How improv can help your career

I recently got a call from an old improv friend. He was calling me to tell me that he had gotten a new job.

He was excited, almost giddy. He told me that he was now the head of human resources at a prominent TV station. And he said, “I can thank improv for this new job.”

I was a little confused. So, I asked him to explain.

“In my last job, I was a trainer, and I was hired because of my improv experience. And this job I got because of my training experience,” he said.

I think there’s this idea out there that if we don’t get on SNL, or land a job writing for Colbert, or worse, if we move back home and stop performing altogether, we have failed in improv. But the truth is, improv can be a tool that helps us develop all kinds of muscles and skills that are valuable in life, even if we don’t end up “making it” in comedy.

Improv teaches you how to be comfortable speaking in front of people, how to collaborate well with others, how to be more creative, how to have more confidence. It teaches you how to be a better listener, salesperson, writer and communicator.

Hearing about my friend’s new job made me think about how many other improvisers I have known who have landed great jobs in un-improv related fields because of their improv background.

We rarely hear those stories, but they are just as important as the ones about the people who get a spot on SNL.

I am grateful my friend called me and shared his good news with me because I need to remember this not only for the students I teach, but more importantly for me.

Because even though at 55 I have been fortunate enough to make my living by teaching and improvising on a regular basis, I still don’t know where I am going to end up. I actually hope there is something great in store for me in my career that has nothing directly to do with improv, yet has everything to do with the skills I’ve learned through this art form. I can’t wait to find out what that is.


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What’s Next?

Recently Saturday Night Live hired two very talented, hard-working and funny cast members from Chicago: Chris Redd and Luke Null.

When Chris Redd got hired, he had moved to LA and was getting parts in movies and TV shows and had even done his own stand-up special, so he was already getting noticed. But Luke had more of a Cinderella story: He got hired from a showcase at iO Chicago.

Although many people in the Chicago improv community are happy for both Chris and Luke, when something like this happens, it also tends to cause people to feel sad and depressed and wonder if they should just give up on improv altogether.

For those of you in the Chicago improv community who also auditioned for SNL in that same showcase, or those who simply knew Chris or Luke from around town, I want to let you know that just because you didn’t get the gig doesn’t mean you don’t have talent. It maybe be cliche, but everyone has a different path.

This is a concept that has taken me decades to understand. For 25 years I would be jealous whenever one of my friends got big-time success, or really any kind of success. It would make me question my own career path. I would ask myself: “What’s next for me? Where’s mine? What am I doing wrong?”

If you’ve been doing the same thing lately, I have something important to tell you: You have done nothing wrong. Just because someone else succeeded doesn’t mean you won’t.

You are wonderful, and special and unique. Honor that like you would your choices on stage and listen up: Your career path will not look like someone else’s. The hardest lesson to learn is to stay in your own lane in the pool. We think that we “should” want what other people in our improv community want, or we should get what other people get, and if we don’t there is something wrong with us.

There is nothing wrong with you.

Following other people dreams for me has always ended in a nightmare because I never got to find out what I really wanted. There was a long list of things I was “supposed” to want because that is what my friends wanted. Then when my friends got a writing gig on a network late night talk show or big role in a movie, I felt despair. “What am I doing with my life?” I’d moan.

This was crazy. I was crazy. The only thing that really worked for me was when I did the next right thing. The thing that was right in front of me. And those have been the times in my life where I have been the most creative and felt a sense of purpose. For me, it has been these times of despair and self-doubt that have lead me to write another one-man show, or write a book or create a podcast.

If you truly believe you are an artist like I do, these times of self-doubt are golden opportunities that can help your art and your vision for yourself evolve into something new.

These times of questioning are important times of growth. It’s like in adolescence when your voice changes. It sounds awkward at first, but eventually it gets richer and deeper. Asking yourself “What is next for me?” is both a scary and exciting place to be for an artist, but the change will be good.

And that is where I am today. I really don’t know what is next for me. I am afraid that being married with a baby at 53 is different than when I as 27 and living at home and selling office supplies. Back then, I turned my experience into a hit show, but now I wonder, what am I meant to do next?

At least today I know that all I need to do is stay in my own lane, because if I don’t I will drown to death. I just have to trust and do the next thing right in front of me. And I can truly be happy for other people’s success because I know I am on my own path.

Are you an experienced improviser looking for a new approach? Check out Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 3 class, starting Oct. 25, which ends with a performance for family and friends. Early bird special ends Oct. 14!

