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Going Back to Teaching in Person

On July 31, I will be going back to teaching improv in person. The last time I taught in person was March of 2020. It’s been a long time.

The world has changed and so have I.

I have learned a lot by teaching on Zoom and I look forward to continuing to do so.

I am one of the fortunate ones. I got to keep teaching what I love to do online. I survived and at times even thrived. I am grateful that I got to work with some of the best improvisers all over the country who taught me a lot.

One of the things that I enjoyed about teaching on Zoom, is that I had to approach teaching with a beginner’s mind, which means that I had to look at things as if I was seeing them for the first time. It was stressful at first, learning both the technical and the artistic side at the same time, but after asking for a shitload of help from other teachers, I eventually thrived.

Through teaching online, I became a better teacher. I learned to be more patient, more positive, and more compassionate to my students. I started looking for what the students were doing right and stop trying to fix them.

The students kept telling me how important it was for them to be able to continue to take improv classes, even though they couldn’t do it in person, and how much they looked forward to class every week. It became more than just teaching improv — it became a way to give people the human connection they craved as they stayed isolated in their homes.

Going back to teaching in-person classes and workshops seems new to me, and I am sure as I get closer to the date, I will get nervous, just like I did when I started teaching on Zoom.

And while I’m really looking forward to it, I’m sure it’s going to be emotional on that first day back in person when we do our first warm-up game together. It’s been a long time, and I’ve really missed you all.

I hope you can join us. I would love to see you in person.

Want to study with Jimmy in person? Don’t miss his Two-Person Scene Tune-Up on July 31! Sign up today!

I Got the Vaccine. And I Feel Sad.

Yesterday, I got my second dose of the vaccine. In two weeks, I should be free. And I feel sad about it.

This is not what I expected.

I thought I would be excited, like my friends who got their vaccines months ago. Yes, I will not have to worry every time I go out the door that I have a mask in my hand.

Or be vigilant about staying six feet away from people in the grocery store and judging the people who don’t.

Or constantly going online to checking the positivity rate and deaths in Illinois like some people check the stock market.

I could not figure out why I was not in a hurry to get the vaccine in March like most of my friends, some of whom traveled 300 miles both ways to downstate Illinois to get a vaccine. I mean, I believe in the science of vaccines, but I just wasn’t in a rush to get the shot. I thought something was wrong with me.

But what I’ve realized is that I guess I didn’t rush out to get a vaccine because I actually like being quarantined.

I am a home body to start with, but the pandemic gave me permission to slow down, since the entire world came to a screeching halt.

I was fortunate that I got to continue to teach improv online and got to work with some incredible improvisers from across the country whom I would never have gotten to work with. I got to spend more time at home with Betsy and Lauren.

I didn’t have to commute into Chicago to teach classes. Instead, I just turned on my computer and taught class online from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and I was home by 9:03.

And the absolute best part was not worrying about my mother fucking career and worrying about who was getting what and what I was not getting.

The pandemic gave me a sense of serenity.

I am sure when my life revs up again, I will forget my pandemic life and go back to rushing around and obsessing about my career, which makes me human.

But, I still have two more weeks before I am free to roam about the planet, and I’ll try to enjoy them, like they’re my last days of vacation.

Want to try a new approach to your improv? Check out Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 class, starting online May 27! Sign up today!

Urgent! Now Is the Time to Create

Recently, the performing arts have been hit hard. Live theater has gone dark, until further notice. We are feeling all sorts of emotions about it. Mostly we are all still grieving.

Some day we will be in front of live audiences again, I am sure of it, but in the meantime we must fight these feelings of isolation or die. It is that serious.

If an artist stops expressing themselves, it’s like they have lost the will to live.

The stakes have never been higher. You must find a way, any way, of expressing yourself. You must create for your well-being.

This is non-negotiable.

For actors and improvisers, it seems like the only option is doing stuff on Zoom. I’ve become an expert on it, and I’m well aware of its limitations for live performances.

I am not going to try to convince you that it’s a substitute for a 100-seat black box theater. It is not, but right now it’s all we have.

I was skeptical about teaching improv on Zoom, but it’s worked out pretty well. I am constantly learning, forever grateful that I often still get a “performance high” from teaching, like I do from a teaching a live class or performing in a show.

If acting or improvising on Zoom does not work for you, that’s fine. Then pick something else to express yourself. Write a song, do watercolors, take pictures with your phone. It doesn’t matter what you pick, as long as you are enjoying it.

I know I feel better when I write this blog, color with my daughter, or call my improv friends and do bits on the phone.

Art does not happen in vacuum and neither does life. We need people in both areas of our lives – our regular lives and our artistic lives. At this point, you may be discouraged and may not feel very productive in your art, but that doesn’t matter. If you try new things, you may look back at this pandemic as your Renaissance Period.

And just think, if you have tried lots of new creative endeavors, when you return to doing a live play or an improv show, how many more things you will be able to draw from? Right now, more than ever, doing something creative is not about the results, and that can be incredibly freeing. Think of this as an opportunity to create something just for yourself. For your sanity. For your mental health.

You may not know this, but artists are healers, and every time we create art, we have a chance to heal someone else. And sometimes, that person is us.

 

Want to do a deep dive into Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy method? Don’t miss his first online Fall Intensive weekend, happening Oct. 24-25. Sign up today!

Holding On To Your Sense of Humor

For most of us, this is the most serious time we have ever experienced in our lives.

It is scary, unpredictable and stressful.

And even though it may feel like the end of the world – in fact, because it feels like the end of the world – it’s crucial that we don’t lose our sense of humor.

For those of you who have devoted your life to comedy, now is the time that we have a responsibility to make those around us laugh.

