powerful that I won’t take any action at all. I can sit paralyzed on my couch for hours with a whiteboard on my lap with a list of 15 names of potential guests for Improv Nerd, and I can’t email any of them because I’m afraid of not picking the perfect guest. The only way I get out of it is with the help of my wife, Lauren, who says, “Just send the emails out. There is no perfect guest.”

The whole point of perfectionism is to get you to not do the thing you love doing.

If you think you may suffer from it, get help now. Here are five tips I have found that have helped me with my perfectionism in improv:

1. Admit It
Perfectionism is not an asset, it’s not noble. It’s a problem. So realize you are doing it and admit it to yourself and others right now.

2. Set up boundaries, and don’t do it alone
When I record the intros and outros of Improv Nerd, I can really get into my perfectionism and waste hours trying to get it exactly right. To help, I will say to Lauren, “I am recording for no more than one hour.” By doing that, I become accountable to someone else and my perfectionism hates that.

3. Trust the process
Remember that the real joy in improv is in the process — the learning and the self-expression that comes from the connection with others, not the results. When we focus on the results, we are feeding out perfectionism junk food, and it gets so fat that it crushes our art.

4. Accept that improv is messy
If you want to get good at anything, you are going to have to suck at it first. By sucking, you are getting closer to perfection. Sometimes, this cliché can snap me out of my perfectionism for 20 minutes, and often that’s all it takes for me to have fun again.

5. Get professional help
Your perfectionism may be a lot worse than you think. Find a mental health professional or therapist to talk about this with, because let me tell you, perfectionism is serious shit.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Only a few days left to take advantage of the Early Bird Special! Sign up by Aug. 25 and pay only $249 for the next Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy Class. Includes a performance on the last day of class.

Robin Williams

Fame isn’t enough

The death of Robin Williams was sad and sobering. As my friend, Erika, said, it was like “Elvis had died.”

In the comedy/acting world, she was right. Most people reading this blog would love to have a career like his, including myself. And most people reading this blog, including myself, would think having a career like Robin Williams’ would bring them ever-lasting happiness.

Fame has always been my higher power. I used to get a contact high when I was around famous people. I would fantasize that if only I was famous, I would be happy, all my problems would go away, and I would finally I feel comfortable in my own skin. I am told it does not work that way.

I don’t know when doing improv for me went from “Wow, this is the most fun I have ever had in my life,” to “I’ve got to make it. I’ve got to be famous.” It really doesn’t matter. It has plagued me my whole career. It has robbed me of my joy and has given me countless days of comparing myself to others and coming up short. It always cheapens my accomplishments.

I am a slow learner, but with the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and now Robin Williams, I am slowly getting it that being famous doesn’t make you happy.

I will name drop, for the sake of making a point. I started out with Chris Farley at iO-Chicago in the ’80s. We all knew he was going to be a star. He was like a rocket ship and could not be stopped. I was jealous, insanely jealous.

They are many times I would have gladly traded my life for his, because I did not value my own. Even when he died and my wise friends said, “He’s dead and you are still alive,” I did not get it. All I could see was that he had made it and I had not.

Williams suffered from depression and struggled with addiction, two things I can relate to. Addiction and depression are identical twins: it’s hard to tell them apart. They are both diseases, serious deadly diseases that leave you with a gaping hole inside that cannot be filled with anything outside of yourself — not awards, not adulation, not $20 million and a big movie part. In some cases, people get help and they are able to deal with their depression and addiction. And sometimes they don’t.

The thing that sucks about these diseases is that one of the symptoms is telling yourself that you don’t deserve/don’t want/don’t need help, making it almost impossible to get better. And if you don’t get help, these diseases will kill you.

I don’t have any answers here. All I know is the older I get, the clearer I can see that fame will not keep me alive.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? We have two sections of Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy starting Sept. 8 and Sept. 13. Only $249 if you register before Aug. 25. Sign up today!

