Jazz Freddy

What should I do next?

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Does this sound familiar? You have just finished a class or an improv show, and before you can even enjoy what you’ve done, a panicked thought sets in: “What I am going to next?”

I see this a lot, especially with students who finish taking my Advanced Art of Slow Comedy improv class. After studying with me for three terms and putting up a great long from show for their friends and family they will pull me aside and ask me, “What should I do next? Should I go to Second City? Should I go to iO? Should I go to The Annoyance? There are some people from this class who want to form a team; should I do that?”

This last part is the best part of their answer, and I tell them that.

“Yes, but my agent said it would be good to get Second City on my resume, and at IO I can get stage time and I want to go to The Annoyance because I heard I should study with Mick.”

All true, but what about staying with the people from class and doing a show? They have asked you to be part of it.

“Yes, but I want to be on Saturday Night Live.”

That’s great. I get that I was too subtle. You want my answer?

“Yes, that is why I am asking you.”

Here is my philosophy: Do what is right in front of you. Don’t over complicate it. If you had a great time with the class and they want you to form a group and have invited you to do a show, say yes. Because that is the next right thing to do. If you are an improviser and you live in Chicago for at least 18 months there is a 90 percent chance you are going to end up taking classes at iO, Second City, and The Annoyance, probably at the same time.

So many times, we think that to get ahead, we have to be striving, taking a huge leap to something that is “big time.” But often, all we need to do to get ahead is say yes to what is right in front of us.

I am still learning this lesson. I cannot tell you how many opportunities I have turned down over the years that were right in front of me that I still regret not taking. I was, and still am, the worst kind of liar and that is I lie myself. And when an opportunity would present itself I would make some bullshit up in my head like “How is that going to get me hired?” or “I am a performer, not a writer,” or “I don’t really want that.” So I walked away from opportunities that were literally right in front of me.

Back in the early ’90s, I was performing with the Comedy Underground, and the whole cast was hired to write for a late night talk show on NBC that was being filmed out of Chicago. Since it was such a big cast, we would have had to rotate days we worked. I turned it down. The reason? I was an artist and I wasn’t going to sell out to write for a show.

Another time I had an audition for SNL. They were flying me out to New York, and I had my plane ticket in my hand, but I decided not to go because I was scared and I told myself “I don’t want to do sketch.”

Ever since I was a teenager, I had wanted to get hired by Second City and be on the Mainstage. The closet thing I got to working there was teaching in the training center and working at the business theater. I was well liked at the business theater and Scott Allman took me under his wing and told me he would try to talk to Kelly Leonard to get me on the touring company. Pride, fear and lies got in my way and I said I wasn’t interested.

On the reverse side, some of the best things I was ever part of just fell in my lap and I was lucky enough to get out of my own way to say yes. Naked with Stephanie Weir, Jazz Freddy, being in the original cast of Armando at iO and godshow were all things that I was asked to be part of and they were all high points for me creatively. Those opportunities fell out of the sky.

I know that “yes, and…” is an easy improv concept to embrace in theory, but in practice, when it comes to our careers, we tend to want to pick the “right” thing that is going to get us ahead. But the universe doesn’t work like that. There is no way to perfectly plan your career. There is no straight line from point A to point B. What we have to do is let go of outcomes and trust that saying yes will get us exactly where we need to go.

10 replies
  1. Edd Garcia
    Edd Garcia says:

    It’s really nice to hear this advice and realize that everyone has a time or two when they get in their own way. For me personally, I think I let fear of failure stop me from saying yes to things far too often. Not to get too hokey, but I think if you learn to live the ‘yes, and’ it’ll start coming more easily to you on stage, too.

    Reply
  2. Mike Sause
    Mike Sause says:

    I’ve been saying yes to just about everything lately. And while it has been great, it does leave me wondering when I need to start saying no. I’m typically performing or rehearsing improv and/or sketch about 6 nights a week at this point and I have a day job. Saying no will soon have to happen to me…there’s just not enough time!

    Reply
  3. Todd Boring
    Todd Boring says:

    Jimmy,

    LOVED this post. As you know from being in your classes, I’m a Jesus guy. So I frame this as God getting involved in my life and lighting up the next step on the path he has for me.

    When I’ve taken the risks and said yes, I’ve ended up in places I’ve never dreamed of. Improv for one. Running a festival in Houston for another. Powerful concepts – just take the next steps and quit looking for some big leap.

    Todd

    Reply
  4. Joshua Boden
    Joshua Boden says:

    Great advice.
    I was a professional session musician for many years in NYC. I made a lot of fear based choices, that, though I LOVE my life now, I still regret not getting passed the paralysis if fear back then. Thank you for sharing Jimmy.

    Reply
  5. Laura Parry
    Laura Parry says:

    Totally agree. I have to step back and say “Hey, wait a minute. Is what I’ve heard right for me? ” Besides, who knows where you will meet other brilliance? Everybody starts in a classroom. 🙂

    Reply
  6. Gregor
    Gregor says:

    “Getting Out Of My Own Way.”

    It’s such an interesting concept, in an art form built on celebrating mistakes and learning how to bounce back.

    I love this blog, Jimmy.

    You strike a wonderful balance between staying ambitious and being vulnerable. Two very different muscles, but complementary in their nature.

    Reply
  7. Meghan
    Meghan says:

    Jimmy, I’m having a huge what’s next moment in my career as an artist and professionally. This post came up in my inbox at the best time, because it made me realize that my saying yes to taking a temporary day time position and saying yes to projects that have no specific path yet, may actually lead me right where I need to be. Thanks again for sharing your sage wisdom that not only applies to being an improviser, but also to living life fully.

    Reply
  8. Wes Melton
    Wes Melton says:

    I am currently having one of those “what now” moments. This article reminded me the opportunity in front of you is much more realistic than the hope for something in the future that may or may not materialize. You’re in this for the ride so get your foot off the brake.

    Reply

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