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 Lauren maybe something good 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!

Auditioning

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 FeralAudio.com, 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!

SHOW DETAILS
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

TICKETS:
General admission: $10, $8 for improv students

To purchase tickets, call Stage 773 at 773.327.5252 or purchase online at http://www.stage773.com/

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!

jimmy-in-sportcoat

Lost in Creation

Sometimes in one of my improv classes, a student will say after doing a great scene with a strong character, “I felt lost. I did not know where the scene was going.”

“Good,” I will say in an ironic way. “Stay lost. It’s working for you.”

In our creative process, it’s a good thing to be lost. It means we are learning something new, and it’s right where we need to be. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and painful, but both can be great motivators. The creative process is not a straight line from point A to point B. We are attempting to make art, and sometimes we need to be lost, not knowing what the hell we are doing or why we are doing it. That is incredibly messy and hard to explain, not only to ourselves, but also to others.

It’s much more comfortable when life is predictable, but predictable and art don’t go together.

It’s kind of like if you were a sculptor and were making something out of clay, you need to get in there and get your hands dirty, molding the clay until it takes a shape. At first it just looks like a blob, and you wonder if it’s going to turn into anything, but eventually you reach a point where you stop and call it art.

Recently, I’ve been going through a similar process. For a couple of months, I had been posting on my personal Facebook page like it was my full-time job. I was posting 15 to 30 times a day, sometimes more, jamming up people’s news feeds. Whenever I had a thought, I put it on Facebook. If I had sex, I put it on Facebook. If I hated myself that day, it was on Facebook. Loneliness? Facebook. I had found a character, and I loved writing in that voice. I felt freedom. I felt I was becoming a better writer. I was enjoying it.

Some people liked what I was posting and others hated it. I was polarizing. At the same time, I was starting to feel resentment that I was working so hard and not getting paid. I was hitting a wall or hitting rock bottom, depending on how you looked at it.

I brought it up to my crazy shrink in group therapy. He suggested I stop writing on Facebook, and instead write the posts down in a spiral-bound notebook and save them for another one-man show, because at least then I could make some money off of them.

I got off Facebook that night, and since I didn’t have the instant gratification of an audience, my writing seemed to stop altogether. I was bitter and angry, like I had lost my best friend. I was detoxing. Two weeks later I found my muse as I was on the L heading downtown. I quickly wrote 20 or so posts in my spiral-bound notebook and I brought them into the session and read them out loud. I read 15 or so, after hearing them, the crazy shrink had another crazy suggestion. He encouraged me to get two separate spiral-bound notebooks, one for my “ironic posts” and one for my “sarcastic posts.” What the hell…? (I have neither written any new posts or brought the notebook since then. By telling on myself in this blog, I am hoping that I will get the willingness to go out and start writing again).

For a few seconds, after the crazy shrink said his crazy idea, I felt some shame, thinking that posting like a mad man for the last few months was a waste of time and in the end it had caused more harm than good. I can’t tell you if I am ever going to write another one-man show again, but to me, that does not matter. Because when those six seconds of shame had lifted like a fever, I realized I needed every one of those Facebook posts to get to this point in my creative process.

I am still lost, scared and confused, but one thing is clear: I don’t where the hell this is going to lead me. All I know is I am totally lost in this new process, and it’s exactly where I need to be right now.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Spots are still available in his next Fundamentals of Improv Class starting June 28. Or, you can take his one-day Art of Slow Comedy Intensive on July 6. Sign up today!

Jimmy Carrane

Expectations: The fastest way to kill your improv career

I’ve heard that expectations are pre-meditated resentments, and the fastest way to kill your career is to have any expectations about how it is supposed to turn out. Apparently, that’s a lesson I still need to learn.

When you have a certain expectation about how a show or a team or anything else is going to go, you suck all the joy out of having the experience, and instead, you get stuck in a state that there is never enough and you forgot why you are doing it in the first place. You are part of the living dead.

This has plagued me my whole life, and this is where I am right now with Improv Nerd. We have had over 260,000 downloads for the podcast since it started, and we’re closing in on having produced 100 episodes in under three years. I get e-mails from people all over the world on a weekly basis about how much they appreciate what I am doing, and I am being flown all over the country to do Improv Nerd and teach The Art of Slow Comedy workshops.