Big Bang Theory

Asking for what we’re worth

Improvisers, as a rule, don’t like to ask for money. It’s one of the hardest things for us to do because we come from the land of “yes and,” from the planet of “make your partner look good.” Most of us have performed for years where we got paid in stage time, and if we were lucky, maybe a free drink at the bar. And there is a culture in improv that you’re supposed to do it because you love it, not because of the money.

In a lot of ways, we are beaten down by that, so when an opportunity comes along where we could actually use our comedy skills to earn money, we are so used to eating crumbs off the table that all we are willing to ask for is crumbs.

But if we start taking care of ourselves and asking for what we’re worth, we will make the whole improv community that much stronger.

This is something I need to keep re-learning. Whenever I’ve run into problems with people over money, such as the theaters I have taught for or performed at, it’s always the same thing: I have looked to them to take care of me, thinking they owe me something. But really, I had it backwards. We cannot look to others to take care of us. We are adults, and it’s time to stop looking for others to take care of us and instead for us to take care of ourselves by asking for what we want. If we do that, we all win.

I was once cast in live industrial show — an acting job for a corporate client — where four of us had to play the guys from the SNL’s Da Bears sketch. I had auditioned for it, and it went extremely well. That afternoon, my agent told me she was going to ask for $1,000 for me. As I hung up the phone, I immediately felt anxiety and fear because I did not ask for what I wanted. I was hoping the agent was magically going to take care of me. I was setting myself up for a resentment.

So I called a friend who suggested I call her back and tell her what I would like to be paid. I was scared shitless, but I did it. As my voice trembled, I said, “I would like to be paid $2,500.”

My agent seemed stunned, and balked a little at it. The next day, she called me back. Her voice seemed somewhat flat and professional, and she wanted to let me know that the client had agreed to the price.

My agent was also representing another actor who was kind enough to give me a ride to the gig, which was out by the airport. On the ride back to the city, we started to discuss what we were getting paid, and she said when our agent had originally called, she said the job was only paying $1,000, and then the next day she called and said it was $2,500. It never dawned on me that by me asking for more money that I would be helping my other cast members to get paid more as well.

Recently, it’s been all over the news that some of the cast members from The Big Bang Theory have renegotiated their contracts with Warner Brothers Television and are now going to be getting more than $1 million per episode for the next three years. And not only have the three lead actors gotten a raise, but all of the rest of the cast members on the show have gotten a raise as well.

I used to be one of those people who would be bitter and jealous that they are getting way too much. But today, I am happy for them. God bless them, because I am nowhere near that stratosphere, and those actors have raised the hopes and the bar for everyone in the comedy-acting-improv community. By them asking for more, it paves the way for the rest of us who come along after to make better money as well.

Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting get it. They have put self-worth on what they are doing, and for that, I applaud them, even if we still struggle to do it ourselves.

Good news! Jimmy has two levels of Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy starting this fall: Mondays from 6:30-8:30 p.m. starting Sept. 8, or Saturdays from 12-2 p.m. starting Sept. 13. Only $249 if you register before Aug. 25. Sign up today!

Jimmy Carrane teaching

Warning: Resentments are toxic to your career

If you want to kill your improv career, make sure to have resentments. Lots and lots of resentments, toward all kinds of people, places and institutions.

If your Harold team gets broken up and they don’t put you on another team, or you audition for something and don’t get cast, do what I’ve done and say: “Fuck them! I am never going to step in that theater again.”

You can lie to yourself with your self-righteous anger, believing you got screwed. But the truth is you felt hurt, disappointed, shame, and sadness — but you don’t want to go there, because it’s too painful. And you have no interest in looking at your part in the situation because you are having too much fun blaming, being a victim and not taking any responsibility for what happened. Instead, not knowing it, you’re closing the door on future opportunities by cutting them out of your life for good.

I have been doing this my whole improv career. There has not been an improv group or show or theater or place that I have taught at that I have not left without a resentment(s). It usually boils to down how I was treated or paid or how they did not give me what a wanted.

