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My Top 10 Moments of 2016

Well, 2016 is almost over, and I want to thank you for all your support and encouragement over the last year. As you know, it’s hard for me to find joy in most things that I do, but when I take a look back at this year, even I am impressed with all of the incredible things that happened.

Here are my top 10 highlights of 2016:

 

  1. On July 2 in the afternoon, the most beautiful little girl, Betsy Jane Carrane, was born, making me officially a father. Now she’s almost six months old, and we have already given her six different nicknames. I love that little “Chunko” so much.
  2. In March, my father died. I was fortunate enough to have made amends with him before he died, and I got to say goodbye to him on his last day on this earth. I said I loved him. Lying in the hospital bed, he could not speak. He just raised his shaking hand to communicate that he loved me too, in one of the most intimate conversations I have ever had with him.
  3. With the support of Lauren, I went to Los Angeles in April to attempt the impossible and to try see if I could sell the podcast Improv Nerd as an actual TV show or as a web series on a digital platform. I had tons of meetings with executives and recorded five episodes of Improv Nerd in Feralaudio’s state-of-the art studios. Instead of being completely scared, I was actually excited and proud of myself for showing up, and so grateful for all of the support I got from friends who are “in the business.”
  1. While in LA, I was a guest on Dan Harmon’s popular podcast, HarmonTown. What was only scheduled to be a short appearance lasted almost an hour, and working with Dan Harmon and the rest of the guests was a complete blast. I really felt like a star.

 

  1. In January, I got to travel to Austin, TX, one of my all-time favorite cities for food, people and improv. While I was there, I got to teach improv workshops and do shows at The Institution, a theater run by Tom Booker, one of my old friends from my Annoyance Theater days.

 

  1. In March, I had the opportunity to travel to Pittsburgh’s growing Arcade Comedy Theater, where I taught improv workshops and interviewed and performed with Kristy and Jethro Nolen, whom I knew and loved back when they were here in Chicago. Pittsburgh is a surprisingly cool city, and it was so much fun reconnecting with Kristy and Jethro and seeing how much the improv scene is growing there.

 

  1. In August, I had the chance to travel to Miami, a city I had never been to before, and teach and do shows at The Villain Theater and interview Jeff Quintana for an episode of Improv Nerd. It was the first time I traveled after having the baby, so it was hard to be away, but it was also fun to feel single again.

 

  1. In September, Improv Nerd turned 5 years old, and we celebrated with an amazing show at the Chicago Podcast Festival in November with special guest Scott Adsit. The show was in front of a big crowd at the Athenaeum Theater, and it was awesome to work off the energy in the room and play with Scott, who had some great stories to share, including one about me from college when Martin DeMaat called me a “log.”

 

  1. This year really marked an increase in the number of big guests that I was able to get on Improv Nerd (partially thanks to Lauren pushing me to do more phone interviews). I got to interview some of the biggest names in comedy including Cecily Strong, Jane Lynch, TJ Miller, Mike Birbiglia, Jon Favreau, Jon Glaser, Jason Winer, Simon Helberg, Nia Vardalos, Kevin Nealon, Nora Dunn and Hello From The Magic Tavern.

 

  1. I also had a great year teaching some of the most talented improv students in Chicago. I am humbled and grateful for the level of students I had in my classes and improv workshops this year, all of whom learned how to challenge themselves, each other and me. Oh, and it was pretty cool that my Art of Slow Comedy summer intensives completely sold out, mostly filled with students from around the world. I’m international, baby!

What were some of your best moments of 2016? Tell us in the comments below.
Want to start off 2017 right? Sign up for Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 3 class, starting Jan. 4. This class features a performance on the last day of class. Only 2 spots left!

What I’ve Learned So Far as a Dad

As you know, a little over three months ago, Lauren and I had our first child, a beautiful baby girl named Betsy Jane Carrane. Being a parent is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I am a glad I did not know how hard this would be or I wouldn’t have done it. Lauren feels the same way.

Here are some of the things I have learned in the first three months of being a dad.

  1. You will learn how to really smile.
  2. You will question why you’ve been teaching people how to create fake objects out of the air.
  3. When she takes a long nap, you will miss her.
  4. You will grieve and forget your old life.
  5. 9 p.m. becomes the new midnight.
  6. You won’t have as much time to isolate and have suicidal thoughts.
  7. You cannot believe people have more than one kid.
  8. You will wish there was a store that sold sleep.
  9. You will be judgmental of other parents to make you feel good about what you are doing.
  10. You will start spelling words out in front of them, like S-E-X, F-U-C-K and T-R-U-M-P.
  11. There are times when she cries so uncontrollably that you will feel like wrapping her up in a dirty beach towel and dropping her off at the fire station. But there are other times, like when she smiles first thing in the morning when she wakes up, that you feel so much joy you will want to drop yourself off at the fire station.
  12. One of the parents will be “pro” letting them cry in the crib the other will be against.
  13. You’ll get excited when she farts.
  14. Babies ‘R’ Us is a vortex.
  15. Every device that rocks her to sleep has a warning label saying it’s dangerous for them to sleep in.

    Are you looking to take your improv to the next level? Sign up for Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 2 class, starting Nov. 2 (you do not need to have taken Level 1 to sign up). The Early Bird Deadline ends Oct. 19!

Meet My Daughter

I would like you to meet our daughter, Betsy Jane Carrane. She was born Saturday, July 2 at 2:51 p.m. CST in Evanston, a northern suburb outside of Chicago. She came out weighing 7 lbs. 10 oz., measuring 20 inches long and looking like an little angry old man. I was worried. Nobody wants an ugly baby, especially an ugly father. I wish someone would have told me to wait 48 hours until you judge her looks, because then you’ll have the most beautiful baby in the whole wide world. Which we do. As you can see she has a full of head of hair, which I take no responsibility for.