But that is not enough. I am not where I thought I should be by now. When I started Improv Nerd, I thought I would be Marc Maron by this point. Clearly, I am not. I thought doing Improv Nerd would lead me back to the radio or would get me an interview show on TV. It has not. I have clearly forgotten why I am doing this.

If you are reading this and you are like, “Wow, Jimmy is filled with self-pity,” you are right. That’s what happens when you have expectations: They turn into resentment, then into self-pity, and if you are really lucky, bitterness. I wish you would see me in a better light, but right now, I am filled with self-pity and anger. No, rage. Rage at God and the Universe for screwing me over once again! I have worked my ass off with Improv Nerd and feel like I have gotten shit for my effort. Fuck you, God! Fuck you, Universe!

It all started over the weekend when I had a really small audience for Improv Nerd at Stage 773 in Chicago as part of the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival. We had a great guest, the super talented Beth Stelling, and Stage 773 could not have been more supportive.

But almost nobody came to our show, and what made it worse was when I was leaving the theater, there was huge a crowd that needed to be roped off waiting to come in for the next show.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to die. I am tired. I am second guessing myself. My confidence has taken a hit. All because I had this stupid expectation that after almost three years, Improv Nerd should be a hit and I should have gotten something (read: money and fame) out of doing it.

Everyone always tells you that you’re supposed to do things for the fun of it, for the joy of doing it. Don’t worry about where it’s going to lead, just enjoy the moment. I’ve even said a lot of those same things in this very blog. But let me tell you, that is a lot easier to type onto a page than it is to do in real life. In real life, I have expectations that if I put effort into something, I’m going to be rewarded immediately  (read: more money and more fame).

The good news is at least I’m talking about this with my friends, in therapy and with you right now, so hopefully my resentments can be lifted.

The one thing I love about the accomplished guests I’ve had on Improv Nerd is when they talk honestly and openly about the times they wanted to quit and something happened that changed their mind and they not only persevered, but they became even more successful. This always makes their story even sweeter and their success more attainable. Here’s hoping that, like my guests, I can find a happy ending, because having these expectations is not only killing my career, it’s killing me.

Only a few days left to get the Early Bird Special for Jimmy’s next Fundamentals of Improv class, starting June 28! Register before June 16 to sign up for $249. Or sign up for his one-day intensive on July 6!

Jimmy teaching improv

5 secrets for coaching and teaching improv

I am so happy to see so many more people wanting to become improv coaches and teachers. That was not true when I started, where we all wanted to be performers and if you said you wanted to be a teacher it was like you were selling out. I am so glad that times have changed, and I feel a sense of pride when students tell me that what they really want to do with improv is teach.

So for those out there who want to be better teachers, here are my five secrets to being a better improv teacher or improv coach. And guess what? Some of these are actually not very different than the skills you need for improvising on stage, as well.

1. Improvise along with the group
If you are teaching or coaching improvisation, you might want to think about using a little of it in the classroom or rehearsals.

When I go on stage to improvise and have an agenda, I’m toast. Same concept applies to teaching and coaching. Ninety percent of the time I go into my class with no agenda, no lesson plan. I wait for it to appear from the group. That forces me to listen to and build off what they have brought in for the day, making me a more attentive teacher to their actual needs. By not having an agenda, I have to be present and respond in the moment because I do not know where this is going. Sound familiar?

If I get lost halfway through class, I will ask for the group’s input about what to do next. I might say something like, “I have two things in mind: a group exercise or a two-person exercise. Which way do you want to go?”

Suggestion: For your next class or rehearsal, go in with nothing planned and trust that the group will pull from you all that you need in terms of exercises and games that will apply to what they need to work on for that session. Don’t worry — if you’ve been improvising for several years, you’ll remember lots of exercises in the moment.

2. Think about what you’re going to learn in class vs. what you’re going to teach
There is a phrase that teachers like to say: “I learn so much for my students.” This often sounds like bullshit, but really, it’s not if you are willing to humble enough to realize that teaching is a two-way relationship. I can’t tell you how many games, exercises and forms I have poached from my students because they were generous enough to show them to the class. Just last session, I learned a form called Mono-scene from one of my students and I love it.

Suggestion: The next time a student has an idea for a game or an exercise or form and it fits in the moment, jump on it. If you feel scared and bit out of control, those are the right feelings, and they mean that you’ve just taken the plunge into the cold arctic waters called “growing.”

