Lately, I have been trying my hand at stand-up and storytelling, doing some open mics around the city. So far, the results have been mixed, but where I am starting to see it pay off is in my improv.
Doing things outside of improv only makes you a better improviser. A lot of times I think that when I’m in a rut or have had a series of bad improv shows, the answer is to force a solution and just work harder. But the truth is, more improv doesn’t necessarily make me better. Sometimes it makes it worse. That is when I need to go out and do something that brings me joy so I won’t put so much pressure on myself when I’m doing improv.
I need to remember that it’s important to be filled up creatively, not only for my improv, but also for my teaching, and if you ask my wife, my life. Yes, I am easier to be around when I am creatively fulfilled. Having another creative outlet gives me more to give to my classes, to my scene partners on stage and to the audience, as well.
For me, I feel creatively fulfilled when I’m expressing myself, and sometimes improv can do that for me and sometimes it can’t. Any art form has its limits, and I get in trouble when I think I can get all of my needs met in one place. That is when I get stuck and frustrated.
That is what was starting to happen. Most of the time when I was doing a live version of Improv Nerd, I was making it life or death. I was putting way too much pressure on myself – all because I wasn’t allowing myself to have enough fun in the rest of my life. My whole life was serious, so my improv became serious, too.
Then this summer, I decided to take a stand-up class at the Lincoln Lodge. I spent time writing my set and perfecting my delivery. This led me to doing a few storytelling events at The Abbey Pub, Louder Than a Mom, and Surprise Party. And suddenly, out of nowhere, improv started to feel fun again, and isn’t that the point of all of this stuff anyway?
This past Sunday I had one of the best times I’ve had at an Improv Nerd show in a long time. Then after the show, I had to drive to Second City to celebrate the third year anniversary of a little improv show called “Jimmy and Johnny” that I do with the super talented John Hildreth. Each month we ask a special guest to join us to improvise. Our guest this time was one of my favorite people to improvise of all time: Susan Messing. We have known each other for more than 25 years and I love her. Of course, those two were great as always, and even though I thought I was a bit off, I had a blast working with them.
I actually came home that night feeling invigorated and, dare I admit it, happy. (No, not a typo or misprint. You read it right, happy.) That was the direct effect of me finding a way to fill my need for creativity outside of improv. Now, I just have to keep remembering it.