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Being Happy Where You’re At

Great improvisers are in the moment.

They have no need for the future or the past since they know it will not serve them.

They do not have an idea of how the scene will end.

They thrive on the uncertainty.

They are happy where they’re at.

This is the hardest thing for me to do, especially since I suffer from that disease of “what’s next?” It’s an affliction that saps my energy, robs me of my joy and steals my creativity. It floods my mind with obsessive thoughts about what I need to do to take my career to the next level. It’s relentless until there’s no joy left in what I’m doing.

Joy is the lubricant that keeps all the creative gears moving smoothly. Without it, life is a grind, and it’s a matter of time before my improv is a grind too.

When I was in my 20s and 30s, my “what’s next” disease always cropped up whenever Second City would have auditions for the Touring Company. At the time, I was performing the Harold a couple of times a week at iO Chicago. As soon as I got a touring company audition at Second City, my improv at iO would suck.

I was in my “what’s next” disease. I wanted to get into Second City so badly, that everything suffered, especially the thing that I needed most to get hired — my improv.

As you can imagine, I always tanked my auditions, and worse, I am sure that I missed out on lots of other great opportunities that were right in front of me at the time because I was so focused on the “one” thing that I thought was necessary to get ahead. (That’s another common side effect of the “what’s next” disease.)

I have seen this in my students’ lives as well. Last summer, for example, I talked to a former student who told me that one of his goals was to get an agent so he could audition for commercials and TV shows that are shot in Chicago.

When you are starting out and you don’t have many credits, getting an agent can be challenging. You send out mailers, hit up your improv friends to talk to their agents, and get headshots — all in the hopes you’ll get representation.

Talking to this former student, I recognized he was suffering from a little of the “what’s next?” disease, and since he had a pretty packed schedule of shows, we agreed that he should let go of trying to hustle for an agent for the time being.

I knew that if he just focused on doing what was fun and what was right in front of him, instead of “trying” to get somewhere, things would work out on their own.

And guess what? Last week, when we talked on the phone, an agent came to one of his improv shows and wants him to come in for an audition for representation.

I need to hear these kind of stories because they help remind me that if you’re doing what is right in front of you and you’re happy where you’re at, the Universe has a way of just dropping things in your lap. And those usually turn out to be the best experiences.

Want to try improv for the first time, or experience a new approach? Don’t miss Jimmy’s Intro to the Art of Slow Comedy Workshop on Feb. 8. Only $49 if you sign up by Feb. 1!

3 Improv Principles I Use in My Life

The thing I love about improv is I can practice things that I need to work on in my own life. It’s very simple: When I use the improv principles on stage, they will naturally spill over into my everyday life. And lately I’ve noticed that I’ve actually made a ton of progress and am starting to live by some of these improv principles.

Here are three improv principles that are helping me:

1. There are no mistakes:
In improv we are taught almost in our first class that they are no mistakes, that we need to use everything that happens on stage as a gift and that there is no return policy. Of course, I have said things on stage or missed moves or initiated something that I wished I could have taken back seconds after I did it, but in general, I get this concept when it comes to performing.

In my real life, however, I tend to obsess and beat myself up after the tiniest mistakes, leaving me paralyzed with fear and self-loathing and not able to take any action. When I make mistake in life — like making a typo on Facebook, where every one of my Facebook friends likes to make some sarcastic comment about my spelling — I have the choice to look at it through my own eyes or through the eyes of an improviser. When I look at mistakes like an improviser, I have the opportunity to find the game, have fun and support their initiation. I can learn to play with my mistakes, not take myself so seriously and laugh at myself. I’m usually better off for it, not to mention everyone else around me.

2. Be in the moment:
I don’t care what style of improv you like to play — musical, UCB game style or slower improv — we are all after the same goal, and that is to truly be in the moment. We want to let go of worrying about our next move, and instead be in a space where nothing matters, where we lose track of time and feel a connection with our teammates and the audience. For improvisers, this is the spiritual nirvana we are looking for.

Unfortunately, that feeling is slightly harder to sustain in our daily lives than it is in a 25-minute improv show. When I am improvising, I am forced to be present. In my daily life, I often forget to be in the present and instead I go into the future and over-plan things, leaving no room for things to unfold. When I do stay in the moment, things work our better than I expected.

Whenever my in-laws come into town, my wife, Lauren, and I over-plan: we need to schedule activities for every minute they are here in Chicago. We leave no room for spontaneity. On Father’s Day, we did things a little bit differently, and instead only planned to go Millennium Park and didn’t plan anything else for rest to the day. While walking around the park, we heard blues music playing, which Lauren’s dad loves, and guess what? Blues Fest was going on a block away. So we walked to Blues Fest, and her dad loved it and then we got in the car with no idea where to eat lunch, and we passed Weber Grill, a place her dad had always wanted to go, and we stopped there and had a great meal. The day was way better than we had planned because we stayed in the moment the best we could.

3. Let Go of Control
I am drawn to improv because I am a “control freak” and I want to do less of it in my life. In improv, we learn to be open to other people’s ideas and not force our agenda in a scene. Being controlling is the opposite of improvising. It’s about being rigid and thinking there is only way to do something.

I struggle with letting go of control, but I’m getting better at it. I’m learning how to call people and get their advice about my problems instead of assuming I always have the right answer. And I’ve also learned to let go of control by taking more risks in life, and telling people how I feel about something, even if I can’t control what they’re going to think about me. It’s a scary process, but it’s working.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Spots are still available in his next Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy Class starting June 21. Or, you can take his one-day Art of Slow Comedy Intensive on July 6. Sign up today!