Announcing My New One-Person Show, ‘World’s Greatest Dad(?)’

I have big news to share with you today. I am really excited to announce that my new autobiographical one-person show, World’s Greatest Dad(?), is going to be opening at Second City’s Judy’s Beat Lounge next month. The show will run on Saturdays at 6 p.m. from June 15 through July 20.

If you’ve been following my blogs for the last several years, you know that my dad died in March of 2016, just a few months before my daughter, Betsy, was born.

Being a father was never something I was really interested in doing. Since taking my first improv class back in the ’80s I wanted to become famous, because I want to be feel good about myself. I had a huge hole that I thought could only be filled by fame. But after having a child at 52, I realized that that hole could be filled from the love I got from my daughter.

In this show, I talk about my journey to becoming a father at 52 at the same time that my own father was dying, and through this roller coaster of life and death, I realize that you don’t have to be the “greatest” to be a good dad.

I’ve been working on bits and pieces of this show for a while now, putting it up at various storytelling performances, and I’ve really excited to share the entire piece in its entirety.

It’ll actually be the fifth one-man show I’ve ever done. My first show, “I’m 27 and I Still Live at Home and Sell Office Supplies,” was a runaway hit, opening at the Annoyance Theater in 1991 and running for more than a year-and-a-half. Since then, I’ve written and performed several others including “Since We Last Talked” (1994), “Dog Tales” (1999), and “Living in a Dwarf’s House” (2001).

But this will be the first one I’ve done in 18 years (can you believe that?), and I’m really excited to see what you think of it.

Tickets aren’t on sale yet, but check back soon here to see when they’re up. I’d love to see you there!

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Being Grateful for Where I Am

Next week is Thanksgiving, and I think the older I get the more I am starting to understand gratitude.

When I started out doing improv in my 20s, I was so obsessed about becoming famous. So much so that it took all the fun out of it and affected my relationships. Fame was my higher power.

When friends of mine who I started out together in Chicago got success, I could not be happy for them. I took it personally, and went into a deep depression and was convinced I must be doing something wrong.

By the time I was in my 50s, my anger had turned into bitterness and jealousy, and I was ashamed to admit it, afraid what you would think of me.

It affected my marriage, too. Lauren would get annoyed about me about not being grateful for the things that were right in front of me, including our relationship. My life had never been better, and I could not see it.

Then Betsy was born, and after about six months, after we decided to keep her, things started to change. Before Betsy was born, other fathers would say to me: “Just wait. After she is born, she will change you.” I didn’t know what they meant. But they were right. It happened gradually.

I can’t even put the change into words, but the long and short of it is fatherhood did change me, for the better.

I am happier. Even Lauren noticed I can be easier to be around. She has said, “You don’t seem so obsessed with fame since Betsy was born.”

Thank God. I am not perfect. My desire to become famous still comes back occasionally, but today, I am far more grateful for what I have than I was in years past, and I am no closer to being famous. I would say that is progress.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Gift yourself a gift this holiday season. Sign up for Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune-Up, happening Dec. 30! Only $79 if you register by Dec. 14. Sign up today!

What a Toddler Taught Me About Rejection

As actors and improvisers, we deal with rejection on a regular basis. And even though I’ve been improvising and auditioning for a really long time, it’s still hard to not to take rejection personally, because I am still looking for outside things to put a big stamp of approval on my forehead.

When I audition for something and I don’t get it, I say to myself that I am loser and I want to blame the script; the director; the reader; the casting director; my wife, Lauren; our cat, Coco; the traffic; the economy; the state of Illinois; and the state of the world for me not getting the part. Really, I am angry and full of shame, but I mask it as blame. Blame is drug I use to medicate my real feelings, which are hurt and sadness.

Last week my daughter, Betsy, turned two years old. She is now in the “I only want Mommy for everything” stage. I only want Mama to put me in my high chair, get me my yogurt, change my diaper. “No Dada, only Mama.” The other day she got so angry at me in the kitchen when I tried to pick her up that she started physically pushing my legs and saying “No, Mama! No, Mama!”

If I am honest about my feelings, I felt a little angry, but mostly hurt and sad. I talked about how I was feeling with Lauren, some of my friends, in group therapy and in every 12-step program in the state of Illinois.

But no matter how much I talked about it, it still stung, and what I found interesting is that I did not blame her for “making” me feel angry and hurt. And even more surprising, I had compassion for myself, unlike how I typically feel after I fail an audition. Oh believe me, I still had my feelings. In fact, I still have some left over from a week ago, but I realize Betsy has nothing to with my feelings, and I also realize I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s really hard to take rejection personally coming from a toddler.

What I finally realized was that my feelings were not about Betsy. They were about the rejection I have experienced in the past. For me, it was rejection lite, all the taste of rejection without the shame.

This was something totally something new for me. Could I have my feelings of hurt, sadness and anger and not make it anyone’s fault, especially mine? Could my two-year-old daughter actually be teaching me something about rejection in my career? That if I don’t get something, there is a 99 percent chance it is not about me or my talent. And that I don’t have to take rejection personally and use it to berate myself for living.

If I’m right about this, my daughter is lucky, because I won’t have to waste so much time blaming others when things don’t go right, and that means she’s going to have a lot more time to play with her Dad.

This summer, give yourself the gift of great scene work! Sign up for one of Jimmy’s Summer Intensives, happening July 14-15, July 28-29 and Aug. 11-12. Sign up today!

Learning How to Have Joy

The irony is not lost on me that I am an improv teacher, which is about teaching people how to play and have fun, which is what I have the hardest time doing in my own life. (This is a classic case where the teacher teaches what he most needs to learn himself).

