Jimmy Carrane

Expectations: The fastest way to kill your improv career

I’ve heard that expectations are pre-meditated resentments, and the fastest way to kill your career is to have any expectations about how it is supposed to turn out. Apparently, that’s a lesson I still need to learn.

When you have a certain expectation about how a show or a team or anything else is going to go, you suck all the joy out of having the experience, and instead, you get stuck in a state that there is never enough and you forgot why you are doing it in the first place. You are part of the living dead.

This has plagued me my whole life, and this is where I am right now with Improv Nerd. We have had over 260,000 downloads for the podcast since it started, and we’re closing in on having produced 100 episodes in under three years. I get e-mails from people all over the world on a weekly basis about how much they appreciate what I am doing, and I am being flown all over the country to do Improv Nerd and teach The Art of Slow Comedy workshops.

But that is not enough. I am not where I thought I should be by now. When I started Improv Nerd, I thought I would be Marc Maron by this point. Clearly, I am not. I thought doing Improv Nerd would lead me back to the radio or would get me an interview show on TV. It has not. I have clearly forgotten why I am doing this.

If you are reading this and you are like, “Wow, Jimmy is filled with self-pity,” you are right. That’s what happens when you have expectations: They turn into resentment, then into self-pity, and if you are really lucky, bitterness. I wish you would see me in a better light, but right now, I am filled with self-pity and anger. No, rage. Rage at God and the Universe for screwing me over once again! I have worked my ass off with Improv Nerd and feel like I have gotten shit for my effort. Fuck you, God! Fuck you, Universe!

It all started over the weekend when I had a really small audience for Improv Nerd at Stage 773 in Chicago as part of the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival. We had a great guest, the super talented Beth Stelling, and Stage 773 could not have been more supportive.

But almost nobody came to our show, and what made it worse was when I was leaving the theater, there was huge a crowd that needed to be roped off waiting to come in for the next show.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to die. I am tired. I am second guessing myself. My confidence has taken a hit. All because I had this stupid expectation that after almost three years, Improv Nerd should be a hit and I should have gotten something (read: money and fame) out of doing it.

Everyone always tells you that you’re supposed to do things for the fun of it, for the joy of doing it. Don’t worry about where it’s going to lead, just enjoy the moment. I’ve even said a lot of those same things in this very blog. But let me tell you, that is a lot easier to type onto a page than it is to do in real life. In real life, I have expectations that if I put effort into something, I’m going to be rewarded immediately  (read: more money and more fame).

The good news is at least I’m talking about this with my friends, in therapy and with you right now, so hopefully my resentments can be lifted.

The one thing I love about the accomplished guests I’ve had on Improv Nerd is when they talk honestly and openly about the times they wanted to quit and something happened that changed their mind and they not only persevered, but they became even more successful. This always makes their story even sweeter and their success more attainable. Here’s hoping that, like my guests, I can find a happy ending, because having these expectations is not only killing my career, it’s killing me.

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12 replies
  1. Robert Long
    Robert Long says:

    Thanks Jimmy. You aren’t the only one in this boat. Been doing improv for a quarter century, seen students rise to the top of the game nationwide, and feel like you just described.

  2. Greg Morelli
    Greg Morelli says:

    Red Foxx was born in 1922. He didn’t land “Sanford & Son” until 1972. He spent 10-years in the comedy clubs, working on his act. He appeared on more than 50 records. And I wouldn’t call Redd Foxx the most under-rated, under-celebrated talent on “Sanford & Son.”

    LaWanda Page was the most under-rated, under-celebrated talent, by far, and perhaps in the history of comedy.

    For laughs, on national television, Redd Foxx once looked at LaWanda Page, grimaced, and said this, “I could stick your face in dough and make gorilla cookies.”

    The balls. That woman had balls! Speaking of which, you need to grow a pair, Jimmy.

    I’m sorry you don’t get to be 27-years old and play the low-status fat-guy for the rest of your life. I’m sorry your white guy entitlement didn’t take you all the way to SNL, where you’d have been just as unhappy and angry at God, since you’re happy being unhappy.

    While I’m tempted to chime-in with “Fuck God,” I don’t make a habit out of swearing at my imaginary friends. But I’ll tell you what, for your sake, in the spirit of Yes And, let me give it a try, “Fuck Snuffleupagus.”

