What to do when you’re creatively burnt out

I am crispy. I am burnt out. I am tired.

I have had a very creatively busy summer, and I am grateful.

I put “World’s Greatest Dad(?)” up and have taught my ass off and I have enjoyed it. I actually don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard as I have done lately, and for someone who can be a bit work-anorexic, I’ve realized that there is a part of me that actually enjoys working that much.

But, as you know, us creative types can only run so long on fumes until the light goes on in the car that says the tank is empty and you are out of gas.

I wish I felt inspired to write about improv, or my life, or anything that you might find mildly helpful. I don’t have that for you.

All I know is I wanted to feel connected to you. And the thought of re-running an old blog just didn’t feel right. I’ve done that the last couple weeks and I wanted to write something.

I know this feeling will be temporary if I take care of myself and take a short little breaks to recharge the batteries. To fill the well up again.

This is what I am trying to do right now. But apparently I am not succeeding because I am still typing on my lap top.

So, if you have any suggestions on what kinds of things you can do to feel inspired again when you feel creatively burnt out, I could really use that now.

Always wanted to try improv or looking for a new approach? Don’t miss by Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 class, starting Sept. 18! Save $30 when you sign up by Sept. 4. 

How Do You Get Out of an Improv Rut?

I am in improv rut. The last couple of shows I have felt like I’m experiencing improv-vu, doing the same flat, uninspired, boring scenes over and over again. I am pulling the same stock characters out, making the same choices, and I can’t for the life me understand why it’s not going better.

If you’ve been to any of my shows lately, you’ll recognize this. I play a stern, uptight dad who finds out his kids are doing drugs, and then when they admit to it, he tells them to keep doing drugs because it will make them cool. I’ve done this same scene hundreds of times, and it’s not even funny. Why do I keep going back to it?

Of course, when I’m doing this, I’m not listening. I am stream rolling or trying to control the scene. Worse, I do not feel funny, on stage or in my life, and as you can figure out, I am not having any fun. I am not challenging myself, I am going through the motions and watching as other improvisers that I perform with make smart choices, commit emotionally and are vulnerable — all the things I teach in my classes. I must be a fraud! It’s like I am incapable of doing what I have been teaching for years.

I feel like I have lost my edge, and the funny has dried up. I tell myself my improv career is over and that if I was a race horse, I would be headed straight to the glue factory.

How did I get to this place? When I retrace my steps, it is clear I have never been more busy in my career, traveling and teaching and doing Improv Nerd and not leaving any room to have fun. None. Fuck the self-care or taking care of myself. I’ve got to keep moving before all the abundance evaporates. Every artist needs time to just piss away, hang out in a book store for hours or go to a museum or go to lunch with a friend and talk and laugh until the wait staff starts giving you dirty looks because they want you out so they can set up for dinner.

This is different than wasting time. It’s the time you need to creativity re-stock the trout pond. There is no joy in my life, and I am not one of those people who can fake it or manufacture it on stage.  I am “method” when it comes to joy. I need a little in my life to draw from in my improv.

I do not know how to get out of an improv rut. I do know that time usually helps, but, as you know, I don’t have all the answers. So I am open to your feedback. If you have been in an improv rut before and have some experience, strength and hope you would like to offer on this particular issue, I am more than open to it. Actually, I’m desperate. So go ahead, I’m all ears.

There’s still space in Jimmy’s upcoming Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy Class, beginning Saturday, Sept. 13! This class is limited to 10 people, so you’ll get lots of individual attention and stage time. Click here to sign up.

Feeling Burnt Out

I am burnt out, fried, my creative reservoir is dry, and the weather man is saying there’s no chance of rain in the seven-day forecast.

I have gone way past the point of exhaustion. Instead of pulling over to take a break, I passed every rest stop along the way and kept speeding across the state line.

I should have known better. I have written a hundred times before about the importance of taking care of yourself — proving I can give other people advice that I can’t take myself. I get it, it’s all my fault. I’ve been super busy with teaching my Art of Slow Comedy classes and workshops, performing, and doing Improv Nerd. And on top of that, my wife, Lauren, and I recently moved with our cat, Princess Coco, and all our furniture and belongings into our new three-bedroom townhouse.

In July, we moved from our tiny little condo with a bright orange wall that we loved into a temporary bachelor pad in “the party all night” neighborhood of Wrigleyville, where we stayed for three weeks before we moved again into our current home, all the while keeping a full schedule of classes, workshops and shows. It’s been unsettling and tiring, to say the least.

