Just Good Enough

“Perfect is the enemy of good.” — Voltaire

For most artists, creating is the fun part. The problem comes when they want to get their work out in the world. They have been bitching and moaning that they’re nobody recognize their art for years, but when they have the chance to put themselves out there, they fold. They hide under the covers, they don’t return e-mails or phone calls. Since they are clever people, they come up with clever excuses like, “I am not ready,” “People are born with talent, and I don’t have it,” or “I am going to make a fool myself.” These are lies, and not even original ones at that and they’re coming directly from Perfectionism, which, as we all know, is a big fat liar.

Let’s address these lies one at a time:

  1. “I am not ready”
    I have said this my whole career, especially when faced with a new opportunity. And guess what? When I have pushed myself to do the thing I am terrified of doing, 85% of the time I am pretty good at the thing I thought I wasn’t ready for, and when it is over, I can’t tell you how proud I feel that I followed the fear did it anyway.
  2. “People are born with talent, and I don’t have it”
    Everyone’s talent has to be developed. I started out in the Chicago comedy scene back in the ’90s and I saw a lot of people make it big. The people who made it certainly had talent, but they didn’t just have talent. They keep pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. Stephen Colbert was one of those people who was at Second City around the time I was at iO. And Colbert said he learned a very important lesson from his director, Jeff Michelski: “You have to learn to ‘love the bomb.’ It took me a long time to really understand what that meant. It wasn’t, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t, ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing…”  Though Colbert was talented, he realized he still had ways to go in developing it.
  3. “I am going to make fool of myself”
    What does that really mean? Are you going to feel silly or feel embarrassed by putting yourself out there? The answer is yes. But really, this feeling is all in your head, because people really aren’t thinking about you as much you think. When I started out in improv, I really sucked at it. For years I sucked at it. When my friends and family would come to my awful shows, and they were awful, in the back of a seedy bar, they never criticized me. Actually, it was the opposite. They always admired me for doing it, even though I wasn’t very good. Who feels silly now?

There is no such thing as perfect, ever.

I’m not saying cut corners and just throw some half-baked idea out there, but on the other hand, don’t wait until every fucking star aligns, you’re at your perfect weight, and both of your parents are dead to show your work to the public.

So many artists have dreams of making it big, but they wait and wait and wait so long to actually write that screenplay, finish that book, film that pilot, etc. that they never actually do it. And the reason they’re waiting to do it is because they want it to be perfect.

Some artists actually wear perfectionism like a badge of honor. They like to talk about what they are working on more than they like showing it to the world. That’s fine, but I’m not sure this makes you an artist.

The reality is there is never a perfect time or a perfect theater or a perfect publisher… or a perfect agent. You get where I’m going with this? You will hate me for saying this, but I have performed thousands of scripted and improvised shows for more than 30 years and I have never, ever done a perfect performance. Why? Because like the Loch Ness Monster, it does not exists.

I have not written a blog, including this one, that I have not wanted to make changes to after it was published. I have never done an improv show that when it over and I didn’t wish I had made different choices. I have not performed a story on stage that I didn’t think could have gotten stronger laughs. I have done tons of incredible performances, gotten great reviews, standing ovations and performed to sold-out crowds, but even those shows had flaws. They were not perfect. This can either drive you crazy or keep you humble. Most of the time, it keeps me humble.

If you have been taking acting, improv, sketch, stand up, or storytelling classes for years, at some point you are going to need to get out there in front of an audience and risk the chance that you are not going to be perfect, and maybe even awful.

If you have been slaving away for decades writing a play, a book, or a film/TV script, at some point you are going to have show it to someone who actually could do something with it like produce it or publish it or at the very least represent you. And yes, when you show it to one of those people, you take the risk that you’ll be flat-out rejected, but you also take the chance that they can help you get it out to the world.

And when you do get rejected or get horrible review or you bomb, and hopefully you will, Perfectionism will tell you this is the end of the line. Quit now. That is what Perfectionism wants. It would actually prefer that you don’t even start in the first place, and it’s pissed off that you’ve gotten this far. If this sounds painful, it is, and if you haven’t experienced this, then you haven’t put yourself out there. Perfect is not a goal; it’s a suicide attempt. Aiming for “Just Good Enough” is realistic and practical, and speaking from experience, every time I put any of my art out in the world, even when it’s just good enough, it always comes back a little closer to perfect.

Are you a storyteller who would like to get more laughs? Don’t miss Jimmy’s Finding the Funny in Your Story Online Storytelling Workshop on Nov. 21!

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!

Bombing at the Top of an Improv Show

We all want to do the perfect improv show.

Every move is brilliant.

Every edit is just right.

Every scene is hilarious.

But what happens when in the first couple of minutes of an improv show we bomb big time?

Well, if you are like me, you feel shame.

You shut down.

You become best friends with the back wall.

But what if we look at bombing at the top of the show a little differently? What if we looked at it as an enormous gift that could free us, that could help us do an even better show?

It is no different when you are doing scenes and something goes wrong.

You may say the wrong name in scene.

You may say something that contradicts the reality of the scene that has already been established.

You may think the relationship is a mother and a son and it really it turns out it is a boyfriend and girlfriend.

You may get confused that someone is playing a different gender.

This kind stuff happens all the time and the great improvisers look at these moments as opportunities. They take their time to justify the “mistake” and emotionally react to it, and 90 percent of the time they will end up getting a better scene.

Same can be said for bombing at the top of the show.

So your first scene sucked or your first musical improv song made no sense, or you made a move and confused your whole team.

I’ve made these kind of mistakes hundreds of time, and when I don’t let them get me down, a lot of the time these turn out to be some of my best shows.

I have done scenes where I flat out sucked in the first half and in the second half ended up strong because once I had made a mistake, I took the pressure off of myself to do it perfectly.

Sometimes when I make such big mistakes, something is released in me and I’m able to actually play more and have fun.

I am liberated in weird way.

So, the next time your first couple of scenes suck or you screw up in an opening of the Harold, remember it’s all part of the plan to help you do a great show.

Not a perfect show, a great show.

Want personalized feedback from an experienced teacher? Don’t miss Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 3 class, starting Sept. 5! Sign up today!