To Be Great, You Have to Be Bad First

I have been performing since I was in my 20s. And when I started out, I wish to God someone would have told me that to get good at improv, you’re going to have to get comfortable being bad at it for a while – in public – before you can master it.

There are no short cuts.

I don’t care how funny you were in high school or college or how talented you are or that you are a natural.

Unfortunately, the only way to really learn how to do improv is to do it in front of an audience on a regular basis when you are not very good. This is still the most painful part of the process for me.

Talk about being vulnerable. Talk about being exposed.

This was torture for a perfectionist.

I went through this recently when I put up my one-person show, “World’s Greatest Dad.”

Each week the show was not where I wanted it be, and I was torturing myself because I knew the show wasn’t as good as it could have been, but there was no way to make it better without putting it up on the stage.

But each week the audience came in and enjoyed it anyway. The only person who was not enjoying it was the guy on the stage because I had expectations that I would be awesome on the first night.

I also knew the only way to get the show to where I wanted it to be was to do it in front of an audience on a regular basis and listen and learn what the audience likes and doesn’t like. Let them help me find the story.

As long as I have been performing, I still don’t like this part of the process. Who wants to go out in front of an audience and suck? But the only way to avoid this part of the process is to quit. And at this point, I am not interested in that. I’m glad that I walked through the shame of the first few shows, because by the time I got to the last few, I finally felt like I had shaped the show into something I could truly be proud of.

Want to get some tips on how to get better at improv faster? Don’t miss Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensive happening Aug. 10-11! Only a few spots left!

How bombing made me a better improviser

We recently held a little contest to win a free spot in my upcoming workshop. We asked improvisers to tell us about a time that they had bombed, and what they learned from it.

Like every improviser, I’ve had more than my share of shows where I have bombed.

I have not only bombed on stage, but in all aspects of my life. In my improv, in auditions, in my teaching, in interviewing people for the podcast, in actual paying gigs. Bombing is never pleasant. But unfortunately, if we try to avoid it, it only makes things worse. No one wants to bomb, but to get good at anything you need to have “bombed” many times over. The arts suck that way. Some people will learn from it. Others will use it as an excuse to quit. It’s up to you. The thing I’ve learned about bombing is that it never goes away. You just start to experience it differently.  The longer you try at something, the higher the level of your bombing.

We got so many great submissions for this contest. The stories of bombing you shared with us were all too relatable! But Daniel Anderson’s (ultimately positive) experience with bombing took the cake, and also won the contest.

“The Flower Shop Bangers were having their third show together. We really felt we had good chemistry and so we were filming this submission. The show had mixed reviews among our cast. I felt the show was awkward, another person really enjoyed it, and I don’t remember the third guy’s opinion. Well, we posted the video on YouTube and shared it on Facebook.

“I then woke up one morning to find our video was getting comments… lots of comments. I was trying to figure out how this happened, and I noticed that one of them said, ‘You always comment on /r/cringe videos.’ At that moment, I knew that our video had been posted to the cringe section on reddit.

“I shared it with my team. We agreed that it was pretty cowardly for someone to anonymously post this on the Internet, and it is not helpful when trying to foster a supportive community. We made a pact to take this as constructive criticism. Since this experience of ‘free coaching,’ we have been committing ourselves to making more relationship-based choices. Two of us are still in Chicago today and still perform as the Flower Shop Bangers on a regular basis.”

Daniel turned a “bombed” performance into a real learning experience, and handled the criticism of strangers with grace. Thanks to Daniel for sharing your experience and congrats on winning the workshop contest. And thanks to everyone brave enough to submit their stories. I hope we all keep bombing our way up the ladder.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Sign up for the Art of Sow Comedy Level 1: (Fun)damentals now. The early-bird discount ends Aug. 31st and spots are limited, so hurry!