Jazz Freddy

Are You Lost in the Improv Community?

Improvisers in Chicago have it really hard today. I can’t tell you how many improvisers I know who fell in love with improv in their home towns, and then moved to Chicago with stars in their eyes about arriving in the improv Mecca. And within a year, they are discouraged and depressed and don’t know why they ever decided to move here.

Today, the improv community has gotten so big here in Chicago that it’s really hard to feel a part of it. Sure, there are more opportunities, but there is also a much bigger chance you’ll feel lost.

This was never an issue when I started out in the ’80s here in Chicago. From my first class at The Players Workshop to my first house team at IO, I always felt like I was part of an instant community. Jazz Freddy and The Annoyance became my surrogate family. Back then, improv was happening in vacuum, and because so few people were doing it and you only did one project at a time, it was easy to develop bonds with the people you played with.

This clearly doesn’t happen today. Today, many improvisers struggle to find their niche here in Chicago. And when you don’t find a community, the more likely you are to feel lost, isolated and lonely. Even worse, you become depressed and tell yourself that if only you had made a Harold Team at IO or were hired by Second City all your problems would be solved. You moved here, left your friends and family behind to do something you love — learn an art form that is built on people — and you cannot understand why you feel so alone.

Community is something I took for granted when I was a student, but today, if improvisers want to be part of a community here in Chicago, they will have to work harder and harder to create it.

What many improvisers don’t know is that community doesn’t just happen. You have to build it. A great way is to commit to one group, and form strong friendships with them.

Unfortunately, many improvisers suffer from the improviser disease, FOMO — fear of missing out. So they participate in as many projects and groups as possible, always chasing a dream, but never really finding where they fit in.

I look back at all the friendships I have made in improv and they have outlasted the shows I was in. And those friendships are what kept me going when I was filled with doubt. It was the fucking people — they carried me when I wanted to quit. And you know what? The friendships I have made as a performer, director and teacher have been the best part of improv. I could not say that at 20 or 30, but I am saying it now.

Take it from a wise old guy who has been around for a while. When you move to this big, crazy city, make it priority to get a core group of friends. They’re the ones you can lean on from time to time for support and encouragement when you want to quit and move back home with your parents.

And if that means doing one less class or, God forbid, one less project, to give you time to nurture those friendships, then do it now. You can thank me later.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? His next sections of Advanced Ensemble class starts Oct. 25 and Oct. 27. Both include a performance on the last day of class. Sign up today!

4 replies
  1. wendy
    wendy says:

    What advice would you give to someone who wanted to form an improv community outside of the mecca of improv? I feel lost after the improv troupe that I was in closed after 10 years. I was apart of it for 6 years. It seems everyone went in their own direction because what we had was so wonderful, and we were all so surprised that our director just called it quits. Another group has formed from that, but to me there was to much conflict in the beginning of what that group should be. Now only a few of the original people remain. Now, I’m trying to ignite improv opportunities on my own. I have a few workshops that I teach, and few shows a year now that I do for fun. I feel like things will never be that good for me again. How do you fix something so broken without financing to open your own company.

  2. Gregor
    Gregor says:

    Chasing the result will eat you alive. That said, it’s impossible not to chase the result, in a culture where everyone kneels at the alter of money, beauty, fame, getting an SNL Reach Around from Lorne Michaels.

    One of the things I love about Improv is how it asks you to lift-up the people around you, instead of focusing entirely on yourself. This takes decades to perfect, which is the accidental perk, since it builds stamina & resilience. These are less glamorous. But they reveal purpose.

    Thank, Jimmy. L’Shana Tova!

  3. Jordan Weimer
    Jordan Weimer says:

    I think the most important thing is to let improv’s philosophy change your concept of careerism. Discover your career path. Make moves, see what they do, and make more moves. Don’t be afraid to do it wrong or go the wrong direction. There is no wrong direction. The death of the expected isn’t morbid because accepting the unexpected outcome is okay and pushing forward makes your potential fight itself into the observable world. And, if what’s observable isn’t good enough for SNL, then so be it. If what’s observable is that you’re an excellent carpenter, don’t be afraid to be a carpenter. Just worship at the church of improv on Sundays, hit up your small group, sing some songs in tongues, and have a blast when you can.


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