Should I quit improv?

If you’re an improviser, you have probably thought about quitting hundreds of times. And that questioning probably won’t stop any time soon.

As fun as improv is, it can be pretty shitty at times. You are dealing with egos, jealousy and lots of disappointment. You are reliving high school. And some of us would rather quit and avoid the pain.

I have always been an instant gratification kind of guy — the least amount of work for the biggest result. I thought if you are talented, that’s how it’s supposed to go. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in the arts or in life. Get used to it.

Over the last three years of doing Improv Nerd, I’ve wanted to quit many times. It is safe to say I have had that thought on a regular basis.

On so many different levels, Improv Nerd has been the best thing for me. It has made me a great interviewer and an even better improviser. I have met people that I would never have crossed paths with before from around the world. I have gotten to travel and had to reluctantly become a leader. But despite my successes, I get discouraged frequently – every time we have a small audience or a so-called “bad show” or experience some technical problems. It does not take much for me to want to call it quits.

Frankly, I’ve had thoughts about quitting almost as long as I’ve been improvising. The only difference today is that the feeling of wanting to quit doesn’t last as long as it used to. I bounce back quicker.  It can be a matter of hours, when it used to be days or weeks. I am also aware that sometimes the closer you are to reaching your vision, the louder the negative voices in your head become. The ones that scream things like “What are you doing with your life?” and “Why don’t you quit?”

I know if I had listened to the negative voices in my head, I would have stopped doing Improv Nerd and writing this blog months ago. If you have similar voices in your head that are telling you to quit the show or class you are in, or quit improv entirely, talk to someone before you do it, because these are the kind of thoughts that aren’t good if you keep them to yourself.

I have actor friends in L.A. who call me up ready to quit acting because they are tired of being broke and not being able to pay the rent. When I talk to them again a week later, they’ve booked six weeks on a movie or gotten some enormous residual check in the mail they weren’t expecting. After wanting to quit for 24 hours, they bounce back, forgetting about the conversation we had a week ago, until I remind them. I am always grateful that I get to talk to them on their darkest days. It gives me hope.

There is this incredible hokey saying, “Don’t quit before the miracle,” which really applies to everything, especially improv. In improv you never know the day, time, or year when you’re going to get good at it.

It happens slowly. And you’ll never know where it will lead you.

Like good improv, your dream or vision may morph into something completely different. Something even better than you imagined. That is what it’s supposed to do. And if you quit too soon, you will never give yourself the opportunity to know where it could have taken you. You will end up miserable for the rest of your life and you will criticize others who are doing what you like doing. You will be so bitter that nobody will want to be around you, and the worst part is you will not even know why you are this way.

So if you’ve been wanting to quit lately, here’s my advice for you: Keep persevering, keep showing up, be ready to play, and expect a miracle.

13 replies
  1. Nelson V
    Nelson V says:

    We had the space after your podcast last week. Despite a robust marketing campaign and a lot of involvement from different people, we ended up playing for 3 people. Under a lot of circumstances, many people would pack it up and go home angry/depressed but I was proud that we ended up playing a full show for those three people and ended up having a great show and three new people following us.

    Things like this will always happen but I try to look at the stuff that makes us want to quit as character builders. I may not know what I’m building towards but at least I know it’s something great.

    Reply
  2. Allison Black
    Allison Black says:

    Jimmy Carrane, First I want to say, you are a beautiful man. I am amazed at what you write and how it so often feels like you are speaking to the darkest, hidden parts of my psyche. Thank you. I have spent this past week reminding myself of how far I have come. Hearing how so many people have been in the same boat as me, they have had these experiences and went on to do amazing things. If I look back, I can see how far I have come, and if I remind myself how so many times I have thought things were dark, only to keep on persevering to see the sunrise – the most beautiful unexpected sunrise. Was that purple in that cloud? Wow?!

    Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Rick Hilton
    Rick Hilton says:

    I have been improvising since 1977, one of the world’s oldest improvisers. I started a company 11 years ago, we grew and grew and succeeded and succeeded then last winter the young artists I have been mentoring and working hard for decided that I should be kicked to the curb as I am an “old guy” with whom they disagreed with on an artistic level. Instead I punted them but this has soured my 35 plus years of improvising badly. Very badly. I have never thought of ‘quitting’ now I am simply working out how to quit, replace the income primarily and move into the real world.
    How is that for a story?