3. Remember, you are an expert, not a know-it-all
If you try to teach improv thinking you have all the answers, you are fucked. That’s not teaching, it’s just managing your image, and nothing is more boring for you or your students. When you act like you have all the answers, you are not in relationship with your students. Remember, the answers are always in the room, meaning together we (teacher + students) can come up with a better answer than if we relied on the one egotistical teacher in the room. Sometimes you will get a question and the answer is clear. Most times it’s not. That is why I turn it to over to the rest of the class to come up with an answer. When I do that, it becomes a discussion and nine times out of ten my students are much more articulate than I am about the answer.

Suggestion: Next time you get a question in class, ask the class what they think before you put your two cents in. Listen like you would on stage and see what kind of answers you ALL come up with.

4. Shut the fuck up
If you have not figured it out yet, improvisation is experiential learning, meaning people learn by doing it. The more that students do it, the more they will learn. If you’re spending too much time talking as the teach, you’re going to put people in their heads. You don’t want them trying to figure things out in their seats, you want them figuring it out on their feet. Students retain things much better when they are actually performing, and you as the teacher or coach do not have to work so damn much with your mouth.

Suggestion: If you are trying to make a point and you have a game or exercise that your class could do that would illustrate that point instead of you talking, have them do it! Cut your brilliant lecture and go right into the exercise and game.

5. Finding your voice as a teacher and coach take time
Just because you are great improviser does not mean you will be a great teacher. You may become a great teacher, but I am here to tell you it will take time. Finding your voice in the classroom is no different than finding it on stage. Unfortunately, not all the credits transfer. The same way you got good at improvising is the same way you will continue to get better as a coach or a teacher, and that is by screwing up. The master teachers like Susan Messing, Brian Posen and Mick Napier did not become great teachers overnight. We can only become great by screwing up millions and millions of times. The more we screw up the closer we become to becoming a master.

Suggestion: Screw up. Many, many times. Keep screwing up.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Jimmy’s next Fundamentals Art of Slow Comedy Class begins June 28. Only $249 if you register by June 16. Sign up today!

Executive Branch

10 Tips for Getting Ahead in Improv — Part 2

Last week, I outlined the first five points of my ten-point plan for getting ahead in improv. Read last week’s blog here.

This week, I’m back with more of my favorite pieces of wisdom. I hope this helps you, and if you have any questions for me, please email me at jimcarrane@gmail.com.

6. Everyone says it’s important not to be a dick in the improv community. How do I stay off the Dick List?
Getting on the Dick List is like stopping payment on your student loans — it stays on your credit report for seven years. If you want to stay off of the Dick List, be respectful. Speak your truth and know that you are not always right. In any group, you will need to learn to give and take. What seems so important and worth fighting for in a group or show will seem stupid in a couple of weeks.

7. How do you get over jealousy of other people’s success?
We are all jealous, like we all breathe. So admit it. When you deny it, it comes out sideways, and you end up alienating people. When you admit it, you have a chance to get rid of it.

Jealousy hates when you start creating because creativity cuts it by an average of 54 percent. So start creating: Work on a solo show, form an improv group, write a book, teach your own workshop. And if that doesn’t make you feel less jealous, pray for the people you are jealous of to keep being successful.

Also, remember that the person you are jealousy about today may help you out in the in the future. I cannot tell you how many guests I’ve had on Improv Nerd that I was jealous of their success, and because I was not a dick and let my jealousy come out sideways, they ended up appearing on the show.

8. Why do I even need to ask people to come to my shows?
Because it’s good practice in getting bigger and getting seen, which is one of your jobs as an improviser. In fact, I believe asking people to come to your shows is as important as any class you are going to take.

Most improvisers ignore the process of asking people to come to their shows because on some level they don’t really want to get bigger. Instead, they hide behind social media or have this attitude that they “just want to show up and play.”

Fine, stay small. I still struggle with this, but at least I am not kidding myself — I know am resisting getting bigger.

9. What is the best way to get people to come to my show?
Let me start by saying that Facebook is great, I love it, but creating a Facebook event and inviting people to it is not enough to get people to come to your show. You need to do more than that.

Doing something personal – such as a personal email or actually picking up the phone and talking to your friends and family – is harder, but it’s way more valuable. When I have a show, I typically write an email to my friends and say something like this: “I need your support. I have a show this Sunday, and I am really scared because I am interviewing Judd Apatow.”

You can also try other methods, such as creating flyers and postcards and sending out press releases. But nothing is going to beat asking people individually if they would be willing to support you.  Remember, it’s not about the results necessarily, it about the asking.