Laughter is healing. You don’t need me to tell you that. You know that already. In fact, if you’re feeling anxious and like you have no control over anything these days, laughter is still one of the best over-the-counter medications you can take.

Last Monday, I watched parts of Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, who were all doing their shows from their homes. I really enjoyed the intimacy, seeing them interact with their children and living by that old show business saying that, “The show must go on.” But what I really appreciated was the humor.

After watching those shows, I had a newfound respect for what they and other nightly comedy shows are doing. It almost seemed as though they are doing us a service. That they realized how important it is to give us some normalcy and to laugh.

OK, where do I fit in?

Yes, most of us improvisers don’t have the same kind of audience we are used to having, at least for the time being. But we do have people around us who need to laugh. They may be our kids, our significant others, the friends we talk to on Zoom, and on the rare occasions that we go out into the real world, the people who work in the stores we scurry in and out of.

Last week when I was paying for my groceries at Jewel, the cashier wanted to know if I was playing their Monopoly game and if I wanted some game pieces. It seems crazy to me that people are still interested in playing this, so I said, “If the prize is a vaccine for the Coronavirus, I’ll play.”

She laughed.

Not my best joke, but I felt good, because I know how important it is to laugh, especially when you’re under a lot of stress, which I’m sure applies to anyone working at a grocery store these days.

I think about one of my favorite TV shows, M*A*S*H, and how the doctors and the staff had to deal with death on a daily basis and how they stayed sane by having a sense of humor.

With everything going on in the world these days, it feels very hard for me to be funny. But I think I need to start trying to make more jokes and be a little sillier, even if I feel like falling apart.

I have heard people say improvisers have been preparing for this pandemic for their whole lives, because we’re trained to be able to adapt to change. What I think we are better at than anyone is finding the funny.

I know most of you are reading this are funny people, so I’m encouraging you to find the funny. We need you more than ever to help us get through this. Your humor can have a positive effect on the world. It makes everything less frightening. So however you can, try to make people laugh. I know I need it. We all do.

Are you a storyteller who wants your story to be even funnier? Sign up for Jimmy’s Virtual Storytelling Workshop on April 18! Register today!

Grief in the Era of COVID-19

As you read this, you are most likely hunkered down somewhere, social distancing yourself from the rest of the world. You probably have not left your home in days, except to gather food supplies and hoard paper products. COVID-19 has changed our lives for the time being, and at this point, we don’t to how long this will last and how much our world will change permanently.

Like most of you, I have felt a range of emotions, from a high level of anxiety to constant fear. I was doing a pretty good job of keeping the panicking at bay, until Monday morning about at 9:11 a.m. CST when I received a text from a friend: “Trump is going to call for a national quarantine in 24-48 hours. Get food today. Not a joke.”

“Who Sez?” I reply back.

“Someone high up in the military who my sister-in-law knows.”

That is when I lost it. I snapped. I went into high alert mode. I panicked. I told Lauren I needed to get to the store before things got crazy. (The only thing that crazy was me.) My adrenaline and mind started racing. “I have family to take care of.”

I put on my puffy winter jacket over my pajamas and ran out to the garage and got in our Honda CRV. I raced to the Shell station and to fill up the tank. Nobody in these times would survive on a quarter of a tank. Then I sped across the street to the Jewel-Osco to stock up on food. When I got inside, it was not as crowded as I expected. Maybe they had not heard the news, but they also did not have a friend who had a “sister-in-law high up in the military.” As I pushed my cart down the aisles, I was relieved that this Jewel-Osco had a somewhat decent selection of food, though the pasta, tuna fish and paper products had been cleared as if a blizzard had been forcasted.

When I got to the paper product aisle, I was surprised to see several lonely packages of Charmin still on the shelf, waiting to be taken to a nice home. I am sorry to admit this, I grab two packages even though we had already stocked up, because weeks from now I did not want have any regrets. I felt some shame that I had become a hoarder, and a hypocrite, because up until that point had been criticizing those kind of people.

The strange thing is that until I pulled my cart up in line, I had not realized that their other people were in the aisle shopping.

Now as I stood in line with my huge order, there was a guy in front of me with his back to me whose cart was filled. Typically, I look to see what people buy. That is a lie, I usually judge what people buy. This guy was buying a lot of frozen meals and a brand of Vodka I was not familiar with.

When he was done, it was my turn. Behind me was guy who was talking on his cell phone, who was buying a big package of paper towels and beer.

When I got to the cashier — a very nice young woman whom I later found out she is a mother of four — she remember me bringing my 3-year-old daughter Betsy in before and she told me she had already stocked up for her family at another store called Food 4 Less. As my friend, Stu, said to me, “The people who are working at the grocery stores and CVS drug stores are the heroes. They are on the front lines.”

My order was over $200. I have never in my life spent over $200 on groceries. I was grateful we had the money to buy them and rushed back to the Honda and put them in the car and sped home. As I drove, I experienced a new kind of panic. How I was going to find room in our already over-crowded refrigerator? Oh, poor Lauren and poor Betsy! How were they going to put up with me if this goes on for months? A couple of hours later Lauren told me that the whole national quarantine was a rumor going around on the internet, but truth be told, we’re not too far away from being in a quarantine already.

It’s now Friday, and some of my fear has been replace with sadness and grief.

Grief about the changes that are affecting our everyday lives. What will normal look like when this all over?

Grief over the little things that are suspend right now, like my routines. Teaching my improv classes to the wonderful students I get to teach and learn from. And those little conversations I often have with the cashiers at the grocery store and the people who work at the coffee shops and restaurants in the neighborhood.

As my wife, Lauren, reminds me all the time, “Improv is so perfect for you. You love making connections with people, and that’s what improv is all about.”

She is right, and I am more appreciative of improv today and the connections it always gave me than I ever have before. I hope to see you all again sooner rather than later.