Beware of the buzz kill

Beware of the buzz kill. That person who is in your group or in your class who takes a perfectly good show or class and shits all over it. They do it with their words. They do it with their negativity. Have pity on them; they don’t know any better. I should know, I am that person. I am the buzz kill.

That is how I am wired. It is a character defect. I cannot let myself have too much fun in my life – and that’s especially true when I improvise. It is as if my thermostat can only go to 62 degrees, and when I try to go higher and am having a great time, a mechanism kicks in and tries to regulate it. I open my mouth and try to find something wrong. The more fun I have, the harder I have to work to find something to regulate the temperature. But I will always find it. I am a professional.

It happened last night, after an incredibly fun show with two people I love improvising with: John Hildreth and Jay Sukow. I am so grateful that I get to work with them. They are both so filled with talent and positivity that I am hoping some of it rubs off on me.

After a show of 45 minutes of pure bliss, John and Jay look like two teenage boys at an amusement park who just got off the roller coaster and want to get back in line to go on it again. I am the dark looming cloud. We go back stage. The excitement is still in the air and on their faces, and I say, “I think we could be more focused in our warm ups before the show, instead of talking about Second City we could spend the last 5 to 10 minutes before we go on stage focusing on what we want to do in the show.” God help me.

The thing about buzz kills is they are usually smart, respected and rationale people. Like myself. They are so noble in their efforts and so full of shit at the time. So their points can make sense, but no one really wants to hear them at that moment, since everyone is still having a great time. The buzz kill’s goal is to have you join them in their misery.

We had a quick, thoughtful discussion on how we would warm up next time. And during that conversation here is the best part: I caught myself. “You know what? I am a buzz kill,” I said. “When I have too much fun I look for something to bring it down.”

I was proud of myself for saying that because you know what? I don’t want to be like that anymore. I really don’t. I actually hate that about myself, I do.

I have been doing this my whole life and believe me, it’s not just with improv.

People say we can use the concepts we learn in improv and apply them to our everyday life, but I believe the opposite is also true. There are things about myself that only become obvious to me before, during or after improvising and one thing is clear, I am a buzz kill and I really don’t want to be that person in the group any more. Who does?

10 replies
  1. Karen S.
    Karen S. says:

    Since you are a self-named buzz kill, what advice would you give to someone looking to get another buzz kill they know to lighten up? He’s bringing everyone down but I can tell he just really wants people to like him. He’s just going about it the very wrong way. Any suggestions?

    • Jason Pelker
      Jason Pelker says:

      There are a lot of personality types. A buzz-kill (which I am) sounds like “Judging” on the Myers-Briggs scale (of which I have).

      ” I use my decision-making (Judging) preference (whether it is Thinking or Feeling) in my outer life. To others, I seem to prefer a planned or orderly way of life, like to have things settled and organized, feel more comfortable when decisions are made, and like to bring life under control as much as possible.”

      More info:

      The thing that sucks is feeling bad about who you are. Of course, that’s probably a component of Judging, too. If you’re taking care of your scene partners, though, that’s what’s important. Don’t beat yourself up just because you have a different idea of what that means to you.

  2. Jimmy
    Jimmy says:

    Karen- Wow, a wish I had a good answer for you. I can tell you this, it is not your job to change him. Let’s see if we can figure this out together. I am going to need more information on my end. What kind of things is doing that is he is doing to cause havoc in the group? Do you have a coach/director? Who has the ultimate say in the group of who stays and who goes? Are their any boundaries that they group has created regarding this issue?

    • Karen S
      Karen S says:

      Hey Jimmy, the control freak in me wants to shake him and yes, change him, but I know that’s not for me to do. We are in a group class together (not improv) that’s fun and involves some theater-type games, partner exercises and team activities. The whole class is based on bettering ourselves, improving leadership skills, partnering to grow tighter bonds, etc and this guys often chimes in with the 101 reasons why he can’t do the exercises or why what we’re all doing just wont work for him. He keeps coming back each class (on time or even early!), so I know he’s motivated and he really wants to bond with people because he’s always up for going out with us afterwards. There is a group leader who tries to turn this guy’s frowns upside down but often it falls on deaf ears and he just tries his best to keep the rest of us in a positive space. There’s no real rules for kicking people out. I guess my question is: when YOU find yourself being a buzz-kill, what snaps you out of it? Is there a kind word or a gentle suggestion that someone has given you that has clued you in to think “oh, I’m doing it again”. Because I really don’t think this guy is aware of his affect on the group. I think he thinks he’s being funny because his negativity is usually disguised as self-deprecating humor. I like what Camila wrote below. I should try harder to rise above and create my own experience, but man, if I could reach this guy in a kind way and get him to enjoy himself more, I think it would be such a gift to the group as a whole.

  3. Old Ned
    Old Ned says:

    You’ve got to get them out of their heads – or perhaps more precisely, to get them to respond from the opposite lobe of the brain. I’ve never had my brain scanned while improvising, but I might suggest exercises to establish a close connection with a scene partner while engaging in a repetitive activity, such as folding the laundry. What do you think, Jimmy?

  4. Camila
    Camila says:

    Aw Jimmy, don’t be so hard on yourself! I think the flip side of the coin is that when you work with a group of people there should be a balance of communication and empathy. You realize you might sometimes be a ‘buzzkill’, well they should consider that it’s probably a part of your personality to be anxious about what could be improved. And considering you’re probably a supportive scene partner, well they can let it go.
    I think if there’s anyone out there that ‘blames’ someone else for killing their buzz, they’re not trying hard enough. They can understand where the person is coming from, they can ignore the person, they can revel in their own happiness, they can casually and *kindly* bring up: “Hey, I know you really want to dissect this right now, but maybe keep the thoughts for the next rehearsal and let’s just celebrate our good show? Here, I’ll buy you a drink, you were fantastic!” Sometimes you need to straight up call someone out poor behavior (if it’s killing scenes or something). But to sit there and resent someone for their behavior is just as much on you as it is on the other person. There are always solutions.

  5. Law Tarello
    Law Tarello says:

    A few things here:
    1. I’m super psyched that you had this personal growth experience Jimmy. I hope that it shows newer improvisers that even people who are respected and considered by many to be knowledgeable assets to our community… Are still learning- About themselves and the manner in which they work.
    2. As Camilla posted above, you wouldn’t be you without 100% of you. Perhaps without the hard wired”buzzkill” gene you wouldn’t be the same supportive, contemplative player and instructor that you are. You NEED the Two sides to every coin… Half a coin is worthless.
    3. Intellectualizing our work, for some, removes its mystique. Overthinking comedy in general is sometimes considered a buzzkill in itself. For me, digging into our performance experiences with the intent to evolve the form as a whole is yet another in the long list of things that makes Improvisational Theatre performance and study so unique. Without buzzkills we wouldn’t grow. (Just maybe save it for a postmortem, as opposed to between sets.) 😉

  6. Gregor
    Gregor says:

    Adulthood is a gas!

    The first sign I had arrived in adulthood was the awareness I didn’t have to ingest a Buzz Kill.

    Just because someone flings an insult at you doesn’t mean you have to take it as an insult. You have to consider the source.

    If a Buzz Killer throws shade on my initiation, I choose to see it as a cool breeze. If a Buzz Killer crosses his arms in the direction of a choice I’m making on stage, I choose to see it as a group hug. If a Buzz Killer rolls his eyes, I see a wink.


    You can’t steal my joy, Motherfucker! I’m a grown-ass-man.


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