This is our 200th episode of Improv Nerd. To acknowledge this milestone, we have compiled 15 of our favorite pieces of past guests’ advice for people who are going into improv or comedy today. You will hear wisdom from people like Adam McKay, Broad City, Lauren Lapkus, TJ and Dave, Jill Soloway, Bob Odenkirk, Jon Favreau and more. Take a listen!
Improv can be a lot like being on the playground in 3rd grade waiting to be picked for the kick ball team.
Today it is much the same: When you audition to get on a Harold team at one of the many improv theaters or hope to be asked by a classmate who is forming a bar-prov group, you are waiting to be chosen. And if you don’t get picked you become that rejected little third-grader all over again, kicking and screaming, that life is unfair, and if you don’t watch it, you may end up quitting over it.
Remember, you don’t know if you are going to be picked or not. That is out of your control. What you do have control over is what you create. Nobody but you can stop to you for doing it. That is your power.
When I create, I am the happiest, and I don’t have to worry if I have been picked or not, because I am too busy focusing on what I am doing, creating. Plus, when you create something, it’s like a magnet that attracts people to you, and opportunities seem to fall out of the sky. When I create, my vision for myself and my career gets crystal clear, so those things I used to think would make me happy don’t seem as good anymore.
I used to always want to get cast in commercials. For years, I would go on commercial auditions, hoping, wishing they would pick me. My chances of getting picked for a national commercial were really slim — Ever commercial audition felt like a was playing the Lottery, a game of chance.
When I create, I get clarity, I get focused. Today I’m so focused on this blog that you’re reading now, and doing Improv Nerd and writing a book, that I’m not really interested in commercials anymore. And the more I continue to create me own thing, the more other people call me and want to work with me. It’s the avalanche you cause by creating something.
When I look back at the people who were around when I was starting out in Chicago, the ones who have gone on to have huge careers were the ones who had the courage to create.
Where would Tina Fey be if she hadn’t written, produced and starred in 30 Rock? Where would Steve Carrell be if he hadn’t co-written and starred in the 40 Year Virgin? Where would Adam McKay be if he hadn’t co-written and directed Anchor Man? If they had sat around only taking projects they had been picked for, they might not be very far at all.
Ok, you can argue that some people did not have to create to get where they are today. Fine, I’ll buy that. You can wait around to get picked for something — and you might get chosen — but your chances of success are higher if you create opportunities for yourself.
And it happens on all levels, not just the comedy super stars I mentioned. Who wouldn’t want to be respected like TJ and Dave, Improvised Shakespeare Company, Cook County Social Club, or the four original members of UCB? I have toured around the country teaching and doing Improv Nerd and have seen people build improv theaters and create improv communities where there were none before. That is creating.
So if you are sitting on a bar stool finishing your fourth draft beer while you’re whining to your friends that nobody ever asks you to be in their projects, remember: The only power you have is the ability to create. No person or institution can take that away from you, even if you think so.
Our self-esteem has been beaten up pretty good by rejection or perceived rejection, so for God’s sake, shut the fuck up and create.