How blaming other people keeps you stuck

Have you ever gotten off stage after a so-called bad show and immediately started blaming your teammates in your head for what went wrong?

Even if you don’t tell them you’re blaming them, when you start to focus on other people as the problem, you run the risk of alienating them. Not a good move in an art form that is dependent on the trust and support of other people.

Blaming the audience doesn’t really help either.

We have all done this when the show doesn’t go the way we want it to go.

Unfortunately, I sometimes still do it, and when I do, here are three things that I’ve realized about it:

  1. I am usually filled with shame and just don’t realize it.
  2. I have cut myself off from an opportunity of learning and getting better.
  3. When I am blaming others, I am really blaming myself

With all my years of group therapy, reading self-help books and improvising, I’m well aware that when I’m blaming other people for my problems, that makes me the victim. But that doesn’t stop me.

Yes, I fully understand that you cannot get better and blame others at the same time, because you have no room to look at what your part might be.

For example, instead of blaming your teammates for having a bad show, maybe it went wrong because of something you did on stage. But it could also be more subtle — like maybe you were running around doing a hundred things before the show so you weren’t very present on stage, or maybe you stayed out at the bar until 3 a.m. the night before so you were tired, or any other version of not taking care of yourself.

And often, when a show didn’t go as well as I would have liked, it’s because I had expectations for how others should behave. The audience didn’t respond the way I would have liked them to or my teammate didn’t play the way I wanted him to play.

No matter what, if don’t use this time to look at myself, I am going to be stuck. My improv will hit a self-made plateau.

At this point, you can probably relate to the whole blaming nonsense, but you may be asking yourself: How can I stop it?

You can’t.

I am certainly not dumb enough to say, “Just stop blaming others.”

For me, when I am in my blame period, I try to be really nice to myself, go to the gym, work out, sit in the sauna, mediate, or call a friend. It is no different than when I have the flu. I let it run its course and when I am feeling better, I can gently look at my part.

Sometimes it will take me a couple of hours, sometimes days to let go of the blaming, and when I am ready, I can look at what I learned from that show. I will discuss my part with my therapist, my other improv friends or my wife, Lauren.

I am a fragile, over-sensitive artist with a slightly big ego. I can take improv and my life way too seriously at times. Yes, I need to get over myself – it’s improv for God’s sake. I am fully aware of this, and I am making progress and in my life and an improv. And that’s really all that matters.

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Let's start with, you're talented…

What we do is pretty amazing. We get up in front of people and make shit up. And regardless if we suck or not that night, we are brave for just getting up there. And we need to give ourselves credit for that fact alone. I know a lot of you are refusing to give yourself kudos for your shows because you’re telling yourself you are not as good as TJ and Dave, so I am going to give them to you right now: “You are great. You are courageous. You are talented.”

Now if your head is going, “Jimmy doesn’t know me. He is full of shit. How does he know if I am talented or not? This blog sucks. Jimmy sucks,” welcome to the club. This is the negative talk in your head, and it has nothing to do with me or my lousy blog. It has to do with you. Are you willing to be gentle on yourself until you get the place where you think you are good at this? Are you willing to give yourself props regardless what level you are at for trying one of the scariest art forms out there?

My guess is, if you are like me, probably not. You are more interested in beating yourself up after a bad show or comparing yourself to others. Great, I get it. Believe me I don’t want to ruin your pity party, but here is another way to look at it.

Improvising in front of an audience is a very vulnerable experience. As soon as we step on stage, we have come out of hiding. We are getting bigger. We are willing to be seen. All this is terrifying. And regardless if we have a killer show or we bomb miserably, we will have feelings. Intense feelings that will overpower us. We tell ourselves we should have certain feelings based on how we did on stage or in class. Good Show = Happy. Bad Show = Suicidal Thoughts. That is bullshit. I’ve had great shows and felt awful and had awful shows and felt great.

And here is the best part, are you ready? Most of the time I can’t tell you if I had a good show or not because my perception is all screwed up.

This is especially true for beginners, because you have no reference point for what a good or bad show feels like. And while some people may be able to do their first show and feel great, it make take other people many, many shows before they can feel comfortable afterwards.

I still lose my perspective on what is a good or bad show. Last summer, I sat in with my old team, Carl and The Passions, at IO-Chicago. This is a team filled with some of the best improvisers in the country. I felt rusty. I felt in my head until about three-quarters of the way through the Harold. I got off stage and was filled with shame and convinced myself I sucked. That night, I put myself to sleep with those thoughts and woke up thinking I was the biggest piece of shit in improv. A couple of days later I ran into to Dina Facklis, whose team, Virgin Daiquiris, had shared the bill with us that night, and she said “Are you going to come back and play with Carl because my friend said you where her favorite.”

I had not even thought about that. I was too busy thinking of ways of how I could kill myself. I was also grateful that she said that, because I had lost any perception of my work. It reminded me that I am better than I give myself credit for, and I am still way too hard on myself.  And that those affirmations that I so generously gave to you also apply to me: “I am great. I am courageous. I am talented.”