Posts

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!

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.

Should I quit improv?

If you’re an improviser, you have probably thought about quitting hundreds of times. And that questioning probably won’t stop any time soon.

As fun as improv is, it can be pretty shitty at times. You are dealing with egos, jealousy and lots of disappointment. You are reliving high school. And some of us would rather quit and avoid the pain.

I have always been an instant gratification kind of guy — the least amount of work for the biggest result. I thought if you are talented, that’s how it’s supposed to go. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in the arts or in life. Get used to it.

Over the last three years of doing Improv Nerd, I’ve wanted to quit many times. It is safe to say I have had that thought on a regular basis.

On so many different levels, Improv Nerd has been the best thing for me. It has made me a great interviewer and an even better improviser. I have met people that I would never have crossed paths with before from around the world. I have gotten to travel and had to reluctantly become a leader. But despite my successes, I get discouraged frequently – every time we have a small audience or a so-called “bad show” or experience some technical problems. It does not take much for me to want to call it quits.

Frankly, I’ve had thoughts about quitting almost as long as I’ve been improvising. The only difference today is that the feeling of wanting to quit doesn’t last as long as it used to. I bounce back quicker.  It can be a matter of hours, when it used to be days or weeks. I am also aware that sometimes the closer you are to reaching your vision, the louder the negative voices in your head become. The ones that scream things like “What are you doing with your life?” and “Why don’t you quit?”

I know if I had listened to the negative voices in my head, I would have stopped doing Improv Nerd and writing this blog months ago. If you have similar voices in your head that are telling you to quit the show or class you are in, or quit improv entirely, talk to someone before you do it, because these are the kind of thoughts that aren’t good if you keep them to yourself.

I have actor friends in L.A. who call me up ready to quit acting because they are tired of being broke and not being able to pay the rent. When I talk to them again a week later, they’ve booked six weeks on a movie or gotten some enormous residual check in the mail they weren’t expecting. After wanting to quit for 24 hours, they bounce back, forgetting about the conversation we had a week ago, until I remind them. I am always grateful that I get to talk to them on their darkest days. It gives me hope.

There is this incredible hokey saying, “Don’t quit before the miracle,” which really applies to everything, especially improv. In improv you never know the day, time, or year when you’re going to get good at it.

It happens slowly. And you’ll never know where it will lead you.

Like good improv, your dream or vision may morph into something completely different. Something even better than you imagined. That is what it’s supposed to do. And if you quit too soon, you will never give yourself the opportunity to know where it could have taken you. You will end up miserable for the rest of your life and you will criticize others who are doing what you like doing. You will be so bitter that nobody will want to be around you, and the worst part is you will not even know why you are this way.

So if you’ve been wanting to quit lately, here’s my advice for you: Keep persevering, keep showing up, be ready to play, and expect a miracle.

I Want to Quit Improv

If you are anything like me and you suffer any kind of disappointment in your improv career, you want to quit. Immediately. Change your phone number. Move out of state. Go into the witness protection program.

I am there right now. I suffered a big blow to my ego last week, and now I am struggling to keep it together — teetering between shame and wanting to sleep. I want to completely give up on improv: stop performing, stop teaching, stop doing Improv Nerd, stop writing this stupid blog because all I can think is “What is the point?”

And there is nothing more that I’d rather do right now than to blame — blame a person, a place, an institution or whomever for my problems and make them the reason that I throw it all away.

I see this happen all the time with improvisers here in Chicago, really talented improvisers who don’t get hired at Second City or don’t make a team, or their team gets broken up at iO and they end up quitting. And when you run into them a few years later at Starbucks they have a vacant look in their eyes and tell you the same sad story: “Second City didn’t hire me” or “Charna broke up our team.”

And the story always ends the same: They don’t improvise anymore, and instead they now sell copiers or work for a commercial real estate office out by O’Hare Airport. They’re miserable because they quit their dreams, and worst of all, they’re still bitter because all this time they’ve been blaming it on someone else.

I have been doing this my whole life. If a theater wasn’t going to reject me, I would do it myself. I quit doing my one-man show I’m 27 and I Still Live At Home and Sell Office Supplies because they weren’t treating me with the respect I thought I deserved. I quit doing godshow at Second City’s e.t.c. because I thought they weren’t treating me with the respect I deserved. And I left the Annoyance for the same reason.

It was always the same. I quit with a resentment because I would rather be a victim than be a success.

I didn’t realize it, but by quitting, I could stay small, and by blaming others, I could avoid taking responsibility for my own life.

Today, I’m beginning to realize that all of the times I quit something, it was never someone else’s fault. Same thing when I didn’t get hired or my team got broken up. It was me who was stopping myself, not any person, place or institution. There is a lot of rejection in this business, and we need to learn how to accept rejection and get back up again. That being said I am still struggling with moving forward after my big blow to my ego.

God willing, I am bottoming out on this because I am tired of blaming the Charnas or the Second Cities or anyone else that I can conveniently use as an excuse to call it quits. I am the only person standing in my own way.

I wish I could tell you that knowing this makes it easier to keep going or makes the feelings of wanting to quit less intense, but they’re not. But there is hope.

This morning I yelled at my wonderful and supportive wife, Lauren: “I DO want to push forward, I am just having a hard time!”

And I am, but in the moment I was willing to fight for myself, and it surprised me. I don’t know how I am going to push forward, I really don’t, but I know one thing: I cannot do it alone, and as you know, I will keep you updated on my progress. Thanks for all your support.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Jimmy’s next Art of Slow Comedy classes start April 12 (Advanced) and April 14 (Intermediate). Plus, he has a Two-Person Scene Tune-Up workshop on April 5! Register today.