I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my life lately. As you probably know, my wife and I are having a baby, my dad is dying, and my birthday is coming up in a little over a month. All good reasons to spend time thinking about how I would have done my life differently.
Since I can’t have a do-over, I figure the next best thing is to pass on what I’ve learned to those of you who are just at the beginning of your improv careers. Hopefully, this advice will help you not repeat the same mistakes I did!
- You’ll have to pay for coaches
When I started out in improv I did not understand why I had to pay for a coaching after being put on a house team and paying for all those classes. I realize now that paying for coaches actually benefits you because they help you get better, so essentially you are investing in yourself. So drop the resentment and accept that paying for a coach is part of playing in the big leagues.
- It’s going to take a lot of years to get good
Had I known how long it would have taken to get good at improv, I probably would not even tried this improv thing in the first place. I was impatient and entitled, I wish to God somebody would have said to me, “Sure, you are funny, but this a craft, and if you want to get good at it, you are going to have to put in hard work.”
- Get used to disappointments
Yep, you’re going to be disappointed. Over and over again. Nobody told me this. I thought it was going to be a straight shot to the top, whatever that meant. How wrong I was. No matter how good someone is at anything, they have to deal with rejection, lot and lots of it. So get used to it.
- Everyone has one his own path
This may not seem relevant now, but one day, one of your friends who you started out in classes with will get a huge opportunity and you will be like “What about me?” Even if you started out in the same class or are just as good as an improviser as your friend, it doesn’t matter. We all are on different paths. I know it sucks, but it’s even more true today than it was when I was starting out. You never know how people are going to make it.
- Just do good work is a lie
Actors and improvisers think good work alone will get them ahead. That is a myth written for lazy people. Just because you can do a great improv scene doesn’t mean you’ll become famous. You have to always be marketing yourself or your shows if you want to be “magically” be discovered.
- You’re not as good as your think you are
What attitude I had when I first started out! I was young and full of myself. Had someone pulled me aside and said, “Look, you’re not as good as you think you are,” I probably would have gotten even better more quickly and not been so insufferable to be around.
- Be nice to everyone
I have written about this before, and the older I get, the more regret not being nice to everyone in the improv community early in my career. So drop the attitude and be nice to people — even the ones who you think are un-talented or not cool — because you never know where they are going end up.
- If life is not fair, the entertainment business is even worse
Nothing makes sense in the acting, improv and comedy world. People will get opportunities that you are convinced they don’t deserved. You will kill it in an audition and they will give the part to someone else for a million different reasons that have nothing to do with your talent. Ninety percent of the time it will come down to looks. Get used to it. Nobody owes you anything and nothing makes any sense.
- Write more
Writing makes you a better improviser, helps you become more creative and actually can lead to a paying job as writer. I wish was not so stupid to think all I needed to do was improvise. I would have loved to have written more sketches, done stand up, submitted packages for late night talk shows and more.
When I first started out in improv, people made fun of me because I was a “schmoozer,” but I actually think my innate ability to talk to people was good for me. Then I stopped networking because I stopped drinking and began isolating in my apartment. Today, I regret not continuing to network, because now I know that building relationships is the glue of successful career.
- Love the process, let go of the results
This is a hard lesson that I’m still learning. When I started out, I Ioved just taking an improv class or rehearsing. It was so much fun. What I loved was the process. Who cares how the show did? It was fun just to create it. With success and age came expectations, and then it was all about the results. I had my hands on improv’s neck, and I was either going to snap it or kill it. Today I know you have to learn to love the process and trust that the results will take care of themselves.
- Take care of yourself
Improv can be such a destructive culture at times. People getting drunk, doing drugs, and sleeping around can seem like the norm. That was part of the reason I was attracted to it — the dysfunction. I wish somebody would have said, “For God’s sake, man, take care of yourself!”
- Take an acting class
That is right. As fun as improv is, it can be a cult, and if you’re not careful, you can get stuck in it and wake up 25 years from now wonder what happened to you (a true story about me). Trust me, acting class will prepare you for acting jobs that have the potential to pay a whole lot more than improv.