5 Things I Hope Every Improviser Gets for the Holidays

With the holidays almost here and the year almost over, it’s the perfect time to think about what gifts we’d really like to receive. This year, if you’re an improviser, instead of asking for another plaid shirt or pair of skinny jeans, how about asking Santa for some things that will really make you a better improviser?

Yes, the things on this list can’t be put in a box. But as the Grinch realizes: “‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little big more.'”

So without further ado, here are the five things I hope Santa is able to magically leave under the tree for you this year:

  1. Patience
    Patience is so important, both with your improv on stage and with yourself and the progress you are making. On stage, taking my time and not rushing things has always served my improv very well. So my wish for you is to slow it down and absorb what your partner is saying. And in terms of your development, remember what Miles Stroth said: “It took me four years to stop sucking.” And it’s going to take even more years to get really great at it. Remember, everyone is on a different path: Some people will get ahead quicker than you will, some people won’t, and most of them will quit. The secret ingredient to succeed in improv is a thing called patience, and you are going to need a lot of it.
  2. Listening
    This may sound like I am re-gifting this to you, but this is one thing improvisers always seem to forget. You can always improve on listening. Remember, without it, you cannot yes and… It’s that simple. So my suggestion is talk less and listen more. You can thank me later. I am off to number three.
  3. To Fail 1,000 Times (or more)
    Yes, that is my wish for you. Are you thinking, “What kind of gift is that, you big jerk?” Actually, of all the items on this list, failure is the most useful and the most practical. It’s actually a short-cut to getting better. So I am wishing you fail 1,000 times or more because nothing will make you a better improviser than trying new things, making bold, beautiful, 100-percent committed choices that tank. That get no response. Crickets. That feel like you have taken a gigantic dump on stage. That fall so flat they scare the shit out of you and fill you with so much shame that you wish you were filled with helium so you’d just float away. Whenever you fail, you’re really learning.
  4. Give more
    Give more on stage and off. It doesn’t cost you anything. Not a penny. So, when you are on stage improvising and partner initiates a clear, strong idea, drop yours and support theirs. When we’ve been doing improv for a while, we become selective in our agreement. We subtly judge other people’s ideas and don’t commit as fully as we should. How about keeping it simple and looking for opportunities to yes, and… even more to your fellow improvisers? Off stage, make sure to give people more sincere compliments, ones that you would like to get. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You get the reputation that you are nice person one whom other people want to work with? Doesn’t sound so bad to me.
  5. Keep Learning
    The best definition of humility I ever heard was the ability to be teachable. Are you humble enough to know that you need to keep learning new things or do you think you know everything there is to know about improv? Don’t be one those arrogant pricks who is done learning and acts like he has it all figured out. Whenever I start assuming that I know everything there is to know about improv, I realize that I am really not as good as I think I am, and I’m probably full of shit. Nothing changes until I can be humble enough to start getting help and get my big, stuck-up ass into some sort of class.

Want another way to improve your improv? Take Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune Up on Jan. 2! Spots are going fast. Sign up today!

3 replies
  1. Marsha Fisher
    Marsha Fisher says:

    Thank you so very much. Your email with your 5 points have come at the right time. I was in a showcase this past weekend. After watching a video of my class’s showcase I was feeling not great. My yoga instructor helped me analyze it and your right failing really helps. She helped me see where I needed to improve…emotional point of view and physicality. Though she thought my lines were great. There are people in the group with a great deal of experience and I think I left that intimidate me. Soooo I will do better next time. Giving up is not an option as I am older and acting was a dream of my youth which I am doing now. Wish I lived in Chicago as I would take your classes in a minute but I live in Tampa. I did take your workshop when you were here and it was most helpful. Hope to take classes from you sometime in the future.

  2. Joseph
    Joseph says:

    Muchas gracias, Jimmy! And my gift to you is the ability to acknowledge all that you do for others – though teaching, writing, being honest, showing up. Now go pat yourself on the back, give yourself a hug and SMILE!


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