    Reply
  4. Danny
    Danny says:

    Real talk. This is why I think it’s important to separate your improv from your ego. If you suck, it’s no reflection as you as a person. If you rule, it’s similarly no reflection as you as a person. Improv is something you do to have fun, meet people, and grow.

    Reply
  5. Joshua B
    Joshua B says:

    I used to work at a music conservatory in Manhattan. I dealt with a lot of perspective students. They would call me and ask me questions like “Do you do job placement?” (That one still cracks me up) and the other big one was “Will I be able to make a living?” I gave each one of them the same answer “If you can see yourself being an accountant and being happy with your life then go do that. You should only come to the school if you cant NOT make music.”
    We want to quit when we our egos get in the way of the art. Sure, sometimes I deal with disappointment when I don’t serve the show, when I know that I haven’t given everything I can, when I got up in my head, etc. But I don’t think about quitting. I think about improving. What did I learn, how can I better serve the art form. Cause improv is bigger then our egos. I don’t believe in a higher power, I am not a spiritual person, but I do believe that when I get on stage, take a class, say yes and in my life as well as my art, that I am in service to something bigger than my ego or a career. Improv is bigger then you, me or anyone else walks the path. There is an interesting paradox at work here when you think about it. To be a good improviser you must be selfless. Yet we make it so much about our egos… yet its the BEST when you arent in your own ways… crazy right? I want to clarify that I wasnt born this way. For the first year and a half after I started down this path I would kick the shit out of myself on a regular basis. Than I heard Susan Messing say, on your podcast by the way “If you are not having fun YOU’RE the asshole!” Then I heard Jet , again on your podcast, talk about being vulnerable. And when I met her in person she shared with me that her only concern on stage was to be “In service to the Improv Gods”… AKA – It aint about you. Then I “Relaxed my crack.”

    Reply
  6. Gregor
    Gregor says:

    You’re in the zone, Carrane.

    You’ve always been brilliant. You’ve always been funny. But you’re on the other side of “The Miracle.”

    Thanks for sharing this with the rest of us.

    Reply
  7. Margot
    Margot says:

    Jimmy Carrane, stop reading my mind! Just this past week I went to that dark space of discounting myself and thinking about quitting – and it wasn’t pretty place. I think I’ve heard wait till the miracle happens, and that’s what your messages have been for me. Miracles of awareness and insight and that I am not alone from someone who’s been at this for quite a while. It is really all about Ego, wanting to be good, approved of, etc and when I’m in my ego I am not in the now – which is where Improv really is. Thank you for your insights and being honest, open and willing to talk about your own fears and insecurities.

    Reply
  8. Sydney
    Sydney says:

    Tomorrow, I’m absolutely booked. From 1pm-10pm without a minute to spare. Every second will be for improv. Performing or preparing to perform. All for improv. But I’m excited and terrified at the same time because I’m just a student right now and feel pretty shitty about my skills. But I keep going and working because I hope one day, after I’ve been doing it for years, I’ll feel okay.
    Thank you for writing this and giving my hope a much firmer foundation to stand on. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  9. Matthew Ruth
    Matthew Ruth says:

    This is a great article not just for improv but for all aspects of life.

    On a side note, I saw Jimmy and Johnnie and you guys killed it!

    Reply
  10. Edd Garcia
    Edd Garcia says:

    I was struggling with this same question for what felt like months, Jimmy. Venting out your frustrations and talking to friends who have had the same struggles is really great advice and is what helped me find the joy in performing again. Great post, I’ll be sure to re-read it next time I find myself weeping and pulling my hair out after a rehearsal.

    Reply
  11. Ian Boothby
    Ian Boothby says:

    Of course you should quit, but not the whole art form just the parts that aren’t working for you. Don’t like the politics? Quit listening to gossip. Don’t like short form? Work on long form. Don’t like the company you’re in? Join up with or start another one. Don’t scrap the whole car because the radio is busted. Quit as many aspects as you like until you get things to a point that work for you.

    Reply

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