And I am embarrassed to say that at 50 years old, I am finally realizing how much my resentments and self-righteous attitude have gotten in the way of my success. I know some of you are going to be surprised by what I am about to say: I am pretty successful, but I could have been even more successful if I had not let those stupid resentments pile up over the years. I get it that I am truly powerless over them, but it does not make things any easier. Anytime my pride got bruised, I made the damage worse for myself, thinking I was protecting myself. Liar.

If any you’ve ever thought, “Why isn’t Jimmy even bigger?” I will tell you it’s because of all of the resentments.
Looking back at my career, the one regret I have is holding on to them for so damn long. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t let them all go yet, but I am starting to get in touch with how they killed my career and my relationships and realizing that when I cut people, places and institutions out of my life out of anger, nothing good happens to me.

I am sad about it and I wish I could give you some quick fix or some sage wisdom that you’ve come to except from me, but the best I can do in this situation is what my older brother, Bobby, used to say to me in high school: “I don’t want you to make the same mistakes as I did.” And I have made many, and today I realize that the only one I hurt is myself.

People have told me that “Having a resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” If that’s true, I have drunk so much poison over the years that it has become toxic to me and has made me immune from being even more successful. I may still be alive, but it has killed parts of my career. The good news I am late bloomer and I still have time left to change.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? We have two sections of Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy starting Sept. 8 and Sept. 13. Only $249 if you register before Aug. 25. Sign up today!

Jimmy Carrane in Wisconsin

Improvising on vacation

Two weeks ago, Lauren and I went on vacation. Our friends Stephen and Amy were renting a house up in Eagle River, WI, for a week and we were going up to meet them from Tuesday to Friday.

So Tuesday morning we packed up the Honda CRV and drove the six and a half hours up there, more like seven if you count stopping at Ruby Tuesday’s for lunch. We were about five miles outside of Eagle River when and I called Stephen on my phone for directions to the house.

“Hey, Stephen, we are here!” I said, exhausted and excited.

There was a pause. “What?” he said.

“We are here,” I said. “We need directions to the house.”

“Are you kidding?” he asked.

“No, we’re here.”

“We are not going up there until next week. I thought you were doing a bit.”

If I was ever going to apply improv to my life, this probably would be a good time to do it.

I was not quite ready for that yet. I was tired, angry and felt like an idiot. I wanted to blame Stephen, Amy, my wife and myself.

We got out of the car and decided to stretch our legs for a couple of minutes. I was in shock. “How could this happen?” I said to Lauren inside one of the many gift and moccasin shops in Eagle River.

My first instinct was to reverse our mistake by getting back in the car and driving back the seven hours to Chicago, waking up in my own bed the next morning and pretending it was just a dream. But Lauren suggested we drive south until it got dark, find a hotel for the night and decide in the morning what we were going to do for the rest of the trip.

Sometimes when my improv students are doing a great scene, afterwards they say, “But I didn’t know where it was going,” like they did something wrong. Just the opposite, they did something right. The not knowing is what makes improv so exciting for the players and the audience.

Now I knew how my students felt, except I was in the deep woods of the not knowing and if I could let go of my insane plan of driving back to Chicago like a lunatic and listen to Lauren, maybe something good would come out of this stupid mistake. (BTW, I hear in improv there are no mistakes.)

So a miracle happened inside that gift and moccasin shop, right by the dream catchers. I listened to my wife and we decided to drive south for two hours until it got dark. Once I got in the car, compulsiveness started and I wanted to drive another 160 miles to Madison, but again, I listened to her and pulled off in a town called Wausau, WI. We drove into the downtown and when we were parking the car, we asked another couple if there was a restaurant and hotel they would recommend.

They said the nicest restaurant and the nicest hotel were about 100 feet away.

The meal was great, and afterward I told the hotel clerk the sad story about our trip and she upgraded us to a suite. The room was beautiful, with two huge fireplaces, and the next morning at breakfast at this old timey dinner with great eggs and even better hash brown potatoes, we agreed the thing that made the most sense was to stay in Wisconsin and have a vacation. This meant I had to drop my insane idea of driving back home and coming back up the following week.