How to land your comedy dream job

Today more than ever the opportunities for improvisers are abundant. There are so many classes to choose take, groups to be a part of and places to perform — which can be a blessing and a curse.

That’s why it’s important to map out a vision for your career before you get in too deep.

Do you want be on the writing staff of The Daily Show? Perform on Saturday Night Live? Tour the country as a stand-up? Direct, produce or teach or be a screenwriter or start your own improv theater or just be a great improviser? All of these are great goals, and to get there, it helps to be clear about your vision.

For me, creating a vision isn’t just about thinking about where I want to go. It’s about writing down my goals and getting suggestions from other people about how to achieve them. It’s like creating a road map for your improv career. Just know that it will never be a direct route to your vision. You will find obstacles and opportunities all along the way, and that is the fun part.

I did this when I was creating Improv Nerd, and I have to tell you that the results have turned out pretty well so far. About two and a half years ago, I sat down with a couple of friends and came up with the idea for a show where I would interview improvisers. They suggested that I improvise with the guests, but I was reluctant, probably because I was scared. But I listened to them, and now that is one of the things that really makes the Improv Nerd podcast stand out.

Here are three steps to take to create your vision:

Step 1: Ask two trusted friends, and not over beers, to sit down with you and ask you this question: “If time and money were no object, meaning you had at least $10 million in the bank and all the time in the world, what would like to do?” Spend about an hour or so talking about your vision while your friends write it down in as much detail as possible. Don’t get caught up in how it’s going to come true. That’s not your business. It will never happen the way you think it will happen anyway. Just get your vision down.

Step 2: Ask your friends to give you simple action steps to start working towards your vision. They should give you about five to ten things that are fairly easy to achieve. If your vision is to write for the Daily Show, for example, and you haven’t written in years, one of your action steps may be to write jokes for five minutes a day. Another action step may be to look into classes that can help you put a writing packet together. The action step isn’t to take the class, it’s simply to look into it. Remember to be gentle and keep the action steps realistic. They are there to build your confidence.

Step 3: Now here’s the hard part. Start taking the actions. For me, I can’t take any action alone. The problem is I think I can, but then I end up taking no action at all. To make it easier, call a friend before and after you take each action step. If one of the action steps they give you is to watch The Daily Show every night for next four weeks, ask your friends if you can call them and leave a message after you watch each episode. This ensures that you’ll actually do the actions steps. Some people call this accountability.

Even if your action steps are very small, you’ll start to feel a shift just by taking them. Feelings may also come up, some positive and some negative. As I moved toward my vision with Improv Nerd and accomplished more, feelings of anger and sadness came up, not the joy and the excitement you would expect. If this happens to you, don’t let those negative feelings stop you. They’re growing pains, and a sign that you’re heading in the right direction.

You may also find that as you move toward your vision that other things that you thought you wanted don’t become as important. This is ok, too. Your vision is flexible. For me, as I moved forward with Improv Nerd, I realized that auditioning for TV commercials wasn’t as important to me as it had been before, and I’ve decided to let that part go.

“Hey, Jimmy, but what if I’m just starting out in improv and I don’t have a vision?” That’s ok! Just know that in a couple of years you might want to have a vision for yourself. For now, let fun be your guide. Pay attention to the things that you do in your life that you enjoy doing and make you totally lose track of time, and know that those things might be in your vision someday. I know for me, when I teach and write I have such a great time that I am unaware of the time – a signal that those two things are probably part of my vision.

Remember, this vision is not etched in stone. It’s a starting off point to help you get some clarity on what it is that would really make you happy in your career. Yes, it may change, and just like any good improv scene, you gain more clarity as you continue making discoveries.

OK, here is your first action step to help you get started on your vision. (Kind of scary isn’t it?). Let us know what you vision is in the comment section of the blog below. What would you like for your improv career if time and money were no object? I look forward to reading them.


TWO-PERSON SCENE WORKSHOP, JAN. 4: Good two-person scenes are the foundation of any good show. No amount of cleverness or fancy editing is going to fix bad two-person scenes. To polish your two-person scene work, sign up for Jimmy’s one-day workshop. Spots still available! For more information, click here.

FUNDAMENTALS OF IMPROV, JAN. 6-FEB. 10: Learn Jimmy Carrane’s unique method of the Art of Slow Comedy. Suitable for those who have never improvised and seasoned improvisers looking for a new approach. For more information, click here.