When I work so hard and don’t take care of myself, my creativity and joy dries up. For me, the empty light on the dashboard has been on for weeks now, and I’ve been operating on fumes.

I get up tired and cranky and with a low-grade headache. I can’t focus, and I think that getting on Facebook will help and it just seems to just make it worse. It’s even starting to affect my relationship with Lauren. I complain to her (no, more like blame her), that I haven’t had a day off and that we haven’t had any fun. She’s angry at me for not taking care of myself, and I am angry at her for being angry at me. I am waiting for her to give me permission to take time off and when she tries to help, I laugh because I am so uncomfortable.

The sad thing is I know that just as it’s important for me to be doing my art on regular basis, it’s equally important to replenish the well, but for some reason, I can’t seem to find the slow-down switch. I am on overload, and it’s making every aspect of my life miserable. Doing anything creative feels as painful as any day job I have ever had. In fact, I am white-knuckling writing this blog right now, hoping to squeeze out enough words to cobble together something that is half decent.

As I write this part of the blog, I feel some shame, like I should have some wisdom about what to do to get your creative juices flowing, and how to prevent yourself from getting burnt out. But obviously, I don’t have any wisdom to share. Usually, I tell my improv students that running out of ideas is good place to be because that means you are ready to learn, which must mean I am ready for learning now, too.

So I need some help. What do you do when you’re at the place I am at? How do you rejuvenate yourself to get some joy back? Next week I’m going on a three-city tour with Improv Nerd and teaching Art of Slow Comedy workshops, so I need your advice pronto. I know I’m better at giving advice than taking it, but I am going to give it a shot. Thanks.

Time for a Break

Time for a break

Jimmy, Jet, Johnnie, Scott AdsitThere is a myth among improvisers that the more classes you take and more shows you do, the better you will be. We can become addicted to this art form, always hungry to do more.

But sometimes, you can do more by doing less. If you feel burnt out or over-extended by performing, by all means, slow down, stop and take a break.

Symptoms of improv burn out:

  • Feeling like you’re not having any fun
  • Feeling resentment when you are doing a class or a show
  • Feeling annoyed at your teammates or classmates, or people in general
  • Daydreaming during a class or show that you are back at your apartment watching cable TV

Most people, including myself think they can muscle their way through these feelings and keep on performing. Let me tell you, this doesn’t work. Improv requires creative energy, and we only have so much.

In some cases you may be burnt out and don’t even know it. I should know. It just happened to me two weeks ago.

I was really pushing myself by teaching improv classes, adding extra Improv Nerd podcasts, and doing more long form shows. At one point I did four shows and class in a 24-hour period.

I was telling myself that “this is how people get ahead.” Whatever that means.

The problem wasn’t that I was doing too much, it was that I wasn’t enjoying it. One of the four shows was with Scott Adsit from 30 Rock, John Hildreth and Jet Eveleth, and I was looking forward to it. It was for the Chicago Improv Festival, and we had a packed house. We improvised together for 40 minutes and the audience loved it. It was a great show, or so I was told.

My wife came up to me after the Scott Adsit show and told me it was the best show she had ever seen me do. I could not feel it, I could not see it, I could not believe it. By this point, I was burnt to a crisp, and the first thing to go is my perception. When I’m burnt out, I can’t be objective. Instead, I stop having fun and I think everything I do sucks.

And here is the sick part: When I think my performing is terrible, I think the solution is to work harder. So I tried that, and that led to me becoming even more annoyed, angry and impatient.

Why did this happen? Simple. Because I made improv my higher power, my god, the thing that will provide me with unlimited happiness. And in the process, I stopped taking care of myself and stopped doing things that are good for me, like working out, reading and connecting with friends.

In my head, I think if only I could do the perfect show (the one that doesn’t exist), then I will be whole again. And the irony is even if I did do the so-called “perfect show,” it would be wasted because I wouldn’t be able to feel it!

So after I supposedly “sucked” in the show with Scott Adsit, I was sitting on the couch with my wife in the office of our couple’s therapist bitching for 10 minutes about how I feel numb about all of the good things happening in my life and how nothing on stage or off is providing me with any joy.

And this is what he says: “You can get more done by taking a break.”

What the…?I was kind of shocked at first, but later I realized he was right. I needed to slow down, stop and take a break. I like what our therapist said because it reminds me that I have to take care of my life, because if I don’t, it will deplete my art. And when my art is depleted, that is hell ― improv hell.

I am happy to report that I took two days off this week, and I am beginning to feel some joy again. Hope you do, too.