An Improvisers’ Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving

Next week is Thanksgiving here in America, and most improvisers will be headed home to spend some time with their dysfunctional families. For most improvisers, spending the holidays with their parents can be as painful as being cut from a Harold team or bombing on stage. But don’t worry, you don’t have to get drunk or play Xbox for 48 straight hours to get through it. I am here to help. I’ve come through for you this year, by creating my “Improvisers Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving.”

  1. Don’t go 
    That is right, you heard me. I know it may come as a total surprise to you, but you actually have a choice to go or not to go to Thanksgiving. Just like you have the power to make choices on stage, you also have the ability to do it in your own life. And believe me, for some people, not returning home for Thanksgiving can be viewed as a very strong choice. I know in Chicago a lot of improvisers stay in the city every year and end up getting together with other wayward improvisers to celebrate Thanksgiving, and from what I hear, they always have a good time.So, if you choose to not go home for Thanksgiving, don’t be shy or too proud not to invite yourself to one of the many orphans’ Thanksgiving that are most likely happening in your improv community. It’s probably going to be way more fun than hanging out with your Aunt Ida.
  1. Go As a Duo or as a Group
    If you choose to go home, then how about taking some improv friends with you? This is a win-win for everyone. Most improvisers are charming and witty and can a take a dry, bland Thanksgiving with boring relatives and turn it into something memorable. In my late 20s and early 30s, I would invite “orphan improvisers” like David Koechner, Pete Gardner, Noah Gregoropoulos and others to my parents’ house in the suburbs. My somewhat-stiff parents still talk with great fondness about the time I invited a bunch of improvisers over for Easter and we ended up destroying a lamb cake playing object freeze for a hour at the dining room table.
  1. Help Out
    I cannot think of better way to stay out of your head during a painful family get-together than by helping out around the house. Clear the dishes, take the trash out, help Uncle Irv into his car. This works just like object work or going to your environment in a scene. It keeps you out of your head and you would be surprised how fast the night goes.
  1. Avoid Questions
    I have always found the absolute worst part of the holidays is the ridiculous questions I get from my relatives about improv and my career. “What is this improv thing you do again?” “Can you make a living at it?” “Are you any good at it?” “You have been out of college for three years now. Are you going to get a real job like your brother? He is doing well in sales.”  Unless you are on Saturday Night Live or write for Jimmy Fallon, they just won’t get it and their questions are going to just make you feel like a loser. So, I am telling you this from place of love. Fuck that. You need to go into those situations strong and be proud of what you are doing. Think of it like putting on bug spray. If you go into Thanksgiving and you feel good about what you are doing, you won’t be eaten alive by the mosquitoes. So, by all means, talk it over with friends beforehand. Have them role play with you so you can figure out what you will say to those shame-filled questions until you are ready to go into the deep woods all by yourself.
  1. Bitch About Them Afterwards
    After the Thanksgiving dinner, make sure you have a “buddy” you can call to rehash, make fun of, and complain about your family. Make sure you find someone who is less healthy than you are and is willing to agree with on everything you say about them. Avoid people who will take your family’s or your parents’ side and say something stupid like, “They are just doing their best.” I cannot tell you how many holidays I got through knowing when it was over I could call someone and let out some steam about what I just went through. Also, some of the craziest holidays I had turned out to be some of my best material for future shows. So there’s that.

Of course, this is a starting-off point. I listed my five favorite ways to get through Thanksgiving, but I would love to hear what you do to survive the holidays. So down below in the comments, if you would share with us some of the ways you use to survive Thanksgiving, I would really appreciate it. And yes, have a great Thanksgiving!

This holiday season, give yourself the gift of great improv! Sign up for Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune Up on Jan. 2. Register today!

4 replies
  1. Jay
    Jay says:

    Love this. It seems common sense but it wasn’t until I finally heard my wife tell me your #1 suggestion that I realized that truth.

    Keep them coming, Jimmy!

  2. Rob
    Rob says:

    GREAT post! I love the destroying-the-lamb-cake episode, that would’ve been the best youtube ever.

    #6 – Make a side dish. Something you know for a fact is not going to be on the menu. Don’t ask, just do it! Then there’s something to talk about besides yourself and your miserable life outcomes. Oh, okay, since you asked! Maple Baked Onions. Cut a large, sweet, white Vidalia onion into generous 1″ thick slices (b) Melt together equal amounts of maple syrup and real butter, enough to (a) coat the bottom of a 9 x 12 baking pan + generously drizzle over top of the onions (c) pour said melty butter/syrup mixture into bottom of pan, just enough to coat … place onion slices in bottom of pan … pour rest of butter/syrup on top of onions (d) put tinfoil on top of pan and bake at about 350 degrees for 30-45 mins. This is a very forgiving recipe, and I’ve never seen anybody serve it except me, and it’s delicious.

  3. Larry
    Larry says:

    Hey Jimmy, I enjoyed the read! I like to make observations, then just allow them to flow freely. Such as the comment I made about my 16 year old cousin, at our last family event. He happened to be growing a light mustache, and I went on to refer to it as the “porn stache” for the remainder of the night, talking about he’s going to be banging porn stars, if he’s not already. Made everyone uncomfortable, but we all enjoyed laughs.

  4. elly k
    elly k says:

    love these. i considered #1 but ended up deciding to go. My game plan for tomorrow is to play a low-status, easygoing character who does not mind what people say to me, but rather finds everyone fascinating. I’m hoping if I up my playfulness and responsiveness I won’t end up with the same defensive feelings I usually build up by the end of the holidays.


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