improvising when sick

Improvising When You’re Sick

Why is it that when I’m sick I have good shows?

I remember years ago when I was at the Annoyance Theater, Mick Napier made a comment that some of his best shows where when he was sick. I thought he was a little crazy for saying that, but over the years I’ve found it to be true.

I am huge advocate of taking care of yourself and not getting your fellow cast members sick, and I am not endorsing playing sick if you don’t have to, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.

A couple of weeks ago I caught a bad cold that first knocked me out and then knocked out Lauren and Betsy, too. It was like dominoes in my house. I started to get a sore throat at beginning of the week with a slight fever. I thought I would be over it by Sunday in time for my Jimmy and Johnnie show, but I was not. I ended up sleeping all day Sunday and crawled out of bed just in time to have dinner and then drive down to Second City in time for the show.

The show was great. It didn’t hurt that I was playing with two amazingly talented improvisers, John Hildreth and Bob Fisher, and that we played to a packed house.

I cannot explain this, but for some reason, my choices were bolder and more confident than usual, I was not as self-conscious or second guessing myself, and the best part was when it was over I didn’t ruminate about the show or beat myself up. I just wanted to go home and get back into bed.

When you improvise when you’re sick, you feel like just showing up and doing the damn show is quite an accomplishment.

My guess is that I am not alone with this phenomenon, that there are others out there who have had similar experiences. I have some theories about why you do better improvising when you’re sick — like it helps you focus, or that it blocks the part of your brain that is self-critical. But of course I have nothing to back them up.

I have been pondering this all week and thought you might help me. If you ever improvised when you were sick, do you have an idea about why your shows seem to go better? If so, please leave them in the comment portion below. I would love your thoughts.

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7 replies
  1. Heather
    Heather says:

    I have found this to be true, as well, but never realized it until I read your post. Maybe it’s that I’m so focused on tamping down my suffering long enough to get through the show that, yeah, there’s no room in my brain for typical pre-show anxiety/second-guessing?

  2. joseph e bennett
    joseph e bennett says:

    Yes, Jimmy. I too have gottenten out of a sick bed to play to packed houses, and the show turned out well. My theory is that I was more reliant on my troupe and they made me look good;)
    Hopefully you and your family are feeling better!

  3. Jim Smetana
    Jim Smetana says:

    It’s happened when I was playing in a band; that’s close to what you’re talking about. I could barely stand up, I felt pretty lousy and oh look I got snot on my guitar neck! That’s when the GO FOR BROKE command kicked in. I figured if I’m going to DIE ON STAGE I might as well give these folks a show to remember!

  4. Sally
    Sally says:

    Had a similar experience with a Paul Brittain workshop. To this day, those were some of the best/funnest/funniest scenes I’ve done. Afterwards Cameron said, “You were a puppet of the comedy gods.” It’s true. My only explanation is that I was so ill, my ego had no chance to assert itself.

  5. Tony Rossi
    Tony Rossi says:

    I’ve had similar experiences where I’m having a bad day, in a foul mood, and want nothing more than to go home and not be performing (class, rehearsal, or show). I too have found that this is when my filter seems to disappear and I’m more in tune with thoughts and feelings, which allow me to respond more authentically. This is a fascinating concept and I’m glad we’re talking about it!


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