Carl and the Passions

Let’s start with, you’re talented…

What we do is pretty amazing. We get up in front of people and make shit up. And regardless if we suck or not that night, we are brave for just getting up there. And we need to give ourselves credit for that fact alone. I know a lot of you are refusing to give yourself kudos for your shows because you’re telling yourself you are not as good as TJ and Dave, so I am going to give them to you right now: “You are great. You are courageous. You are talented.”

Now if your head is going, “Jimmy doesn’t know me. He is full of shit. How does he know if I am talented or not? This blog sucks. Jimmy sucks,” welcome to the club. This is the negative talk in your head, and it has nothing to do with me or my lousy blog. It has to do with you. Are you willing to be gentle on yourself until you get the place where you think you are good at this? Are you willing to give yourself props regardless what level you are at for trying one of the scariest art forms out there?

My guess is, if you are like me, probably not. You are more interested in beating yourself up after a bad show or comparing yourself to others. Great, I get it. Believe me I don’t want to ruin your pity party, but here is another way to look at it.

Improvising in front of an audience is a very vulnerable experience. As soon as we step on stage, we have come out of hiding. We are getting bigger. We are willing to be seen. All this is terrifying. And regardless if we have a killer show or we bomb miserably, we will have feelings. Intense feelings that will overpower us. We tell ourselves we should have certain feelings based on how we did on stage or in class. Good Show = Happy. Bad Show = Suicidal Thoughts. That is bullshit. I’ve had great shows and felt awful and had awful shows and felt great.

And here is the best part, are you ready? Most of the time I can’t tell you if I had a good show or not because my perception is all screwed up.

This is especially true for beginners, because you have no reference point for what a good or bad show feels like. And while some people may be able to do their first show and feel great, it make take other people many, many shows before they can feel comfortable afterwards.

I still lose my perspective on what is a good or bad show. Last summer, I sat in with my old team, Carl and The Passions, at IO-Chicago. This is a team filled with some of the best improvisers in the country. I felt rusty. I felt in my head until about three-quarters of the way through the Harold. I got off stage and was filled with shame and convinced myself I sucked. That night, I put myself to sleep with those thoughts and woke up thinking I was the biggest piece of shit in improv. A couple of days later I ran into to Dina Facklis, whose team, Virgin Daiquiris, had shared the bill with us that night, and she said “Are you going to come back and play with Carl because my friend said you where her favorite.”

I had not even thought about that. I was too busy thinking of ways of how I could kill myself. I was also grateful that she said that, because I had lost any perception of my work. It reminded me that I am better than I give myself credit for, and I am still way too hard on myself.  And that those affirmations that I so generously gave to you also apply to me: “I am great. I am courageous. I am talented.”

Key & Peele

My Top 5 Favorite Moments of Improv Nerd So Far

This September, Improv Nerd turned three years old. At this point, we have recorded 106 episodes. Over the past three years, I have gotten to improvise with and interview some of the greatest comedy minds out there today. And lately, I’ve been traveling across the country, bringing the show to different theaters and improv festivals.

In honor of our three-year anniversary, I wanted to share my top 5 favorite moments over the last three years. They are in no particular order, but they are the things that have had a lasting impact on me. What has been your favorite moment from the show so far? Let us know in the comments.

  1. Interviewing George Wendt
    As a fat, insecure 19-year-old kid from the suburbs, I would drive my parents Buick station wagon into the city of Chicago to take improv classes at The Players Workshop of The Second City. On the wall was grainy head shot of a young George Wendt. At the time, Cheers was on NBC and was quickly becoming must see TV. I related to the lovable loser of Norm Peterson and to the actor who played him, George Wendt, who started out at The Player Workshop before making it to Main Stage at Second City.I wanted to be a character like Norm on a sitcom like Cheers and have a career like George’s. He was an inspiration, something I aspired to be. When he agreed to be on Improv Nerd Live in Chicago more than 30 years later, over Facebook, I was so excited and scared. The show was incredible. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who loved George Wendt, because the place was packed. That night, it seemed everything had come full circle. Listen >
  1. Meeting Key and Peele
    It’s always cool to get a guest right when they are about to blow up. We interviewed Key and Peele in a conference room at Second City. Everyone in the improv community knew how great the show was on Comedy Central and it would be just a matter of time before it would become a huge hit. During our interview, we talked about a lot of things: the show, the critics, adjusting to being in charge, being biracial. It is probably one of the most passionate conversations I have had over the last three years. I remember when I was done, I was exhausted and thought I had offended them, especially Keegan. Months later at the Detroit Improv Festival, Keegan was my guest again, and he assured me everything was OK between the two of us. As someone who suffers from chronic jealousy, I am proud to say that I could not be happier for their success, and having the chance to interview them was a dream come true. Listen >
  1. Getting Picked Up in a Lincoln Town Car
    One of my dreams has been to have my own talk show on TV where I get to interview people in depth, like Charlie Rose. I envision myself living in a big house and being picked up in a Lincoln Town car to be driven to the studio.Although I haven’t scored a TV deal yet out of doing this podcast, I have had experiences where I felt like a big deal. One of the best was when I got to interview Horatio Sanz, who I always thought Horatio was one of the funniest people I knew when I was starting out in Chicago. What made it even sweeter was that the interview was held at my alma mater, Columbia College in Chicago. The day of the interview, Columbia sent a Lincoln Town car over to my house and picked up me and Lauren, and we did the show in packed auditorium. Afterwards there was a reception, and I got my picture taken with the president of the college. I felt like a star. Listen > 
  2. Performing with the Improvised Shakespeare Company
    These guys are great, and I highly recommend anyone to see their show. I was so excited to have Joey Bland and Ross Bryant on as our guests to represent the group, even though I was terrified to improvise in the style of Shakespeare. I had never even read a Shakespeare play before, so a few days before the show, tried reading Shakespeare out loud to my wife, and I had no idea what any of it meant.Before the show, I told Joey and Ross how scared I was, and they said don’t worry. They did not lie. In fact, they really took care of me and it turned out to be a lot of fun. During one of scenes I uttered the phrase “oil of my loins,” where that came from I have no clue, but the audience loved it. And when I heard everyone laughing, I realized I had survived something I thought was going to kill me. Listen > 
  3. Intern enters the scene during the Amanda Blake Davis episode
    This was the strangest thing that I think has ever happened to us. One of our interns, who had Amanda as a teacher at Second City, decided during the improv scene with me and Amanda, that he was going to do a walk on. Which he did. To say I was surprised is understatement. Traumatic is the best way to describe it. I had no idea how to handle it or why it had happened. But afterwards, this event became a learning experience for me, because I realized that I hadn’t really been taking ownership of the show. I had never set ground rules for the interns, and believe it or not, I was supposed to be the leader, even though I had little experience in being one. This episode woke me up out of my sleep and made me realize people were looking to me to lead them. Listen >

