John Hildreth

Being a Selfless Performer

Two weeks ago I performed a Jimmy and Johnnie show — an improv show that I have been doing for the last six years with John Hildreth at Second City.

Each month we pick a special guest to improvise with us, and this time it was Joe Bill. The three of us always work well together. That night was no exception.

The show was great. Our first scene, which I think went on for 10 minutes, was about me having a garage sale and John and Joe were trying to negotiate the price of my couch. It was one of those rare times that I hard time not laughing in the scene.

I got hardly any laughs during the show. Instead, I grounded the scenes and set John and Joe up multiple times to create scenarios where they would get the laughs. The show was truly effortless and fun – almost a spiritual experience.

After the show, a long-time improviser whom I have an incredible amount of respect for came up to me and gave me one of the best compliments I have ever gotten. He said “I have been watching improv for 30 years and that was one of the most selfless performances I have ever seen.”

Had I gotten this compliment when I first started improvising, I don’t think it would have made any sense to me. (Honestly, I’m not sure I would have fully understood it until last month).

Why would I want to have a selfless performance? Shouldn’t I want to get the most laughs?

The compliment I typical fish for is “You were the funniest one up there,” certainly not “You are so selfless.”

But, when I heard it, I was proud.

I realize that being a selfless performer is not only a gift to your fellow performers, but it can actually be fun in its own right. When you let go of trying to prove something, you can just be in the flow and enjoy the ride.

The fact that I could feel a sense of accomplishment by serving the scenes feels like a miracle. It was easy and effortless and I didn’t experience any of the competitiveness ans self doubt I sometimes feel when doing a show.

Turns out, I get a lot of joy and satisfaction simply by serving the show.

Being a selfless performer is not always easy. Sometimes I still want to be the funniest one up there. But I know that the more happy and fulfilled I am in my own life, the easier it is for me to be selfless on stage. I hope it continues.

Oh, and if you want some advice on how to be a good supportive player, check out this blog.

This summer, come stretch your acting and improv skills in Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensives, happening July 27-28 and Aug. 10-11. Sign up today! 

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