To really do great improv, you must trust, and the same rule applies in life. So I started to trust: the people in the parking lot, my wife, the hotel clerk and even the universe. And if I continued to do that, maybe, just maybe, this trip would be better than anything we could have planned. That’s what’s so scary about the unknown — it usually goes better than you can imagine.

My students will often say on the first day of class that they are afraid of failing. Bullshit. You’re not afraid of failing, you’re afraid of succeeding. You would not be taking improv if you were afraid of failing because it’s all about failing. It’s creating things that are beyond our imagination that terrifies people, and once I slowly surrendered to that on this trip, it started happening for me. It became an adventure and exciting and really fun. We went hiking, ate at some cool restaurants, went to Madison, and when we came home, both my wife and I felt the same way: That this trip had forced us to be in the moment and go with the flow. It felt more like we were on some spiritual journey than some cheesy vacation to Wisconsin.

It’s the same exact feeling I have when I do a great improv show.

Due to overwhelming demand, Jimmy has added one more Art of Slow Comedy Intensive this summer! Study with Jimmy in this 4-hour workshop on Sunday, Aug. 10 from 12-4 p.m. at Stage 773. Only $79 if you sign up before July 31!

Del Close

You are an artist

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!

Jimmy Carrane sit-ups

Doing the worst improv ever

There is a technique I use in my Art of Slow Comedy improv classes that I want to share with you. Whenever I notice my students struggling, trying too hard to figure things out, and trying to improvise the “right way” and not making any mistakes, I will say: “Ok, for the next 10 minutes, I want you to do the worst improv ever. Show me some really bad improv.”

Sometimes they will get confused, but mostly they will get excited because I have given them permission to suck. It’s freeing. Once they start improvising and sucking on purpose, you see the color go back into their face, their bodies have life again, and creatively they have come back from the dead.

The one thing you should know about me is I am a selfish teacher. I teach what I need to learn myself. Most of the time, however, I don’t learn my own lesson until weeks after I’ve taught it to them.

Lately, I have been struggling to work out. When I do it on a regular basis I feel great, which is why I struggle to do it, because it makes me feel good. After being away from the YMCA for a couple of weeks, I finally returned to working out. I put on my shorts and Cubs T-shirt and went to the weight room, and suddenly I did not want to work out. This happens a lot. I was tired had no energy, but more than that, I am perfectionist, which has gotten me nowhere in my life, and when it comes to exercising, if I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t want to do it all. Which meant that at this point, in terms of exercising, I was doomed.

So, I sat on the leg curl machine where you brings the weights up with you ankles, and thought “Fuck this, I am going back to locker room am going to sit in the sauna.” Then it hit me, some spiritual awakening, like the Greek god Adonis was speaking to me: “Why don’t you just do the worst work out ever, just like you tell your students do the worst improve?”

In a matter of seconds I had energy again. I was actually a little excited to do the worst work out. If I wanted to stop and do six reps instead of the “perfect” 3 sets of 12 reps that I normally do, I would. I kept surprising myself that I was doing much more than I thought I would as I kept reminding myself to keep doing the worst work out ever. The 20 minutes flew by and felt like I had accomplished something much greater by not having to do it perfectly.

Those fucking students of mine taught me something in spite of myself. So I wanted to share this to see if you’d be willing to apply this to some area in your life and report back to me about how it went. And when you do, I’d like you to give me the worst report ever.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? His next Fundamentals of Improv Class starts July 21! Register before July 12 to get Early Bird Pricing. Sign up today!


Making auditions fun again

Years ago there was an actor here in Chicago who used to book a lot of commercials, parts on TV and films and voiceovers. He always had a positive outlook and he was one of only a handful of actors in town making a living at acting.

When I’d see him in the waiting room for an audition I would automatically give up and think, “Why did they even call me in?” Because I knew he’d get the part.