Let us know what your favorite moment of the show has been so far!

M.A.S.H.

Being a Comedy Snob

I am a comedy snob. And worse, for years I thought that was an asset. God help me!

I have always been a comedy snob since I was a third grader at Joseph Sears School. I couldn’t understand why my friends would watch Three’s Company over comedies like M.A.S.H. or Bob Newhart. I secretly thought “What is wrong with them?”

As I got older and started studying improv, it got worse. When I was in college, I studied with the legendary improv guru Del Close who would preach in his booming voice to “play to the top of your intelligence.” Back then, we at the Improv Olympic had a chip on our shoulder, feeling somewhat over shadowed by Second City. Long form was not really accepted yet, so we thought of ourselves as purists, though that was an exaggeration. We were improv snobs. It was like we were from the Ivy League of improv, and we carried ourselves with a little swagger and a lot of superiority.

Even though I was green and did not have a clue what I was doing, it did not prevent me from standing in the back during improv shows and criticizing the players on stage. I cannot tell you how many hours I wasted in smoky bars or at all-night diners eating stale pie and drinking burnt coffee ripping other people’s improv.

Unfortunately, I’m still a comedy snob. Although I don’t do it as much in my performing or teaching, I have found it showing up in my everyday life.

If you haven’t figured it our already, I am in therapy. I go to group therapy twice a week. My therapist is a brilliant man with one of the corniest senses of humor. He loves a good pun, and when he comes up with a “good one” his face lights up like a Christmas tree. He’s so fucking proud of himself, and it’s so annoying I cannot contain myself. I roll my eyes in the back of my head. I have a running joke with him. Since most of us in the group are addicts in recovery, I say, “Looks likes you’ve had a comedy relapse.”

If that’s not enough, there is this older guy who I am friends with. He is very wise. I have a lot of respect for him, except when he tries to be funny. He’s one of those people who thinks he’s funnier than he actually is. It’s actually a disease. A couple of weeks ago we got together and as we joked around he could not resist and opened his mouth with one of his typically flat jokes that was dead on arrival. But this time, I watched his face. It lit up when he told it. He was filled with joy. And for a of couple seconds, this old, wrinkled, worn face transformed into that of a giddy 14-year-old boy. He was playing. He was having fun. I had never seen this before. I was too busy being a snob. I had missed the best part.

When I realized this, I felt sick. I felt sad. I had this insight that I was criticizing how people play. What an awful thing to do. And in the process, I was squashing their joy, their fun, their passion. Much like my parents did to me growing up. I do not want to be my parents. I don’t know many people who do.

Improv is all about having fun. So if maybe you’re a snob like me and say long form is better than short form, or Johnstone is better than Del Close, or UCB is better than the Annoyance, or musical improv is better than scenic improv, remember that what you’re judging is how people play. The next time you go to the park or playground and see children playing, my guess is you are not going to critique how they are play. You accept them for who they are. Which is something I could learn. Because being a comedy snob has gotten me nowhere in my professional career, or, most importantly, in my everyday life.

Last chance to study with Jimmy Carrane in 2014! Sign up for his Advanced Ensemble Class, taking place on Saturdays from 12-2 p.m. at Stage 773 starting Oct. 25. Early Bird Special ends Oct. 13!

mark-beltzman-live

Making Your Partner Look Good

You have probably heard this term thrown around in your improv classes a million times: “Make your partner look good.” And you have probably been confused by it. What does it really mean?