    You’re not Marc Maron. And Marc Maron isn’t Hannibal Buress. And Hannibal Buress isn’t Dave Chappelle. And Dave Chappelle isn’t $50-Million Dollars richer, since he walked away from a hit show on Comedy Central.

    I suspect this blog post will get you what you want: a shit-ton of comments, a shit-ton of sympathy and regret. You can lie to the rest of us, Jimmy. But you can’t lie to yourself. This is fun for you. Admit it.

    Schtick Is Schtick.

  3. Stuart Green
    Stuart Green says:

    Ah yes, the elusive remnants of the “American Dream.” I totally understand, appreciate your honesty and am trying to figure out the career puzzle myself. As my Master Teacher Wynn says “Let It Happen To You” – hopefully in oncoming moments we’ll all find something wonderfully unexpected, and come to a point where all that we’re in will eventually fade off into the distance of memory. Maybe we’ll even laugh about it.

  4. Tom Vencill
    Tom Vencill says:

    You can add sense of entitlement as well! So many people think they’ve entitled because they may be in demand or have the right look. You still have to do the work and get better! Don’t do a show you wouldn’t want to watch yourself! No matter what you achieve or accomplish if you’re not a good or decent person nothing else really matters!

  5. Dee La Belle
    Dee La Belle says:

    It is all how we look at things, Jimmy. I noticed LOL was on last night and I thought I remembered you being in it. Unfortunately, I started it too late to see you in it, but kept it on long enough to see your name in the credits. In my view of things, you have made it already. You have worked with BIG names and gotten paid for it! Wow! Maybe, Improv Nerd has already paid off?

  6. Sean Wheeler
    Sean Wheeler says:

    One of the previous posters mentioned that Jimmy needle it get over himself. I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but I think that the whole point of the article is to show that we are all human and that all performers feel this way. Is it self-pity? Yes. Does the world owe us anything? No. That still doesn’t change the fact that performers all long for an audience to view their work. It’s human nature. Jimmy isn’t arguing that this is an ideal, just that it’s a reality that you will get frustrated when you develop natural expectations.

  7. Jordan Weimer
    Jordan Weimer says:

    When being concerned with “what should be” dies it is the best thing that can happen to anyone. I’ve been married for nine years and “what should be” just died last year and it feels like we’ve hit a place where we’re both happy accepting the way things are and doing our best to not rock the boat. For me, that means that I’ve gone beyond accepting the state of my marriage but the state of my career and really accepting the state of my self. I’m overweight; I’m not going to get buff; I need low stress if I’m going to eat right; I’m not going to become Louis CK or Tina Fey; I’m twenty nine and I’m going to write from the kitchen of the tiny one bedroom apartment that my wife mostly pays for; but, I’m going to enjoy my life and I’m not going to feel shame while pursuing this thing… what ever it is. It seems trivial and that was enough to stop me from working on it before. Similar reasons stopped me from auditioning for musicals and plays in high school. The similar reasons always center around what I perceive other people think about me and sometimes the reality that if I did choose to do the things I believe I can do that people will judge me exactly as I perceived. People will think it’s a little bit gay to sing in a musical. People will think I’m pretentious for opening my mouth and discussing art or for calling myself an artist. People will dismiss me when I say that I’m a writer. People will dismiss my work merely because my process involves facebook. But, none of that really matters. I’ve had this thought in my mind that I should feel safe when I create. And I didn’t before because I also felt like safety should come from being accepted. I’ve always been interested in what is ideal. I’ve been an incurable idealist since I can remember. I didn’t do homework and failed academically because I wasn’t going to be coerced into doing homework. I thought that simply knowing the material and getting As and Bs on the tests was good enough. They made me choose between doing 100% of the homework or failing the class and I did less than half of my homework. Mind you, homework also made up 80% of the total points given for those classes. So, I completely tanked a year of school based upon the fact that they said, “do this thing that you don’t want to do or else we’ll fail you.” And, for all intents and purposes, I said, “fuck you. I should be given the grade based upon how well I learned the material of the class.” They then said, “okay, fuck you,” and they graded me on moral grounds. I thought that when you’re right, you should win the argument, but when it comes to powerful institutions, being right has nothing to do with the outcome. I should have made the choice that everyone else does when they recognize that fighting for “what should be” makes you a martyr that nobody is going to stand up for; I should have followed the instruction from the person with the gun pointed at my fourteen year old head. Or perhaps they could have lightened up a bit on their stance that student’s “should do their homework”. Yes, it’s good to do homework, but not worth branding a kid a failure when he pays attention in class, is respectful, and by all accounts is learning all of the material of the class. “Should be” had nothing do with what happened. I should be a college graduate without any trouble finding a job that is intellectually stimulating and challenging. But, the reality is that I can’t. Or, better yet, I haven’t. I have an Associates Degree to one up my GED. And, I should have finished my Bachelors from Columbia College this past may had I not had to leave school because I’m married and going to school sometimes just stops being in the cards. Now, I’m in LA, and I’m just getting to the point where I realized that I’m just going to do what it takes to enjoy my life. What “should be” be damned. Right now I’m doing this as work because I got my parents to invest in it. If nothing comes of this, then I guess I’ll just find a different job and do that. I’m just getting to the stage where it doesn’t matter if I succeed. I’m going to do this no matter what. I’m always going to write in comment boxes or word documents or on my typewriter when nobody is around to get irritated with the noise. I’m always going to give my opinion in a place it was never requested. I’m not always going to happy about my lack of success or acknowledgement. I’m going to wish I could just do this full-time and get paid well. I’m going to wish I won the lottery. I’m going to wish that there is a meritocracy and that my understanding of the material is enough to get a good grade. I going to wish that doing my homework too will bring me that good grade. But, “what should be” has a funny way of never being.