10. What is the quickest way to get better faster?
Get comfortable with failing. That is why you are taking classes: to learn how to fail. Once you get good at failing, you are ready do it in front of people. There’s no better teacher out there then failing in front of an audience, many times. Those lessons stick to you like Velcro. They enter your brain in a different way. Yes, it’s painful, but there are no short cuts. The more you fail, the faster you will get better, so fail, fail, fail all the way to the top.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Jimmy’s next Fundamentals Art of Slow Comedy Class begins June 28. Only $249 if you register by June 16. Sign up today!

Improv group

Top 10 Tips for Getting Ahead in Improv – Part 1

I love all of the questions that people ask at the end of each Improv Nerd show. I get inspired by all of the young improvisers who are trying to figure out how to navigate life in this crazy community and create a path for themselves. It’s not easy.

So, if you’re one of those improvisers who is trying to figure out how to shape your improv career, here are my top 10 tips for getting ahead. I’m starting with five tips this week, and next week I will give you five more tips to getting ahead in improv.

1. I have been taking classes and I don’t know what I want to do with improv. What should I do next?
The good news is improv has gotten enormous and there are so many choices. The bad news is all these choices can make your head spin.

When I started I wish I would have gotten to sit down with someone and say “This is what I want to do in improv.” I wanted to be hired for The Second City Main Stage, but I was never honest about it, to myself or others, and when the opportunities came, I was on my own, which meant I sabotaged any chance of getting in.

My suggestion would be to sit down with two supportive and trusted friends and tell them what you want in improv. Write down your vision for your improv career and then allow it to change, and believe me, it will. Careers in improv are not straight lines and keep a look out for the pleasant detours.

2. I did that, now what?
You just told people two people what you want. That’s pretty brave. Now be prepared for the emotional hangover — anger, fear, shame, sadness. Who do you think you are?

At that same meeting, ask your friends to give you a minimum of five action steps. Simple baby steps you can take to get you closer to your vision. If your vision is to be on a team at the UCB in L.A. and you’re going into your junior year of college in downstate Illinois, your action steps could be to buy the UCB manual, go to their website and listen to Improv4Humans with Matt Besser. All these steps help you get closer to your goal and will make your improv vision a reality.

3. How do I get the most out of my improv class?
Show up like you would for an audition or your temp job. Show up on time, showered, shaved, and sober. Show up ready to play. How you show up for improv class is how you show up to your life. Most improv classes are filled with tons of opportunities — shows, jobs, connections and friendships — and if you show up like a pro you will only increase your chances.

4. How many groups should I be on at one time?
This is up to you, but just remember, when you’re too over committed, your work suffers, your life suffers and you suffer. Give yourself time to take a break. And make sure that every group that you’re a part of, that you’re there because you want to be, not because you think you “should.”

If you feel over committed, disconnect from improv for a couple of days to get your head clear and ask yourself what projects are you involved in that you feel excited about? Or challenged by? Or feel joy about? Let these emotions guide you, and then before you make any changes, talk to at least two trusted friends. You are improvisers for God’s sake, you chose this career because you don’t have to do it alone!

5. What do I do when I don’t make a Harold or improv team at an institution?
Feel your feelings. Call your friends and get their support. Don’t minimize it. It sucks. Go ahead and feel angry, disappointed, hurt, rejected, betrayed. You paid all this money and you put in all this time. Blame. Character assassinate. You have my blessing.

And when you are done feeling those horrible feelings, you may be one of the lucky ones who realizes that no person, place or thing can tell you that you cannot improvise, only you can. You have woken from this nightmare and taken back your power. Some never do. They are the bitter ones. You, on the other hand, realized that you make your own opportunities, and you may even look back one day and be grateful you did not make a team in the first place.

I hope this helped. Next week when I get back from vacation, look for five more tips from me. In the meantime, if you have any other questions, feel free to write me at jimcarrane@gmail.com.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Jimmy’s next Fundamentals Art of Slow Comedy Class begins June 28. Only $249 if you register by June 16. Sign up today!

Jimmy Carrane and Susan Messing

Facebook intervention

I have been involved in a bit of controversy around some of my Facebook posts. I have heard through others people that some of my friends are concerned, they think I am ruining my reputation, sharing too much information or having another break down.

