Taking In the Love On My Birthday

May 5th was my birthday. I turned 56. It’s been a tradition of mine, a week or so before my actual birthday, to get more depressed than normal, followed by a wave of self-pity. Thank God, with everything that has been going on in the world and that fact I have not left my house in two months, I figured I wouldn’t have to work as hard to get depressed this year.

But it turns out, I actually enjoyed my birthday more than I ever have.

It had something to do with my three-and-half year old daughter, Betsy, who likes to celebrate anything and loves a good party. I want to make it clear she did not get that from me. So when she found out last week that my birthday was coming up, she began to get excited and wanted to start planning a party, which she also did not get from me.

She wanted to do a puppet show party, so we started by making a puppet theater out of cardboard, complete with pink curtains.

Then on the morning of May 3rd she began jumping around filled with urgency and joy. “Come on Daddy! We have a lot of work to do for your party. We need invitations.”

So, we quickly made a guest list of my closest friends and some local merchants. Then we started making invitations. We had quite an efficient assembly line going as I hand wrote the invitations and she put them in envelopes and sealed them up.

We then got in the Honda and drove to the post office where I pretended to put the invitations in the mailbox, but instead put them in my coat pocket.

The next day, she and Lauren made a chocolate cake with green frosting, because that is my favorite color, never mind that I don’t eat sugar.

That night, a strange thing happened. I started to feed off of her excitement about my birthday, which was the next day. So when Betsy was asleep, I took out a big piece of paper and made a sign in magic marker saying, “Happy Birthday Daddy,” and then went to the garage and pulled out some Christmas lights and put them around the sign.

In my head, I was telling myself that I was making the sign for Betsy, so she would be surprised in the morning, but the truth is I was making it for both of us.

I have never been this into my birthday before. Sure, I’ve had big parties with lots of people, like when I turned 40 and 50. But those parties seemed forced, like I was trying to please my therapist. I always felt uncomfortable and embarrassed by the all of the attention on me.

And I’ve had smaller birthday parties, too, and they’re not really any better. Usually, I’m running around obsessing about the food or worrying that people are having a good time, forgetting that people are there to celebrate me.

At 7:18 a.m. Central Time on May 5th, Betsy came barreling into our bedroom like it was Christmas morning saying, “Daddy, Daddy! Wake up! It’s your birthday!”

By this point, Betsy had changed her mind that she wanted to have a pool party. So, after having pancakes, which are reserved for special occasions like holidays and birthdays in our house, she put on her bathing suit, which she wore all day.

But in all our pretending, I had forgotten to add a disclaimer. Betsy really believed that people were physically going to come over to our house for a pool party.

Lauren told me this in the late afternoon when I woke up from a nap and said, “I just told Betsy that we’re not having a real pool party and nobody is actually coming over. She has tears coming down her face. She doesn’t understand.”

Though the party scenario was pretend, the feelings my daughter was having were real. Betsy has been experiencing a lot of disappointments in her life lately, so I at least want to prevent the ones that are caused by my pretending.

To make things even more complicated, Lauren had organized a surprise Zoom sing-a-long party for that night, and didn’t tell Betsy because she was afraid Betsy would tell me.

But thank God I am trained in improvisation because I told Betsy we would have a pool party after all and I turned our bathtub into a pool.

It was total DIY. All it took was a couple of stools, a sign that said “pool” and our bathing suits. We both got in the tub and pretended to give her three dolls swimming lessons. We had our swim party and at the end she said, “Daddy, that was a blast.”

If that was not enough, that night at 6 p.m., some of my closest friends joined me on Zoom for my surprise sing-a-long party. As you can imagine, a sing-a-long on Zoom is technically a clusterfuck. I didn’t care. We sang some of my favorite sad songs like, “Fire and Rain” and “Piano Man.”

One of the biggest character defects in my life is my inability to take in love. I always seem to be distracted by low self-esteem.

But this year was different. Thanks to my daughter, Lauren, and all of my friends from all over the country who took 45 minutes out of their day to show up for me, for once, I was really able to take in the love.


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It’s my birthday. Thank you, improv!

Sunday is my birthday. I turn 55 years old.

That is not a typo. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

In improv years, that makes me 104.

Even I am amazed I’ve been around that long, teaching and performing improv.

My life is not what I imagined it would be when I took my first improv class more than 34 years ago.

It’s actually better. I have gotten something I never had, something I never wanted, and that is a life.

A loving family.

A beautiful daughter, Betsy.

An amazing wife, Lauren.

A cat, Coco.

And I’m part of many supportive communities so I am no more than a phone call away from help.

So I would like to say thank you to improv for slowly teaching me what it means to say “Yes, And” in my life and stay out my own way so I could have a life larger than I ever imagined.

Thank you, improv, for showing me when I take my self too seriously, which is more than you think.

And most importantly, thank you to the people that I have worked with and met over the years, the friends I have made and the students I continue to get to work with.

A great scene in improv is one where we don’t know where it’s going to go. It’s equally parts scary and exciting, with some fun mixed in — not much different than my terrific life.

For those who knew me in the past, you’re probably like “What has happened to Jimmy? He used to be such a downer.”

He’s still there, but for today, and just like I have learned in improv, I decided to make the positive choice, and I have to say, it looks good on me.

I have one thing to ask you before you go, and that is in the comments section below if you could wish me a happy birthday, it would really help me with low self-esteem.

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.

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