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Art is Hard

The other day I was on Facebook and read a post by one of my favorite improvisers: Stacey Smith. If you don’t know her, she is a gifted performer, super positive and a hard worker. She lives in Chicago — a city that has more opportunities than most for improvisers.

Her post was brutally honest about her disappointment and struggles in improv. And when I read it, I could relate. To the rejection. To the sacrifices. To the frustrations that come with a life in this art form.

There are no formulas to how to succeed in improv, no logic to any of this. That’s what makes this career path so exciting and so dreadful at the same time. Life is not fair, and in improv multiple that by ten.

But I thought her post was also incredibly hopeful, too. And knowing how talented and strong she is, I know she will persevere. And if I think she can persevere when times are hard, it only increases the chances that I can, too.

Here is her post. Please enjoy.

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Art is hard.

My name is Stacey Smith and I am exhausted. I’ve been working professionally in comedy for the past few years, and from an outside perspective “I am living my dreams.” Coincidentally I can also never pay rent, I have crippling student loan debt, I am incredibly anxious, and I have sacrificed so many things to make this work, “living my dreams.”

Yesterday I went into an office and was told that I would likely no longer get work as an actress in a building that I’ve been working for in multiple capacities for the past few years.

I’ve performed literally hundreds of shows for this building and I’ve never had a show that I wasn’t proud of. I’ve memorized hundreds of lines in mere hours to prove myself. I received a shout out from a notorious reviewer. I’ve skipped weddings, births, celebrations and other big moments in my life to make sure that they knew I was committed. I’ve shown up to every scripted audition over prepared. Most importantly, I’ve been professional and kind to everyone I’ve ever worked with. BE PROFESSIONAL AND KIND.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of people who have gotten work over me are people that have done the opposite of all the things I’ve mentioned above. People who have been tardy. People who didn’t know their lines. BE PREPARED. BE ON TIME.

Now, I am not here to throw anyone under the bus or speak ill of the company I’ve so fondly worked for and still do in other departments. But this is just to say that there’s usually no rhyme or reason for things. You can’t control it. As difficult as it may seem, we have to put our blinders on and walk our own paths. DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. OUR PATHS ARE NOT ALL THE SAME.

I am exhausted. It’s hard to make time to take care of yourself when you’re always on the clock for your career. I hate to call out of things and make schedule changes, but sometimes it’s entirely necessary. However, I’ve been very aware of listening to my body after having multiple health issues last year. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.

I am severely underpaid. I know my worth, but also know that to live in my apartment it costs money. I work 100 hour weeks and get paid for 20 of them. I bounce back and forth between dozens of appointments, rehearsals and shows daily to be able to provide for myself. KNOW YOUR WORTH.

I am sensitive. I cry because I am proud of my friends. I cry because I am happy to see my boyfriend after a long day. I cry because I see a corgi. CRY.

On the other hand, I am proud of the work that I do on and offstage. I am changing my students’ lives. I am making audiences think and feel. I am sharing my voice. I am traveling the world.

My life is hectic, but it is cool. I have met celebrities that told me they were a huge fan of mine. I have created a curriculum to empower young girls. I have created a festival where performers from all over the world showcase their musical and improvisational talent. I run a training center. I am in love with someone I met doing comedy.

You have to let the good outweigh the bad. For every rejection, there’s a stranger recognizing you on the CTA. For every missed opportunity, there’s opportunities that you can create yourself. So when you’re feeling down, just remember that there’s people that you look up to that have the same struggles as you. We all feel this. Not just you. I will continue to do good work and I hope that you do too.

I’ve got your back.

 

Want to learn how to really memorable two-person scenes? Sign up for Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 2 class, starting April 5. Pay only $259 if you register by March 22!

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!

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!

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.

Go Ahead & Criticize Me

We all criticize others, mostly behind people’s backs. We rarely get caught, and the best part is it makes us feel better for about 90 seconds. Smoking crack lasts longer. When I am ripping on a show or a movie or actor I just saw, though the words may be different, the premise is always the same: “How dare they live their dream?”

Famous actors understand that being criticized is just part of their job. They accept that they are going to have just as many fans as they do critics.

The bigger and more successful you become, the more criticism you will receive. This is a fact. You can’t have one without the other. In fact, if you aren’t getting any criticism, your career probably isn’t going anywhere.

So remember, when your friends get jealous that you have gotten cast in a show or made a Harold team, take it as a compliment; it means you are succeeding. Criticism is an affirmation that you are on your way.

The problem is when you get it, it doesn’t feel that way. It’s painful, it stings, and it makes you want to quit.

Promoting yourself, asking people to come to your show, creating a new show or a new web series is vulnerable, and by putting yourself out there, you’re bound to risk getting criticism, which is why I have often avoided it. I have made some progress in that department, though I still I have a ways to go.

When I have new episodes of Improv Nerd or a new blog or a new class coming up, one of the ways I get the word out is with social media, which has become a somewhat safe way to promote yourself. I often post on improv Facebook groups, and one that I post on frequently is Chicago Improvisers Unite. Last weekend, a former student posted on the wall: “I am leaving this group due to the fact that it is nothing but Jimmy Carrane spam.”

I am not going to lie. I immediately felt shame. I felt hurt, I wanted to hide, I wanted to defend myself, I wanted to lash out, and I did not want to post on that wall again — all shame. I was a mess.

In the past, when I am embarrassed, I keep to myself – it’s called shame prevention. Thank God this doesn’t work anymore, so I broke my silence and told my wife, Lauren, while we were driving in our rental car to her parents’ house for Christmas on the winding roads of Pennsylvania.

My wife is smart and wise and she said “It’s a sign that you are putting yourself out there and getting bigger.” I did not what to hear that. I was enjoying sitting in the pool of shame; it’s always warm and comfortable this time of year. Then I called my friend, Darryl, and he basically said the same thing: “You are getting bigger.” Then I called my friend, Ryan, who is an actor, who said the same thing: “You are getting bigger.”

You can’t argue with the rule of threes here.

The real problem was not what the person posted on the wall. The real problem was me and being uncomfortable with becoming more successful. He was paying me a compliment, a huge one, and in all my shame and anger, I forgot to thank him. So I will now: Thank you, Mike Sandoval, because you see me as far more successful than I see myself, and for that I am truly grateful. I am on my way.