It has now been almost three weeks that I have been a father, and I have to say so far I have exceeded even my own expectations, and I’m actually enjoying it. (Please keep that between us.) Though I seemed to have reached a new level of “always being tired.” Before Betsy was born I complained that I “was always tired,” but this is the real thing – sleep-deprivation bordering on paranoia. And there are times when she is crying uncontrollably that I’ve thought, “What have I done? I am a first-time father at 52. Am I nuts?”

And yes, at the end of the night when both Lauren and I are so exhausted from the day, we lie in bed and come up with a list of names of people we could give her to. But those thoughts are fleeting. As I sing her to sleep with a lullaby version of Sinatra’s classic “One for My Baby,” I know I will love her forever.

And she is ours; we have created her together. It was pure collaboration between the mother, the father and the fertility doctors. It’s clear we did not do this alone.

She is joy.

She is love.

She is one hell of a little teacher.

In the short time we’ve had her in our possession, this way-too-old first-time dad has already learned some pretty cool stuff. Like the smell of baby poo actually has a buttery flavor to it, not that I’ve tasted it, though I’ve come close while changing a messy diaper. And that when people say they are going bring dinner over, expect to get rotisserie chicken (we have gotten four so far, and if you e-mail me I can tell you which supermarket makes my favorite).

And I’ve learned that just like in improv, when it comes to being a parent, there are no mistakes.

Other fathers told me before we had Betsy that you can read all the books, but once you have the baby your instincts will kick in. They were right, and so will your character flaws. One of my biggest character flaws, next to being judgmental, which I hope Betsy does not get from me, is perfectionism, and that’s definitely shown up since I’ve become a dad.

Last week I thought I screwed up. I thought I held her wrong or did something that I thought was not right and immediately I began beating myself up and thought that’s it, it’s over, let’s give her away to someone on the list. After I got over myself, I realized that this is improv working in my life. When I am on stage improvising and I’m in my head and I think I made a mistake, I can adjust and continue with the scene. I don’t have the option to quit right then while I am on stage because the audience and the other players on stage depend on me. Betsy is now all of them, and as her father, she depends on me. Yes, I will make mistakes along the way, because I am not a perfect improviser, father or person. And I am glad, because I cannot live up to those expectations.

The best advice a father/improviser gave me was this: “Know you’re going to screw them up.” Though he might have been half-kidding, and I certainly didn’t want to hear this, I felt liberated that I don’t have to do this perfectly.

Betsy is already teaching me the same lesson. And as long as I am present and parenting her with love, she and her way-too-old dad will be just fine.

 

You Are Never Ready

As you know, Lauren and I are about to have a baby. It’s due on June 30, and it will be our first. Even though Lauren is much younger, I am 52 years old, so you may be saying to yourself what we’ve been saying for the last nine months: “What are we doing?!”

The other night we had a scare, right before we going to turn the lights out and go to bed. Lauren thought she was going into labor. I was like, “No! You can’t be having the baby now. It’s supposed to come on June 30!”

I felt I wasn’t ready. I still had to clean the garage and put a shelf in the laundry room. My wife explained to her blockhead husband that “at this point, the baby can come at any time, if the garage is clean or not.”

This response on my part is such a pattern in my life: When I am scared, I want to control the outcome. But I realized I have another pattern, too: Whenever an opportunity presents itself, I always tell myself I’m not ready.

I have been doing this my whole career. I have been cast in major TV shows and featured films, and in some cases had to audition three times to get the part, and on then on the day of shoot, I really believe I am still not ready. Even though the director, producer, the casting director and my agent had all said I was ready, my head would say something different. I would think, “If only I had taken one more on-camera class or had gone through a formal acting program, I would be ready.”

I have turned down auditions or interviews for potential paying jobs because I was felt I was not ready.

But today, I’m finally realizing that I don’t think you ever know if you are ready for something or not unless you do the thing that you don’t think you are ready for.

Just a couple months ago a real estate broker contacted me and asked if I would coach him on his sales presentation. The first thing I thought was I had never done that sort of thing before, and even though I have done a ton of corporate improv trainings and have worked with actors individually, I was convinced I was not ready. So, after shutting up those voices in my head, I said rather timidly, “Yes, I can help you.”

A week later, I helped him. And it turns out that all of the improv concepts that I use in my classes and workshops and all of my experience of working with actors individually over of the years applied. I was ready, I just didn’t know I was ready.

Two weeks later, another real estate broker called. He had been referred by the first guy, and even though the voice in my head was still saying, “I’m not ready,” it was softer. “Yes, I can help you,” I said more confidently. A week later, I was helping him, too.

In terms of having a baby, the advice I get from my friends who are parents is that you can read all the baby books in the world, but just know when you daughter comes out, you will know what to do. Your instincts will kick in.

Usually, I want to do everything perfectly, so unless I feel 100 percent prepared, which we have established is impossible for me, I will keep putting off doing new things.

The beautiful lesson I have learned about having a baby is that she doesn’t care how hard I am trying to put things off. She is still coming. It doesn’t matter how hard I want to control things. This is the start of not feeling ready and doing it anyways — from changing a diaper, to helping with her math, to taking her to college (I will be 70 by the time this happens). So, that little baby has already taught me so much and she is not even here yet.

Have you ever thought you weren’t ready for something and did it anyway? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

173: Shana Merlin

Shana Merlin is the owner and founder of Merlin Works in Austin, TX. Shana is a well-respected improviser and teacher with quite a following. In this lively episode recorded at the Institution Theater in Austin, Jimmy talks to Shana about starting to teach improv when she was only 22, her take on making mistakes in improv, and how having a baby can affect the business of running an improv theater.