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Don’t Quit Before the Miracle

There is a saying I’ve heard that goes: “Don’t quit before the miracle.” But when you’re in the arts and creating shows, how do you know how long you have to wait?

I have been doing the podcast Improv Nerd for over five years. I’ve had some really big name guests. I’ve toured with the show all across the country at improv festivals and theaters. But the audiences have always been unpredictable. Sometimes we’ve had as few as two wayward improv students, and sometimes we’ve had some really nice crowds of about 80 people.

They’ve never been huge. Until last Sunday.

Our guest was Rachel Dratch and it was part of the Chicago Improv Festival. We originally had the show booked in Judy’s Beat Lounge at the Second City. It sold out in a matter of hours, so we moved it to a larger venue at Second City’s e.t.c. Theater. Then that show sold out, too, and finally they moved it to the Second City Main Stage. And for the first time in more than five years, I was actually performing the show in front of more than 300 people.

Plus, not only did it sell out, the show itself was incredible. Rachel was as honest and open in the interview as you could hope for. But the best part for me was getting to improvising with her again. We had been in a couple groups together back in the ’90s in Chicago, and performing with her again was so easy, just like improv should be.

I joked at the top of show that my goal when I started out in improv in my 20s was to be on Main Stage. I just didn’t think it would take 30 years to get there and only last an hour.

But you know what? I did it. Who would have thought when I started doing this silly little podcast that I would end up on Main Stage doing it for one night? I certainly didn’t. And the thing that is so cool is I did it with something I created.

I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to quit doing this podcast. And to be perfectly honest here, I am not certain of its future. I have put a lot of time into it, so much so that my wife Lauren is getting annoyed at me and wants me to move on to other things. I have sunk of a lot of my own money into it. I have bitched and moaned that I think I should be farther along with it at this point. It should be more popular and I should be living off it. That has not come true, yet. But what is true is that I have not quit on myself.

The thing that sucks is you never know when something is going to catch on. We’re trained to think that if something doesn’t catch on in a couple of weeks we should abandon it immediately and assume we are doing something wrong.

I’ve often been a quitter in my life – whether it was in little league, in school, or in my improv career. But finally with this show, I’ve stuck with it. I just kept trudging down the road, even when I didn’t want to, so when a big opportunity finally arose, I was prepared. I had done the live show close to 200 times by the time this one came along. I have a staff of six people who make the show run like a Swiss watch. All of us were ready for our big moment and it showed.

When I first started doing the podcast I felt entitled. I thought, “I am Jimmy Carrane and I am getting these great guests. Why isn’t this an instant hit?” I was not ready. I look back and I am glad that this big show came when it did.

The hardest part of not giving up is you never know when the miracle is going to come. I think they call that faith. So whatever you do, if you believe in yourself or your own project, keep going. Don’t give up before the miracle happens.

Looking for a boost to your improv this summer? Don’t miss one of Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensives, happening the weekends of July 15-16, July 29-30 and Aug. 19-20. Sign up today!

205: Bob Dassie

Bob Dassie is a legendary improviser and teacher. He performs with his wife, Stephanie Weir, in Weirdass, and has also been improvising with the group Dasariski for 17 years. We talk to him about his incredible work ethic, he philosophy on getting better and making the positive choice in a scene.

204: Marty DeRosa

Marty DeRosa is a comedian who is considered the king of Chicago crowd work, using a lot improvisation in his stand-up act. He is a founding member of Comedians You Should Know and he co-host the hilarious podcasts Marty & Sarah Love Wrestling, and Wrestling with Depression. Marty talks about experiencing the death of one of his siblings and a parent at a young age, his dad, and how he uses improv in his stand-up.

203: Jeff Quintana

Jeff Quintana is the Artistic Director and co-founder of The Villain Theater in Miami. He is a respected teacher and improviser who has studied in New York and Chicago. In this episode, we recorded live at The Villain Theater and talked to Jeff about his dream of opening up an improv theater, being homeless in New York, and how to create a character immediately at the top of an improv scene.

202: Joe Bill

Joe Bill is an international improv teacher and performer. He is a co-founder of the Annoyance Theater and tours with Mark Sutton in Bassprov. He has taught at Second City, The Annoyance and iO Chicago and continues to teach around the world. Jimmy sat down with him in this live episode to talk about The Annoyance, the day he quit stand-up, and his unique psychological approach to improv.

201: Simon Helberg

Simon Helberg is best known as Howard from the hit CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory. He is currently starring in the new film Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. We talked to him about following in his father’s footsteps at The Groundlings, how acting is like improv, and the importance of putting your stuff up.

200: The Advice Compilation

This is our 200th episode of Improv Nerd. To acknowledge this milestone, we have compiled 15 of our favorite pieces of past guests’ advice for people who are going into improv or comedy today. You will hear wisdom from people like Adam McKay, Broad City, Lauren Lapkus, TJ and Dave, Jill Soloway, Bob Odenkirk, Jon Favreau and more. Take a listen!

199: Matt Dwyer

Matt Dwyer is a writer, stand-up and podcaster. He was one of the youngest people to be hired for the Second City Touring Company at the age of 21. He has written for Funny or Die and Jonah Ray’s Hidden America on Netflix. We talked to him about hanging out at Second City when he was high school, how getting fired at Second City led him to stand up, and the importance of writing for improvisers.

198: Mike Birbiglia

Mike Birbiglia is the writer, director and star of his latest independent film, “Don’t Think Twice,” about a popular New York improv group where one of the members gets his big break. Jimmy talks to Mike about some of the themes in his film, like jealousy, self-sabotage and fame. Mike discusses falling in love with improv and why it’s so important for him to create his own projects.

197: Peter Grosz

Peter Grosz is best known as one of the two guys in the Sonic commercials, but he has also written for The Colbert Report and Late Night with Seth Meyers. He has performed at The Second City etc., the UCB, Boom Chicago, and iO Chicago. Jimmy talks to him about why he still loves improvising, getting hired to write for Colbert and why he likes to play the unlikable Sidney Purcell in HBO’s VEEP.

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