Inner Game of Improv

How to Have a Bigger Career in Improv

Over the years, I cannot tell you how much time I have spent trying to figure out why I haven’t had a bigger career. I have seen people I started out with in Chicago go on to have gigantic careers in comedy. What was wrong with me? I could never crack the code.

So I started studying other people success. First it was a hobby, then an obsession. I spent a lot of time and money in therapy talking about it.

My therapist kept telling me I was hitting the glass ceiling, and I knew he was right, but I couldn’t figure out how to do anything differently.

I would ask my guests on Improv Nerd the same question over and over: What was there secret to their success? Until even I got tired of asking the question.

But over time during all this obsessing, something funny happened. I started to become more successful. The podcast and the blog started taking off, and because of that people flew me across the country to teach and do live tapings of Improv Nerd at festivals and theaters. People kept saying silly things like, “How does it feel to be household brand?”

I was now actually making at living at this — in improv terms, a very good living. I was becoming a success. (Shhh, don’t tell anyone).

I was excited about this and wanted to share what I was learning. Whenever I took little baby steps toward success, I would write about them in my blog.

Then, earlier this year, my wife Lauren suggested that we should take all of the blogs that were about having a bigger-better career in improv and put them together into our next book. The thing about Lauren is she is a bit compulsive, so when she says she’s going to do something, she actually does it. So she began weaving those blogs into a book, five minutes after she said, “This is our next book.”

The result is my new book, The Inner Game of Improv: 5 Steps to Getting Bigger in Your Improv Career, which just launched this week on Kindle on Amazon. (You can also get a PDF version of the book on my website).

In it, I talk about how many improvisers think that they just have to do more shows or take more classes if they want to “make it,” when really, what they really need to do have a little more self-awareness.

I came up with the five most common things that get in improvisers’ way when it comes to having a successful career: perfectionism, resentments (and expectations), low self-esteem, playing small, and not taking care of ourselves.

Here are my five steps to getting a bigger, better improv career:

  1. Embrace Imperfection
    By letting go of perfectionism, you can take more risks. If you can’t take risks, you are never going to get better. End of story.
  2. Let Go of Resentments and Expectations
    If you hold onto resentments, you will hold yourself back. If you hold onto expectations about how your life and career are supposed to go, you will miss out on golden opportunities. Neither help you.
  1. Believe You Are Worth It
    As your career gets bigger, you will need to develop good self-esteem so you can take in all the good things that are happening to you.
  1. Put Yourself Out There
    This is about getting comfortable with getting bigger. It’s about being seen and being visible—an essential component in having a bigger career.
  1. Take Care of Yourself
    This is the maintenance step. Once you are busy and your career is going on all cylinders, you will need to make sure that you take care of yourself so you don’t blow everything into a million pieces.

In each chapter, I help you identify these obstacles and then give you some practical tools for overcoming them. It’s a down-to-earth, easy read that’s choke full of personal stories and real world advice.

I hope you check out my book and let me know what you think. And I truly hope that all of us find a way to have a bigger, better career in improv.

4 replies
  1. Erica
    Erica says:

    Couldn’t wait to download your book – it is excellent! Very well written. Very insightful. Perfect to have in my improv toolbox. Since it is on my iPad, I have it everywhere I go. Thank you and Lauren for taking the time and effort to make this happen. It was worth it!

  2. Scott
    Scott says:

    Thanks Jimmy! I love how open and honest you are with these blogs. Seeing your vulnerability reminds me that I don’t have to be perfect (one of my little quirks that can sometimes slow me down). Great work, and I’m excited to read the book!

  3. Jordan Weimer
    Jordan Weimer says:

    Honestly, reading your blog has helped me get out and do what I’ve always wanted but have been too scared to attempt. More importantly you’ve helped me see myself as capable of success, if I just persist and know that my fear is hollow.

    It’s funny but the internet gives us the illusion of immediacy. We assume that because news from around the world gets to us instantly that our interactions with people are also immediate. We equate Facebook statuses with impulsivity. But, actually, the opposite is true. Silence is the internet. Posting on the internet is like posting into a void, a void that is seemingly filled with the people who are often precisely the people you do not want to hear from. You end up knowing only what comes out of a person’s mind which is fundamentally more likely to be dishonest than something as simple as a look. The lack of truthful reactions can cause your head to spin in a way that you would never encounter in a face to face conversation where moment by moment there is more immediate feedback in the way a person breaths and their facial expression than you’ll find in a year of internet interactions. To remain steadfast while speaking into the void seems virtuous to me… but I may be biased because I posted comments on every one of your posts for like a year before the weight of not knowing if people thought I was an insufferable jackass or, perhaps, an obsessive weirdo compelled me to move on.

    Either way congratulations on your success and thanks for letting me play in your comment box. People assume that when people spend time looking into a screen that they are not having a human interaction. They assume that there is inherently something empty about it, and perhaps there is, in the same way that reading a love story does not fulfill any need for love. But, the truth is that our lives can be enriched and we can live more boldly by choosing to value digital interaction and making it as deep as possible.

    If I hadn’t been on Facebook and seen this blog show up in my newsfeed two years ago, I probably wouldn’t be finishing my first year of classes at the Groundlings. I am profoundly glad to have found a person to replace Holden Caulfield as the character I see as most like myself that is simultaneously unlike Holden because the level you’re on is something to strive for and therefore your negative perceptions of yourself have been revealed to be false. They are just an arbitrary obstacle that you’ve overcome and still must overcome. I rest assured knowing that doing the work obliterates the validity of self criticism, and that my constant self perception is probably absolute bullshit.


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