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Improvising When You’re Sick

Why is it that when I’m sick I have good shows?

I remember years ago when I was at the Annoyance Theater, Mick Napier made a comment that some of his best shows where when he was sick. I thought he was a little crazy for saying that, but over the years I’ve found it to be true.

I am huge advocate of taking care of yourself and not getting your fellow cast members sick, and I am not endorsing playing sick if you don’t have to, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.

A couple of weeks ago I caught a bad cold that first knocked me out and then knocked out Lauren and Betsy, too. It was like dominoes in my house. I started to get a sore throat at beginning of the week with a slight fever. I thought I would be over it by Sunday in time for my Jimmy and Johnnie show, but I was not. I ended up sleeping all day Sunday and crawled out of bed just in time to have dinner and then drive down to Second City in time for the show.

The show was great. It didn’t hurt that I was playing with two amazingly talented improvisers, John Hildreth and Bob Fisher, and that we played to a packed house.

I cannot explain this, but for some reason, my choices were bolder and more confident than usual, I was not as self-conscious or second guessing myself, and the best part was when it was over I didn’t ruminate about the show or beat myself up. I just wanted to go home and get back into bed.

When you improvise when you’re sick, you feel like just showing up and doing the damn show is quite an accomplishment.

My guess is that I am not alone with this phenomenon, that there are others out there who have had similar experiences. I have some theories about why you do better improvising when you’re sick — like it helps you focus, or that it blocks the part of your brain that is self-critical. But of course I have nothing to back them up.

I have been pondering this all week and thought you might help me. If you ever improvised when you were sick, do you have an idea about why your shows seem to go better? If so, please leave them in the comment portion below. I would love your thoughts.

Looking to improve your two-person scenes? Don’t miss Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune Up on Oct. 28. Only $79 if you register by Oct. 14. Sign up today!