Since I was a little kid I have never experienced much joy. My mom would keep reminding me, “You were such a happy baby. What happened to you?”

Even the things that are supposed to bring most people joy, like going on vacation, don’t make me happy. I don’t really start enjoying myself on vacation until the last day when I know I am going home.

I had pretty much given up the idea of every feeling any sort of happiness in my life when someone in my group therapy was like, “You know, if you and Lauren have a baby, it will bring a lot more joy into your life.”

The idea of being a dad didn’t interest me that much, but I was interested in finding more joy.

So on July 2, 2016, we had Betsy, and I thought it was going to be an immediate joy-fest, but it wasn’t. In fact, the first three months were hell, and the months after that were sort of like purgatory.

When people would say, “How is Betsy?” or “How do you like being a dad?,” I had a stock answer: “It’s hard and I am tired.”

Then one day recently, I was taking care of Betsy, and we were in the living room rolling the green rubber ball on the brown coffee table. She was laughing and having a good time hiding the ball under the table and shrugging her shoulders like, “I don’t know where it went?”

My wife, Lauren, comes downstairs and she looks at both of us playing on the floor. And she says: “She brings you joy.”

“What are you talking about?” I say.

“Betsy. She brings you joy. I can see it on your face,” Lauren says, like she caught me in lie. “This whole ‘It’s hard-d-d, I am tired-d-d.’ (Lauren’s imitation of me). It’s your schtick. You tell people you are miserable, but you aren’t. You really enjoy her.”

I hated hearing that because it was true. My wife left out another part, and that is that sometimes when I am enjoying myself I don’t even know it until someone like her points it out to me.

It’s like when I’m at party and someone throws out the idea of playing a board game, and I say, “No, I hate board games.” Then I force myself to play Scrabble and when it’s over, I am like, “That was fun. Really fun, like, I am surprised.” Like a child might say.

Before having a child of my own, I wouldn’t say I hated kids, but it was close. I would say I tolerated them, which is pretty much how I feel about myself. Now, when I hear a screaming kid in a restaurant it reminds me of Betsy. I love watching her get excited on Thursday mornings when the garbage truck pulls into the alley and she starts to point and scream with excitement. She sits on my lap riveted until it picks up everyone’s garbage and then she waves goodbye to the truck like she’s the Pope with one stiff hand as it leaves. We repeat the whole cycle again the next morning with the recycling truck.

And I love at night when I’m holding her in my arms and rocking her thinking, “How safe and secure you must feel right now,” as she closes her tiny little eyes and goes to sleep.

In these moments I feel pure joy, and I feel happy and sad that this will not last, that she will outgrow these simple things, that there will be a time when she will not fit in my arms or like playing with the empty La Criox can for half an hour.

Since having a kid the world seems a lot more scary to me, but it also seems a lot more fun and I have a lot more gratitude.

When Lauren was pregnant with Betsy, some people loved to give me unsolicited advice. The one thing that they would say was, “You are going to learn more from them than they will from you.” And even though I did not like to hear it at the time, they were right.

And yes, it is hard, and yes, I am still tired, but Betsy has given me permission to have more joy in my life, which can only make me a better person, father and improv teacher.

Looking to make your scenes more memorable? Sign up for Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune-Up on Oct. 28. Only $79 if you sign up by Oct. 15. Sign up today!

My greatest birthday gift

Friday is my birthday. I will be 53 years old. In improv, that makes me ancient. Each year I have the same birthday ritual: I go into a major depression. It usually stems from thinking about how I wish I was more successful, more famous, and have more money — like my friends that I started out with back in the ’90s do. It then ends up with me getting pissed off at God, yelling at him with a fist clenched to the sky saying, “Why haven’t I made it yet?” This is annual ritual is designed to make me feel crappy about myself, and so far it has never let me down.

But this year is different.

Yes, I still want all those things my friends have, but the desire isn’t as burning. I don’t feel as desperate. I think the one thing the podcast has taught me is that no amount of success will take away my low self-esteem, self-loathing and self-hatred. That is separate work from my art.

There’s no question that improv comedy has given me a way to express myself, but somewhere along the line I misused it as a way to validate myself. That is always dangerous, because you cannot fix your insides with something outside of yourself. Success, fame and money can’t fill that gaping whole inside me; it’s not possible.

Lately I feel more gratitude for the things I do have. Especially my family — my wife, Lauren; my daughter, Betsy; and my cat, Coco — and all the people around us who have given us so much love and support.

If you’ve been reading this blog on a somewhat regular basis, you have noticed that my own personal forecast has gone from cloudy with a chance of thunder to partly sunny. I owe that to my little joy machine, my daughter Betsy Jane. People say kids will change you, and after ten months, I am realizing they are right, and I am looking forward to even more changes in myself. Being a parent is the hardest, most demanding, most rewarding thing I have ever done. I still question our choice of having a kid, now more than ever since she has started to crawl and it’s hard to keep up with her at 53.

When I look back at my tiny little career, the things that I am the proudest of are the things I either created or were a part of that were built from scratch. I don’t why, but they have always been the most fulfilling and rewarding. I think about my first one man show, “I’m 27, I Still Live at Home and Sell Office Supplies,” or being part of Jazz Freddy, or starting the podcast Improv Nerd. All things created out of thin air, and now Betsy is on the list. She is my best creation yet.

So, happy birthday to Betsy’s father. She is the greatest gift he could have ever gotten.

Heat up your improv skills this summer at one of Jimmy Carrane’s Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensives! Spots are still available for his weekend workshops on July 15-16, July 29-30 and Aug. 19-20. Sign up today!