My 5 Favorite Books of 2018

Oh man, the holidays are upon us, which means we have to start thinking about giving and getting gifts, for ourselves and others. I love books. I love reading them, I love buying them, and if you’re curious about what to get me this year, I love getting them. (Though I really prefer a Barnes and Noble gift card because I also love going to the book store and browsing).

This year I did a lot of reading on various subjects, so I thought I’d pick out my favorites that you can get for someone else in your life or pick out for yourself.

  1. If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventure in the Art and Science of Communicating
    by Alan Alda

    I was on the phone with someone who was thinking of hiring me for an improv workshop working with medical residents at a hospital in the suburbs. While we were on the phone she said, “I like to do the mirror exercise from Alan Alda’s book.”“What book?” I asked. Me, the improv nerd, had not heard about it. She said that he wrote a book about using improv games and exercises with scientists and doctors to help them become better communicators. As soon as I got off the phone with her, I went to the book store and got a copy, and I was surprised how good it was.Alda is a great writer, and I appreciate the humor he brings to his writing, as well as his passion for bringing improv to scientists and doctors. He draws on his acting, theater and improv background as well as stories from his own life of miscommunication. And what I especially loved was he gives you specific games and exercises you can do. If you teach improv, this is recommend reading!

  1. Lose Well
    by Chris Gethard

    You may know Chris Gethard from his podcast, Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, or The Chris Gethard Show or his HBO one-man show “Career Suicide.”He started out at the UCB Theatre in New York back in 2000, and he performed with the legendary Harold team The Step Fathers before branching out to do stand-up. What I admire about Gethard is that, like Mike Birbiglia, he has succeeded on his own terms, outside the Hollywood system. In this book, he shares with us the lessons he’s learned along the way and the rules that he created that came from his failures, like having his Comedy Central sitcom cancelled after ten episodes.Gethard encourages us to fail and to fail big, and he helps rewire our brains about our thoughts about failing. Though this is book can be funny at times, it’s not New Age-y and it comes from Gethard’s real-life experiences.

  1. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
    by Elizabeth Gilbert

    Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the phenomenal best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love. And in this straightforward book she demystifies the creative process. It’s full of inspiration in a very practical way.What I took away from her book is that it is our job is to create. It doesn’t matter if we make a living off of our creations or not; it’s important to create just because it brings us joy, and the results are not always guaranteed. In fact, at times Gilbert is so honest about her creative process that the book is sobering to read, but that is also its strength. By taking the magic out of creativity, we are freed up to be even more creative and feel that maybe we are creating for a higher purpose. She is an excellent writer and you can feel that she has poured herself and her process into this book.

  1. Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You Will Ever Need
    by Margot Leitman

    I often hear improvisers say they want to do stand-up, which can be intimidating and a less forgiving art form than improv. If you’ve been craving to do some solo performance but you’re afraid to try stand-up, I would suggest trying a storytelling open mic instead. And a great place to start would be to read this very practical book on storytelling. Leitman started the storytelling program at UCB Theatre in New York and she was a five-time Moth StorySLAM winner and was the Moth Grand Slam champion in New York in 2011. So she speaks from experience as a performer and a teacher and it shows. Her book is very thought out and she gives you easy-to-follow tips and suggestions to help you go deeper in your stories.

  1. The Law Of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money and Miracles
    by Marianne Williamson

    You know I am good for at least one spiritual book on the list, and this is a good one. I was debating whether I should choose this one or Marianne Williamson’s classic, A Return to Love, but I chose this one because it’s about was so many of us artists suffer from: Lack of self-worth. Williamson bases this book, like many of her other ones, on the Course in Miracles, which she distills down to understandable concepts. I often get fearful and anxious about money, my career, and what should I do next, and Williamson addresses these issue and offers us a spiritual solution. Her theory is that if you want to have an abundant career and an abundant life, you have to change your thoughts from those of fear to those of love. And while that isn’t always as easy as it sounds, it’s a concept that I would love to embrace.What are some of your favorite books that you’ve read in 2018? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Give yourself the gift of great improv! Sign up for Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune-Up on Dec. 30. Only $79 when you register by Dec. 14!

5 Things I Hope Every Improviser Gets for the Holidays

With the holidays almost here and the year almost over, it’s the perfect time to think about what gifts we’d really like to receive. This year, if you’re an improviser, instead of asking for another plaid shirt or pair of skinny jeans, how about asking Santa for some things that will really make you a better improviser?

Yes, the things on this list can’t be put in a box. But as the Grinch realizes: “‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little big more.'”

So without further ado, here are the five things I hope Santa is able to magically leave under the tree for you this year:

  1. Patience
    Patience is so important, both with your improv on stage and with yourself and the progress you are making. On stage, taking my time and not rushing things has always served my improv very well. So my wish for you is to slow it down and absorb what your partner is saying. And in terms of your development, remember what Miles Stroth said: “It took me four years to stop sucking.” And it’s going to take even more years to get really great at it. Remember, everyone is on a different path: Some people will get ahead quicker than you will, some people won’t, and most of them will quit. The secret ingredient to succeed in improv is a thing called patience, and you are going to need a lot of it.
  2. Listening
    This may sound like I am re-gifting this to you, but this is one thing improvisers always seem to forget. You can always improve on listening. Remember, without it, you cannot yes and… It’s that simple. So my suggestion is talk less and listen more. You can thank me later. I am off to number three.
  3. To Fail 1,000 Times (or more)
    Yes, that is my wish for you. Are you thinking, “What kind of gift is that, you big jerk?” Actually, of all the items on this list, failure is the most useful and the most practical. It’s actually a short-cut to getting better. So I am wishing you fail 1,000 times or more because nothing will make you a better improviser than trying new things, making bold, beautiful, 100-percent committed choices that tank. That get no response. Crickets. That feel like you have taken a gigantic dump on stage. That fall so flat they scare the shit out of you and fill you with so much shame that you wish you were filled with helium so you’d just float away. Whenever you fail, you’re really learning.
  4. Give more
    Give more on stage and off. It doesn’t cost you anything. Not a penny. So, when you are on stage improvising and partner initiates a clear, strong idea, drop yours and support theirs. When we’ve been doing improv for a while, we become selective in our agreement. We subtly judge other people’s ideas and don’t commit as fully as we should. How about keeping it simple and looking for opportunities to yes, and… even more to your fellow improvisers? Off stage, make sure to give people more sincere compliments, ones that you would like to get. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You get the reputation that you are nice person one whom other people want to work with? Doesn’t sound so bad to me.
  5. Keep Learning
    The best definition of humility I ever heard was the ability to be teachable. Are you humble enough to know that you need to keep learning new things or do you think you know everything there is to know about improv? Don’t be one those arrogant pricks who is done learning and acts like he has it all figured out. Whenever I start assuming that I know everything there is to know about improv, I realize that I am really not as good as I think I am, and I’m probably full of shit. Nothing changes until I can be humble enough to start getting help and get my big, stuck-up ass into some sort of class.

Want another way to improve your improv? Take Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune Up on Jan. 2! Spots are going fast. Sign up today!