Jimmy Carrane in Wisconsin

Improvising on vacation

Two weeks ago, Lauren and I went on vacation. Our friends Stephen and Amy were renting a house up in Eagle River, WI, for a week and we were going up to meet them from Tuesday to Friday.

So Tuesday morning we packed up the Honda CRV and drove the six and a half hours up there, more like seven if you count stopping at Ruby Tuesday’s for lunch. We were about five miles outside of Eagle River when and I called Stephen on my phone for directions to the house.

“Hey, Stephen, we are here!” I said, exhausted and excited.

There was a pause. “What?” he said.

“We are here,” I said. “We need directions to the house.”

“Are you kidding?” he asked.

“No, we’re here.”

“We are not going up there until next week. I thought you were doing a bit.”

If I was ever going to apply improv to my life, this probably would be a good time to do it.

I was not quite ready for that yet. I was tired, angry and felt like an idiot. I wanted to blame Stephen, Amy, my wife and myself.

We got out of the car and decided to stretch our legs for a couple of minutes. I was in shock. “How could this happen?” I said to Lauren inside one of the many gift and moccasin shops in Eagle River.

My first instinct was to reverse our mistake by getting back in the car and driving back the seven hours to Chicago, waking up in my own bed the next morning and pretending it was just a dream. But Lauren suggested we drive south until it got dark, find a hotel for the night and decide in the morning what we were going to do for the rest of the trip.

Sometimes when my improv students are doing a great scene, afterwards they say, “But I didn’t know where it was going,” like they did something wrong. Just the opposite, they did something right. The not knowing is what makes improv so exciting for the players and the audience.

Now I knew how my students felt, except I was in the deep woods of the not knowing and if I could let go of my insane plan of driving back to Chicago like a lunatic and listen to Lauren, maybe something good would come out of this stupid mistake. (BTW, I hear in improv there are no mistakes.)

So a miracle happened inside that gift and moccasin shop, right by the dream catchers. I listened to my wife and we decided to drive south for two hours until it got dark. Once I got in the car, compulsiveness started and I wanted to drive another 160 miles to Madison, but again, I listened to her and pulled off in a town called Wausau, WI. We drove into the downtown and when we were parking the car, we asked another couple if there was a restaurant and hotel they would recommend.

They said the nicest restaurant and the nicest hotel were about 100 feet away.

The meal was great, and afterward I told the hotel clerk the sad story about our trip and she upgraded us to a suite. The room was beautiful, with two huge fireplaces, and the next morning at breakfast at this old timey dinner with great eggs and even better hash brown potatoes, we agreed the thing that made the most sense was to stay in Wisconsin and have a vacation. This meant I had to drop my insane idea of driving back home and coming back up the following week.

To really do great improv, you must trust, and the same rule applies in life. So I started to trust: the people in the parking lot, my wife, the hotel clerk and even the universe. And if I continued to do that, maybe, just maybe, this trip would be better than anything we could have planned. That’s what’s so scary about the unknown — it usually goes better than you can imagine.

My students will often say on the first day of class that they are afraid of failing. Bullshit. You’re not afraid of failing, you’re afraid of succeeding. You would not be taking improv if you were afraid of failing because it’s all about failing. It’s creating things that are beyond our imagination that terrifies people, and once I slowly surrendered to that on this trip, it started happening for me. It became an adventure and exciting and really fun. We went hiking, ate at some cool restaurants, went to Madison, and when we came home, both my wife and I felt the same way: That this trip had forced us to be in the moment and go with the flow. It felt more like we were on some spiritual journey than some cheesy vacation to Wisconsin.

It’s the same exact feeling I have when I do a great improv show.

Due to overwhelming demand, Jimmy has added one more Art of Slow Comedy Intensive this summer! Study with Jimmy in this 4-hour workshop on Sunday, Aug. 10 from 12-4 p.m. at Stage 773. Only $79 if you sign up before July 31!

6 replies
  1. Joshua Boden
    Joshua Boden says:

    My wife and I had a very similar experience. We moved cross country, from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, in order for me to start a new career in audio post production for film, and she to further her voice over. Then everything changed. Nothing went the way we thought it would. Now, my wife has turned her passion for voulenterism in to a career in social services working with the undeserved on Skid Row, and I stumbled into impov, now having graduated the iOwest training program and currently enrolled at the conservatory at Second City. We are both happier than we have ever been. Yes and indeed!

    Reply
  2. Jordan Weimer
    Jordan Weimer says:

    This was a really nice piece. My wife and I recently visited Sequoia National Park and we drove the four hours up to our hotel to find out that we were on the wrong side of the entire mountain range. We were in the Death Valley so I guess somebody else has made that mistake before. We ended up staying a night in Lonely Pines, CA at a Super 8 that smelled like a Super 8. I can definitely say my improv training helped me feel a lot better and to be okay with shutting up until my wife’s body language said it was okay to speak again. We ended up driving around the range the next day and had a really good time.

    Oh, and, if you’re that far into WI again sometime, stop in Osseo at the Norske Nook. Best pie in Wisconsin. It would have been a hundred miles west of Wausau, but it’s worth it if you buy several pies to take home or if, in the future, you’re looking for a unique/authentic sounding place to suggest that people go to when they mention visiting WI. The food is pretty good but to have the suggestion is worth the trip alone.

    Reply

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