Steve Carell

Accepting Other People’s Success

Accepting other people’s success is not easy. Sooner or later it will happen to all of us: One of our friends will get ahead while we are left behind. It’s always hardest with the people we are closest to.

You may start out in improv classes with people, and some of them will end up making a Harold team but you won’t. Or they will get cast in a show or be hired by a big theater before you do. They may get an agent before you, and end up doing commercials, TV and film, while you’re still taking classes.

I’ve been feeling that way lately, now that Steve Carell has been nominated for an Oscar. Back in the ’90s here in Chicago, Steve was on the Second City Mainstage. I was in the same building writing and teaching corporate workshops for Second City Communications. Even back then, Steve was someone we all aspired to be.

Recently my wife, Lauren, very seriously said to me, “Aren’t you excited for Steve Carell’s nomination? I mean, if he did it, don’t you think you could do it, too?”

(For the sake of this blog, I wish I could say yes.)

My jaw dropped and my face had that “are-you-kidding-me?” look on it as “NO” dropped out of mouth, which sounded more like a “Fuck You.” If I was doing an improv scene with my wife, it’s clear I just denied her reality.

Lauren was a bit surprised that I had such a strong reaction.

I trust Lauren because she always been brutally honest with me about my acting, improv and the size of my penis. And she was sincere, which made it even crazier for me. I guess the crazy part was that I would not allow myself to even go there, to even think for a second that if Steve Carell did it, I could do it, too. I think they call this limited thinking.

When we hear news of people’s success there are really two ways of dealing with it. One is self-pity, thinking “What am I doing wrong? Everyone else is having success except me. I will never get it.” The other is to be inspired and think, “If they can do it, I can do it, too.”

Now, I am not close to Steve Carell, and to say I am one of his peers is a stretch, but I have been fortunate to work with other great people who have gone on to do great things, and over the years, I’ve realized that if one of my friends gets a great opportunity – a chance to be on a boat with Second City, a spot on the Mainstage, a pilot on TV – that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It means I am friends with the winners.

When Jay Sukow was a guest on Improv Nerd his advice for improvisers was to “play with people who are better than you.” In so many words, he was saying “Hang with the winners.”

It’s not easy to work with people who are better than you, especially if your goal is to be the funniest or the best or the audience’s favorite. When you work with people who are better than you are, you can often feel like shit and tell yourself you aren’t funny at all. But take it from me: Instead of having the goal of being the funniest person on your team, try to have the goal of just getting better. And when you play with people who are better than you are, that’s exactly what happens.

I remember getting to play with TJ Jagodowski on Carl and The Passions. TJ is Mozart. When I played with him, I first had to let go of the idea of being the best or the funniest, and once I did, I felt relief realizing I was never going to be better than he is. Your ego always wants you to be the best or the funniest, but the artist part of you is always going to want to play with the best.

When you hang with the winners, you’re bound to see many of them go on to land great opportunities. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you suck, it just means they’re paving the way for you.

Experience Jimmy Carrane’s unique method of the Art of Slow Comedy during a One-Day Intensive on April 25. Perfect if you’re going to be in town for the Chicago Improv Festival. Sign up today!

10 replies
  1. Jeff Still
    Jeff Still says:

    Great piece, Jimmy, though you’re mKing two separate points. It’s one thing to have friends have huge achievements while you don’t (I’ve got at least 4 off the top of my head that fit this category) and dealing with that. I’ve been getting better at it simply because I realize that my life is unique, and though it falls short of awards and even often falls short of making a living, it’s MY life and no one else’s, and I wouldn’t trade it with anyone.

    Then you make another point, about working with better people making you better. Absolute true but first, I know of many, and I’m sure you do too, that are not better but have achieved bigger success. Second, some of the people that have achieved great success are not necessarily better – that’s the type of business it is. And I’ve found that some very famous people are not very good at all.

    Again, the only way I ultimately deal with all this is to recognize ours is not a business that pays any attention to justice, so bitterness about being “passed over” is just a waste of time and energy.

    So, yes – it’s a challenge to pursue your own career as a modest stage actor when you have friends that are movie stars and yes, working with better people – in any field, tennis, improv, chess, whatever – makes your own game better.

  2. Jordy
    Jordy says:

    This was really great to see. I just started doing open mics to start to find my niche in comedy. I’ve don’t know what my place will be yet. But this thought has crossed my mind and it’s nice to see people far ahead of me feeling the same way. Puts it all into perspective. Better to enjoy the ride than to worry about the drivers in front of you. Thanks for the good read and good feels, man. My wife has always been honest with my about my penis size, too.

  3. Courtney Rioux
    Courtney Rioux says:

    I agree Jimmy. Instead of separating ourselves, or “othering” people (which is where racism, sexism, and all kinds of fear come from,) I try to think of us as all one. We’re all made of the same stuff. We all have the same fears and needs.
    This is not easy to do by any means, but it helps on the jealousy front. If you’re successful, I’m successful. If you’re happy, I’m happy. It also makes me want to lift people up, rather than bring people down.
    There is an unlimited amount of success, love and abundance out there. Just because you have “more” than me, doesn’t mean there’s not enough for me. It just means I’m not seeing things the right way, and I can choose to see it differently.

    Thanks for your honesty and insights, as always!

  4. Allison Black
    Allison Black says:

    To yes and Courtney’s comments, I try to see the world from an “abundant mentality” rather than a “scarcity mentality” – when I am feeling the negativity and self blaming voices in my head, I ask myself, do I really believe there are only a few opportunities out there? Or are the opportunities I get are ones that are perfect for me, and the opportunities my peer gets is perfect for him or her. I have had some really awesome projects come my way and remembering that and recalling how perfect I was for those gigs, and hearing about gigs I didn’t get and realizing, wow – that was not a fit for me, allows me to let go a little and trust that the right things will come along and are coming along – and to stop wanting everything right this minute. And instead, appreciate my own accomplishments – enjoy the ones that are here right in front of me. And look back at how far I really have come. And applaud my friends who are kicking ass and taking names doing what they love doing. We really do surround ourselves with like minded folks.

    Thanks so much Jimmy for your excellent insights and sharing them with us.

  5. Michael Tucker
    Michael Tucker says:

    Wonderful advice and easier said than done at times.

    Any chance those early Improv Nerd Podcast episodes will be accessible somewhere? I’m especially jonesing to hear episodes 8 and 9 with TJ and Dave.

  6. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Right on that “the artist part of you is always going to want to play with the best.” Jealousy doesn’t know not to bite the hand that feeds it. It takes a talented person to feel secure in their own skin and embrace learning from those with more experience.


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