Recently Mark Beltzman was my guest on Improv Nerd. Mark is a highly respected improv teacher, actor and improviser. During the interview he used the ever-popular phrase “Make your partner look good and you will look twice as good.”

But how, exactly do you do that?

I asked him to explain and he paused for a second and said “You just have to listen.”

That’s how he interprets that particular phrase. If you ask 30 different improv teachers what “make your partner look good” means, you are going to get 30 different answers. That is what is so beautiful about improvisation. There is no right, there is no wrong, there’s only what works for you. And if you aspire to be an artist, what works for you will evolve.

So a couple days after the show, my wife, Lauren, and I are in our kitchen making turkey sandwiches, while she pitches ideas to me for today’s blog. We like to multitask.

“What does making your partner look good mean to you?” she asks.

I had to think about it. I have been using that term for so long I had taken it for granted. Except for Lauren asking me in our kitchen, I don’t think anyone has ever asked me to define it. So, I needed to think about it.

So I went for I walk and this was came with: I think in its simplest form, taking care of your partner, or making your partner look good, really means taking care of the scene. Are you willing to do what is necessary to make the scene work? In some cases, that may mean you will have to drop your agenda completely and get behind your partner’s idea, as if it were your own. It may be to give specific information that is needed to keep the scene going forward. It may mean that you will have to mirror your partner’s energy or playing an opposite energy. If a game or a pattern emerges in the scene, you have to heighten it. You get where I am going here.

The hardest part of making your partner look good is not focusing on how you are coming off to the audience, but only thinking about the scene at hand. If you’re focusing on the scene instead of yourself, you’re automatically making your partner look good.

That means you may have to be the one who doesn’t get any laughs, and instead play the straight man role or play a character whose sole purpose is to feed another character. Yes, it can seem thankless in our eyes, but it’s something both our partners on stage and the audience appreciate.

Or, it could mean that you play an emotional character and give your partner lots of specifics so they have something to react to.

When Mark and I improvised together last Sunday, both of us did things to make the other look good in the scene. When the scene started out, I added a bunch of specifics to give Mark a road map of who we were and what our relationship was – making his job easier. Then later in the scene, Mark made me look good by giving me a lot of space and playing it calm while my character went crazy and started kicking and pulling up bushes in front of his house. By him holding back, he set it up for me to play a big character.

If I could boil it down as simply as Mark did, I would say this: Making your partner look good means thinking about what you can give to the scene rather than what you can take from it.

I am interested to hear how you interpret this concept. Let me know in the comments below.

Jazz Freddy

Are You Lost in the Improv Community?

Improvisers in Chicago have it really hard today. I can’t tell you how many improvisers I know who fell in love with improv in their home towns, and then moved to Chicago with stars in their eyes about arriving in the improv Mecca. And within a year, they are discouraged and depressed and don’t know why they ever decided to move here.

Today, the improv community has gotten so big here in Chicago that it’s really hard to feel a part of it. Sure, there are more opportunities, but there is also a much bigger chance you’ll feel lost.

This was never an issue when I started out in the ’80s here in Chicago. From my first class at The Players Workshop to my first house team at IO, I always felt like I was part of an instant community. Jazz Freddy and The Annoyance became my surrogate family. Back then, improv was happening in vacuum, and because so few people were doing it and you only did one project at a time, it was easy to develop bonds with the people you played with.

This clearly doesn’t happen today. Today, many improvisers struggle to find their niche here in Chicago. And when you don’t find a community, the more likely you are to feel lost, isolated and lonely. Even worse, you become depressed and tell yourself that if only you had made a Harold Team at IO or were hired by Second City all your problems would be solved. You moved here, left your friends and family behind to do something you love — learn an art form that is built on people — and you cannot understand why you feel so alone.

Community is something I took for granted when I was a student, but today, if improvisers want to be part of a community here in Chicago, they will have to work harder and harder to create it.

What many improvisers don’t know is that community doesn’t just happen. You have to build it. A great way is to commit to one group, and form strong friendships with them.

Unfortunately, many improvisers suffer from the improviser disease, FOMO — fear of missing out. So they participate in as many projects and groups as possible, always chasing a dream, but never really finding where they fit in.

I look back at all the friendships I have made in improv and they have outlasted the shows I was in. And those friendships are what kept me going when I was filled with doubt. It was the fucking people — they carried me when I wanted to quit. And you know what? The friendships I have made as a performer, director and teacher have been the best part of improv. I could not say that at 20 or 30, but I am saying it now.

Take it from a wise old guy who has been around for a while. When you move to this big, crazy city, make it priority to get a core group of friends. They’re the ones you can lean on from time to time for support and encouragement when you want to quit and move back home with your parents.

And if that means doing one less class or, God forbid, one less project, to give you time to nurture those friendships, then do it now. You can thank me later.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? His next sections of Advanced Ensemble class starts Oct. 25 and Oct. 27. Both include a performance on the last day of class. Sign up today!

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 e.tc. 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.

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

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/

jimmy-mike-kosinski

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.

See?

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!