On the most recent episode of Improv Nerd podcast, we turned the tables and had Susan Messing interview me, and during the interview, she confronted me on my polarizing Facebook posts, asking me why I was writing them.

If you haven’t been following me, here’s an example of what I’ve been writing. I’ve posted some self-loathing stuff like “I have been so busy lately, I have not found any time to hate myself” and “To all of the women I keep turning into my mother, Happy Mother’s Day,” to more positive posts like “Brilliance coming soon” or “When is someone going to realize how deep I am and offer me a book deal off my Facebook posts?”

Some days I have posted several times in a row, all about how I wished Facebook would make me feel better or how I have so much shame.

When Susan asked me about why I am writing these kind of posts, I wish I had not been so defensive and had given her a different answer. The one I would give today would be “I don’t know.”

When I put a post on Facebook, I sit at my computer screen and it’s like I go into a persona, much like when I am improvising a character, and I lose myself, saying things through the character that I am afraid to say in my boring everyday life.

After the show on the car ride home from Stage 773, my wife, Lauren, confessed that she did not get some of my Facebook posts. My producer called me and, like Susan and my wife, thought I should put the energy I am putting into Facebook and write a new one-man show. I felt ganged up on: This was a Facebook intervention.

I have written many solo shows and each process has been different. And maybe this is my process for writing another solo show or a book or a screen play. Who knows? All I know right now is that my voice is getting stronger and I am having fun. I learned a long time ago at the Annoyance Theater that product follows process, and not the other way around.

I will tell you this whole “Facbookgate” has left me confused and kicked up my people-pleasing, which has always held me back since I was old enough to express myself. When I post now on Facebook, I second-guess myself, and before I write something I think, “What will people think?”

This is death for any artist in any field. I want the people-pleasing to go away, and I want to care less about what people think of me. If I am going to continue to grow as an artist, I need to be comfortable in making people uncomfortable. I hope I have your blessing.

David Koechner

3 Tips for Using a Suggestion at the Top of an Improv Scene

In theory, using a suggestion that an audience member throws out at the top of an improv scene should be easy. But in the hands of inexperienced of improvisers, a simple suggestion can cause an entire scene to fall flat. Often, improvisers either over complicate the suggestion, taking themselves out of the moment, or they hit it so hard over the head that not only do we insult the audience but anybody in a three-mile radius.

The suggestion is there to help us, to inspire us, not to get in our way. Here are three very easy ways to use the suggestion that will make you look like a improv genius.

1. Don’t use it
You heard me right. Throw the damn thing out. Ignore it. TJ and Dave don’t use a suggestion and instead they just begin their show by saying “Trust us, this is all made up,” and you don’t leave thinking the show was any less brilliant or that they weren’t really improvising because they didn’t use a suggestion.

I cannot tell you how many times I have gone completely deer-in-the-headlights-blank when an audience member has thrown out a suggestion. It continues to happen more times than I care to admit. When I get a suggestion for the improvised scenes in Improv Nerd, I am totally blank about 80 percent of the time. The difference today is I don’t panic as much, because I trust my skills as an improviser I know the audience will understand that I’m improvising, even if I don’t use their suggestion. I have had plenty of accomplished improvisers on Improv Nerd say with no shame that they often don’t use suggestion at all. If it doesn’t work for them, they ignore it.

Personally, I’d rather see an improviser not use a suggestion than smash it over the head. Nothing drives me more nuts than when players get a suggestion of “cheese” and in about four seconds they go from brilliant to stupid as they try to mention the word cheese over and over again in every single scene. We get it; the suggestion was “cheese.” Keep it simple, for my sake, and put the sledge hammer down and ignore the suggestion.

2. Use it to create an environment
If you are going to use a suggestion, one great way of doing it is to use it to inspire an environment. In fact, this technique is so simple, you’ll feel like you are cheating.

Let’s say the suggestion is “rubber.” Ask yourself where would I find rubber? Then free associate. Rubber makes me think about tires, so I could be in car, I could be on the side of a road, I could be in the pit crew for a race car. Rubber also makes me think of rubber ducky, so we could be in a bathroom or in a baby’s room or a toy store or a kid’s birthday party.

Going to the environment is great because you can usually discover more about your character and your relationship to your scene partner more quickly through the environment. Let’s say “rubber” made you think of tires, which made you think of factory. You could play blue collar workers. Rubber also make me think of condoms, so you could be in the back seat after having sex, or you could be teenagers who had just lost their virginity.