One time after an audition, I asked him “What is your secret of getting so much work?”

He said simply: “I look at an audition is my opportunity to perform. It’s my time during the day where I get to come in and perform, showing them what I can do.” As he spoke, you could see the joy coming from his face. I did not look at auditions that way. In fact, I resented auditioning and did not even know it.

That actor gave me that advice at least 10 to 15 years ago, but I’m a slow learner and did not fully understand it until last week.

Lately, I haven’t been auditioning much, and I’ve been improvising even less, and I need that outlet, not only for professional reasons but for psychological ones. So when my agent called and said he had an audition for me for an independent short film, I jumped at the chance. Sure, I liked the script and loved the character, but I wanted to perform.

Typically, when I get an audition I am filled with anxiety because I put so much pressure on myself for getting the part, which is really more about me validating my existence than getting the part. But this time was different. I felt excited and happy to go in and perform and show them what I could do with the part. The thought that “I have to get this part or I am a piece of shit” was gone.

So I hired an on-camera coach, Catherine Head, and even that was different. Instead of thinking, “God, Catherine, help me get this part. I need it for my low self-esteem,” it was replaced by the excitement of getting to learn from her. This was not me. Catherine gave me lots of tips I had heard before, but this time, I heard them differently, and in about an hour, she had me in good shape for the part.

The next day, I went to the audition with my new mantra: “I want to perform. I want to perform.” As I sat in the waiting room with the other actors, I could hear laughter coming from the closed casting room door like there was a party inside and I wasn’t invited.

Sometimes I can use that to psych myself out, but I’ve been around long enough to know that just because you have the room dying in laughter does not mean you going to get the part. I have been on both sides of that equation before. Finally, the door opened from the casting room and out shot three actors. One of them was Brian Bolland, who had been on the Mainstage at Second City and was someone I like and respect. I forced a theater hug on him and he said, “You are perfect for this part.” He knew my work and I felt he meant it, and I really appreciated.

Then I went into the room. I got to audition with the two other actors, which is always better than just reading the lines with the casting person’s assistant or the intern. Then I did what I always do: my nerves and my neuroses kicked in and I rushed through the scene forgetting my new mantra. Then the director gave the three of us notes, and he told me to slow down, which was a note Catherine had given me, and told me that my character was a know-it-all. The second time through, I took his direction and something amazing happened — I discovered the character. It was the most fun I had performing in a while, and I felt proud of what I did.

On the ride home, for the first time in years, I didn’t second-guess myself and my choices or beat myself up, because I knew I had given it my best. That night, I checked my e-mail, and my agent contacted me saying congratulations, the filmmakers wanted to check my availability to do the film.

I hope I end up getting to do this part, because I want to keep performing.

Thanks for continuing to be such a big fan of my blog! I wanted to let you know that I will be teaching only one more Fundamentals of Art of Slow Comedy Class this summer starting on June 21st. I limit this class to 12 people so you get the reps you deserve and the plenty of personal attention. So whether if you are a seasoned improviser looking for a new approach or relatively newbie to improv, I would love to work with you. Have a great summer. — Jimmy

Improv Nerd

Improv Nerd announces Summer 2014 Guests

Improv Nerd, the well-known comedy podcast hosted by improv veteran Jimmy Carrane, is returning for a limited time, featuring an exciting new line-up of amazing celebrity interviews.

The new season runs from July 6-July 27. All shows take place on Sundays at 5 p.m. at Stage 773 in Chicago.

This season’s guests include George Wendt (“Cheers”); Mike Kosinski of Second City’s Mainstage; Punam Patel of Second City’s e.t.c., and veteran improviser and iO teacher Paul Grondy.

In each interview, which is recorded as a podcast, Jimmy talks with an improv icon about his or her creative process and personal life. Then laugh along as Jimmy performs a totally unscripted scene with each of his guests and learn how they created the scene in a revealing interview and question-and-answer session.

