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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!

Stop waiting and start creating

Improv can be a lot like being on the playground in 3rd grade waiting to be picked for the kick ball team.

Today it is much the same: When you audition to get on a Harold team at one of the many improv theaters or hope to be asked by a classmate who is forming a bar-prov group, you are waiting to be chosen. And if you don’t get picked you become that rejected little third-grader all over again, kicking and screaming, that life is unfair, and if you don’t watch it, you may end up quitting over it.

Remember, you don’t know if you are going to be picked or not. That is out of your control. What you do have control over is what you create. Nobody but you can stop to you for doing it. That is your power.

When I create, I am the happiest, and I don’t have to worry if I have been picked or not, because I am too busy focusing on what I am doing, creating. Plus, when you create something, it’s like a magnet that attracts people to you, and opportunities seem to fall out of the sky. When I create, my vision for myself and my career gets crystal clear, so those things I used to think would make me happy don’t seem as good anymore.

I used to always want to get cast in commercials. For years, I would go on commercial auditions, hoping, wishing they would pick me. My chances of getting picked for a national commercial were really slim — Ever commercial audition felt like a was playing the Lottery, a game of chance.

When I create, I get clarity, I get focused. Today I’m so focused on this blog that you’re reading now, and doing Improv Nerd and writing a book, that I’m not really interested in commercials anymore. And the more I continue to create me own thing, the more other people call me and want to work with me. It’s the avalanche you cause by creating something.

When I look back at the people who were around when I was starting out in Chicago, the ones who have gone on to have huge careers were the ones who had the courage to create.

Where would Tina Fey be if she hadn’t written, produced and starred in 30 Rock? Where would Steve Carrell be if he hadn’t co-written and starred in the 40 Year Virgin? Where would Adam McKay be if he hadn’t co-written and directed Anchor Man? If they had sat around only taking projects they had been picked for, they might not be very far at all.

Ok, you can argue that some people did not have to create to get where they are today. Fine, I’ll buy that. You can wait around to get picked for something — and you might get chosen — but your chances of success are higher if you create opportunities for yourself.

And it happens on all levels, not just the comedy super stars I mentioned. Who wouldn’t want to be respected like TJ and Dave, Improvised Shakespeare Company, Cook County Social Club, or the four original members of UCB? I have toured around the country teaching and doing Improv Nerd and have seen people build improv theaters and create improv communities where there were none before. That is creating.

So if you are sitting on a bar stool finishing your fourth draft beer while you’re whining to your friends that nobody ever asks you to be in their projects, remember: The only power you have is the ability to create. No person or institution can take that away from you, even if you think so.

Our self-esteem has been beaten up pretty good by rejection or perceived rejection, so for God’s sake, shut the fuck up and create.

3 Tips for Letting Go of Jealousy

3 Tips for Letting Go of Jealousy

Jazz FreddyJealousy exists, especially among improvisers and actors, though no one really wants to talk about it. It’s part of the human experience, much like anger or sadness. But we think it’s too ugly of an emotion to talk about, something we’re not “supposed” to feel, so instead, we deny we feel jealous at all.

Over the years, I have had real problems with jealousy.

When I started improvising in Chicago in the late ’80s and early ’90s, we all wanted to become famous. And some of us actually did

Chris Farley played on a team at the Improv Olympic at the same time I was on a team. He then got a slot on SNL and left for New York. Mike Myers would join our team once in a while, too, before he went off to SNL. Stephanie Weir and I did a brilliant show called Naked, before she got hired for Second City’s Mainstage before going on to Mad TV. I played with Rachel Dratch in Jazz Freddy, and knew Tina Fey back when she was chunky with bad hair, before they both, you guessed it, moved to New York and got on SNL.

And every time someone got something, I wish I could say I was happy for them, but I was not. I secretly hoped they would fail. I really turned being jealous into an art form. I could turn someone else’s success into “I must be doing something wrong.”

But the worst was when my best friend and roommate, Dave Koechner, got hired to become a cast member on Saturday Night Live (years before he moved to L.A. and got parts in Anchorman and The Office). That day, I threw out our television and considered jumping on the ‘L’ tracks to have the Brown Line run me over.

As my friends left Chicago for LA and NY for bigger opportunities, I turned jealousy into bitterness.

Then somewhere in my 30s and 40s, things started to change. My first step was reading a list of all the people I was jealous of to my friend, Eric, one Saturday afternoon in his kitchen in tiny garden apartment, and after reading it, some of the horrible jealousy began to lift.

Along the way I found some other tools that helped me that I want share with you.

3 Tips for Letting Go of Jealousy

1. Admit it
Admit that you are jealous and that there’s nothing wrong with jealousy. Find people you trust — friends, therapist, support groups — where you can admit these jealous feelings without being judged. You want them just to listen to you. Not, “Hey, I am jealous of Tina Fey,” and then they say something like, “Oh, there’s no reason to be.” Or worse, going into some sort of character assassination of the person for an hour. You just want someone to listen to you so you’re not alone with it. Jealousy is energy that needs to be released. If you don’t release it, it turns into an emotional cancer of resentment and bitterness, which does nothing to help you with your creative process.

2. Remember, they might help you in the future
One way to feel less jealous of people who go on to be successful is to remember that someday they may be in a position to help you out in the future. Oh man, this was so so helpful for me because I am one of those selfish people who needs to see what I can get out of something. Improv Nerd has been great with this. I have been jealous of many of our guests at one time or another, and when I realized they not only could help me out but also were willing to help me out, the jealousy started to fade rather quickly.

3. Create, Create, Create
The best medicine I have found for curbing jealous is creating. My jealousy is at an all-time high when I am not performing, writing or improvising. When I’m not creating, I just sit around asking “Where’s my piece of the pie? Is it ever coming?” But when I am in my creative process and writing or doing a show, I lose myself and everyone else’s careers don’t seem to matter so much.