  8. Sergey Velichanskiy, Ukraine
    Sergey Velichanskiy, Ukraine says:

    Hi Jimmy and the Improv crowd! I have been into IMPROV for only 5 yrs – it’s nothing comparing to many of you))) And i’m going to turn 43 in three weeks))) Thank you, mate for being honest and just pouring out! The only thing I didn’t enjoy is the “F*uck U G*d” thing….but it’s me))) I can resamble with you 100% ))) When in 2012 I bacame an Official Host Speaker of EURO 2012 Soccer Cup I thought – this is it!)))) But…….And many more stories, many of us can tell….well, I quess, if nothing else, IMPROV teaches us LIFE!!!! Excepting what’s given to us and with the using “yes, and” going on with our lives)))) One thing what really helps is to review my best times and achivements to help me build sufficient self esteem and look around and see that 80% are not even close to where I am…they have to go to their boring jobs and burn sooo much time there – you do what you love and get paid for it! And, of course, we all know that “fear” of “will people show up?” thing))) But, you know what? It has to motivate us become even better, more creative, in the show, on stage, in marketing, etc)))) And, finally, most of my projects are barely floating, cuz of war in the east of my country – you don’t have it! So, mate, shut up and keep brining good and fun to people! )))) Love, Sergey from Ukraine youtube.com/ImprovUkraine

  9. Laura Granger
    Laura Granger says:

    Jimmy – For what it may be worth, I was one of the folks in the small crowd at the Improv Nerd taping at CWFF last weekend. I was the curly haired girl in the front row, in town from Columbus, OH to catch some shows. I packed a lot into the weekend, including several other shows at CWFF, and was expecting the Saturday TJ & Dave show to be the highlight of my trip. Quite honestly, Improv Nerd was the experience that I believe will have the most lasting impact on me as a fledgling performer. I am still relatively new to comedy. I have been studying and performing improv for a little over a year and have just started in stand up and sketch within the past month. Coming to your show, I felt as if the stars aligned and the show was tailored just for me. Having the opportunity to see you interview and perform with Beth Stelling within two weeks of my first venture into stand up was perfect timing. Also, I had just been to the Chopin Theater the night before to see 5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche. So, it was fascinating to hear about how that play came to life. I am a loyal listener as are several of my fellow improviser friends here in Columbus. We frequently discuss the relevance of your blog and podcasts. I understand that it can be quite discouraging at times, but please do know that what you do is having a lasting, meaningful impact to your audience. Thank you and best wishes on future success on the path to happiness and fulfillment!

  10. Derek
    Derek says:

    Jimmy, you *are* exactly like Marc Maron. For most of his show’s existence, he constantly put himself down and would say things like, “Why does Louis C.K. get a show and I don’t?” Your attitude here mirrors his. You also have to keep in mind that his show started a couple years before yours, and a show about general comedy is going to attract a broader audience than a show focused on improv. That being said, don’t give up! If you enjoy doing this, please keep doing it.


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