At the end of every Improv Nerd podcast, I ask the guest, “What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting out in improv today?” Often when I go out of town to teach a workshop, a very smart student who listens to the podcast will ask me the same question. My answer is usually pretty rambling, because I am pretty rambling, even though I have rehearsed what I’m going to say in the car 100 times.
So today, I decided to share with you what my one piece of advice is. And to keep with the theme of “rambling,” my answer is actually in three parts.
- Be Kind to Everyone
Yes, you have heard it a million times, but nobody has told you why. So why do we have to be kind or nice to everyone in improv? For pure selfish reasons. Those people you judged and thought they had no talent and sucked may surprise you and either get great or eventually get a job as a producer, director, writer, or casting agent and will be in a position to help further your career. That is, if you were smart enough to be kind them and kept your mouth shut.
- Get Outside Help
The opportunities I have blown are legendary because I was so messed up, and had no outside help. I was trying to make all my decisions myself. Who knows where I would be today had a gotten some good professional help along the way? When I was 30, I had an audition for SNL. They were going to fly me out there and put me up in hotel. And the Monday that I was supposed to leave, I walked into my agent’s office and said, “I don’t do sketch.” Needless to say, I never got on the plane. Left to your own devices these are the kind decisions you can make — not very good ones.
If that was the only opportunity I fucked up, that would be enough, but I once made a list of all of the stupid decisions I made or opportunities I turned down, and it was at least 74 things that I said no to when I could have said yes. So if you are getting in your own way, for God’s sake get into therapy, a support group, a 12-program, whatever. Don’t rely on improv to solve all your emotional needs, because it won’t.
- Always Be Learning
There’s a popular acronym in sales and that is ABC: Always Be Closing. In improv, the arts, and yes, in life, it’s ABL: Always Be Learning. I have wasted too much time wanting to be the funniest or wanting to be the best or wanting to be perfect at the expense of learning. Any time I approach a job, or a show, or a class I’m teaching or an interview I’m conducting with the attitude that I’m just learning, I am so much better off. And remember, just because you are great at improv does not mean you are going to be a great screen writer or a great on-camera actor. If that is what you want to be, then put yourself in position to humble yourself and learn those skills. A class is always a good place to start.