Last Sunday, during my Jimmy & Johnnie show at Second City, John Hildreth and I invited Joe Bill, a well-known improviser and teacher in Chicago, to play with us as our special guest.
John and I have been playing together for almost seven years, but I have known Joe much longer, from my days at The Annoyance Theater. All three of us come from the same generation, and there is comfort in that for me these days. The show went really well. It was slow and dark, even a little deeper then John and I usually play, which is always a good thing.
And after the show ended and we took some pictures, I drove home thinking about how grateful I am to get to play with such great human beings who have become such an important part of the fabric of my life.
I realized that one of the reasons John, Joe and I had such a great show is because we have all played with each other for so long, and we all have a deep respect for one another. And those two ingredients form a foundation of trust that makes great improv happen.
This is not how I always viewed performing. In fact, when I was in my early 20s and I was performing on teams at iO and the Annoyance, and in an independent group called Jazz Freddy, I was so focused on trying to go somewhere that I never really appreciated the people I played with.
I was threatened and jealous by the good players and annoyed by the bad ones. I criticized all of them, regardless of talent. I was so full of judgement on stage that it killed any chance of being in the moment.
Kind of important if you are improvising.
I thought I was lot better than I really was.
I periodically did good work because I was fortunate enough to work people who were better than I was. But back then, I didn’t realize that you always have an opportunity to learn from anyone you play with. I was too filled with resentments to take advantage of those opportunities.
Over the years, I have changed, both on stage and off. I am a better improviser and much easier to be around. Today, I have deeper appreciation for the people I started out with. There is a bond there that always feels like we grew up in the same family.
If you are a younger improviser, my words of wisdom to you are this: Take time to appreciate the people you are playing with today. Spend time really connecting with each other – both as friends and as improvisers. Enjoy each other and laugh. Don’t worry about who you think is better or worse than you are, or where you are going. Because really, it is the people you meet along your journey who will matter in the end.
Make your summer memorable! Sign up for Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 2 class starting July 11, or one of his weekend summer intensives July 14-15, July 28-29 or Aug. 11-12.