Dan Bakkedahl illustrated this beautifully in his recent episode of Improv Nerd when we got the suggestion beauty shop. Instead of simply focusing on the environment, he used the environment to inform his character, and we ended up playing two stereotypical gay hair dressers who worked there.

3. Use it to embody a character
This one is a bit more advanced. Instead of taking the suggestion to create the environment, instead you can use it to help you form your character or your character’s point of view. Let’s say the suggestion is pumpkin. Pumpkin makes me think of something round, and round makes me think of fat and lazy, so I would probably embody a fat and lazy person, maybe someone so big that he can’t get out of his bed and needs people to bring food to him. Pumpkin makes me think of Halloween, Halloween makes me think of scary, so I could I play a person who is afraid. Pumpkin also makes me think of Charlie Brown, so I could play a person who never had anything go right in his life.

Recently we had Dave Koechner on Improv Nerd, and he gave us a graduate school class in this method. He got the suggestion of kitchen and showed us how you can create a point of view from anything in the kitchen. For example, kitchen could make you think of knife, and that could mean shiny, so you could play a shiny bright person with a positive point of view. Or, knife could also mean cutting, so you could create a person who is more cutting and more of a jerk.

No matter how you use a suggestion, remember that there is no right way to use it. As long as it’s not bogging down your choices or your scene, you’re going to be fine. I’d love to hear how you use a suggestion to kick off a scene. Let me know!

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Jimmy’s next Advanced Art of Slow Comedy Class begins June 2. Only $249 if you register by May 19. Sign up today!

Carl and the Passions

How to Have Better Bad Shows

Is your goal in improv to never have a bad show, scene, class or rehearsal? If so you are doomed. Get out while you can.

Improvising is not an exact science. You are never going to master it. That’s why some of us are in it for life.

What you need to be striving for is always challenging yourself to leave your comfort zone. That’s where the learning will be the fastest.

How will you know you are outside your comfort zone, you ask? You will feel uncomfortable, frustrated and out of control.

I have seen this hundreds of times: A student or even a whole class leaves a class frustrated, feeling like they’re not very good and never going to “get it,” and then they show up the next week and they’re different, like they’ve passed a kidney stone, and they knock it out of the park. What happens between classes, I don’t know, but I think it’s the classes where they feel frustrated are actually the ones where they’re learning the most.

I saw it last night in my Art of Slow Comedy class. A couple of my students were really brave and shared with the class the frustrations they were having with their improvising. One guy thought he was not getting it, and another woman said she was more comfortable with more structure. Both were frustrated.

I am proud they spoke up. It takes courage to not sit on your feelings and instead put a voice to them, and if they knew it or not, the students were helping the class tremendously. The class gave them feedback, although sometimes students don’t even need feedback, they just need to speak about how they’re feeling.

I shared with the class that I have done a thousand bad scenes to get where I am today, and you know what? I still have thousands of bad shows left in me. That is humbling and discouraging at the same time. For me it is a fact. I’ve performed with a lot of groups over the years and we have had good shows and bad shows. The better the team, the fewer bad shows we had, but we still had bad shows.

I was on Carl and The Passions at IO-Chicago with some of the best improvisers around, and we had a running joke that when Shad Kunkle, Bill Boehler and I would come out and do a scene together, it would go nowhere. We called it the Bermuda Triangle of Improv. You would think with the years that we all had been doing it, we would be killing it every night. Not true. Yes, we had killer shows, shows that were so great you had a high for days afterwards, but we still had bad shows, bad rehearsals and bad scenes.

I believe it was Mick Napier who said that the goal of improv is not to be perfect, it’s just to increase your percentage of your success rate. Nobody is going to have a 100 percent success rate. Nobody is going to be the perfect improviser. It’s like saying you’re going to 1000% percent hitter in baseball. It’s never happened because the game isn’t designed that way. Same with improvising.

So save yourself some time and misery and accept the bad shows, rehearsals and classes as part of the process. Nobody understands the pain of that more than I do. I’ve written about how I often want to kill myself after a bad show. That has not changed. But in my despair, I try to remember “If you want to do something well, you need to do it poorly first.”

So if you’re goal has always been to perfect improv, my suggestion is to throw that out and get a new goal. If you want to, you can use mine: To have better bad shows.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Jimmy’s next Art of Slow Comedy class start June 2. Hurry! Early Bird Pricing ends May 19. Register today.