Since the live show and podcast began in September 2011, Jimmy has interviewed such guests as Jeff Garlin, Andy Richter, David Koechner, Rachel Dratch, Tim Meadows, Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, Scott Adsit and others. In December 2012, the podcast was picked up by, a Los Angeles-based podcast collective that hosts shows by comedians such as Matt Dwyer, Chelsea Peretti, Dan Harmon and more.

Whether you’re a casual comedy fan or a full-on improv geek, you’ll love this show!

All shows at 5 p.m. at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago

July 6 – Mike Kosinski
July 13 – George Wendt
July 20 – Paul Grondy
July 27 – Punam Patel

General admission: $10, $8 for improv students

To purchase tickets, call Stage 773 at 773.327.5252 or purchase online at

Jeff Hoover

3 Improv Principles I Use in My Life

The thing I love about improv is I can practice things that I need to work on in my own life. It’s very simple: When I use the improv principles on stage, they will naturally spill over into my everyday life. And lately I’ve noticed that I’ve actually made a ton of progress and am starting to live by some of these improv principles.

Here are three improv principles that are helping me:

1. There are no mistakes:
In improv we are taught almost in our first class that they are no mistakes, that we need to use everything that happens on stage as a gift and that there is no return policy. Of course, I have said things on stage or missed moves or initiated something that I wished I could have taken back seconds after I did it, but in general, I get this concept when it comes to performing.

In my real life, however, I tend to obsess and beat myself up after the tiniest mistakes, leaving me paralyzed with fear and self-loathing and not able to take any action. When I make mistake in life — like making a typo on Facebook, where every one of my Facebook friends likes to make some sarcastic comment about my spelling — I have the choice to look at it through my own eyes or through the eyes of an improviser. When I look at mistakes like an improviser, I have the opportunity to find the game, have fun and support their initiation. I can learn to play with my mistakes, not take myself so seriously and laugh at myself. I’m usually better off for it, not to mention everyone else around me.

2. Be in the moment:
I don’t care what style of improv you like to play — musical, UCB game style or slower improv — we are all after the same goal, and that is to truly be in the moment. We want to let go of worrying about our next move, and instead be in a space where nothing matters, where we lose track of time and feel a connection with our teammates and the audience. For improvisers, this is the spiritual nirvana we are looking for.

Unfortunately, that feeling is slightly harder to sustain in our daily lives than it is in a 25-minute improv show. When I am improvising, I am forced to be present. In my daily life, I often forget to be in the present and instead I go into the future and over-plan things, leaving no room for things to unfold. When I do stay in the moment, things work our better than I expected.

Whenever my in-laws come into town, my wife, Lauren, and I over-plan: we need to schedule activities for every minute they are here in Chicago. We leave no room for spontaneity. On Father’s Day, we did things a little bit differently, and instead only planned to go Millennium Park and didn’t plan anything else for rest to the day. While walking around the park, we heard blues music playing, which Lauren’s dad loves, and guess what? Blues Fest was going on a block away. So we walked to Blues Fest, and her dad loved it and then we got in the car with no idea where to eat lunch, and we passed Weber Grill, a place her dad had always wanted to go, and we stopped there and had a great meal. The day was way better than we had planned because we stayed in the moment the best we could.

3. Let Go of Control
I am drawn to improv because I am a “control freak” and I want to do less of it in my life. In improv, we learn to be open to other people’s ideas and not force our agenda in a scene. Being controlling is the opposite of improvising. It’s about being rigid and thinking there is only way to do something.

I struggle with letting go of control, but I’m getting better at it. I’m learning how to call people and get their advice about my problems instead of assuming I always have the right answer. And I’ve also learned to let go of control by taking more risks in life, and telling people how I feel about something, even if I can’t control what they’re going to think about me. It’s a scary process, but it’s working.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Spots are still available in his next Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy Class starting June 21. Or, you can take his one-day Art of Slow Comedy Intensive on July 6. Sign up today!