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What the Cubs Taught Me About Improv

If you haven’t heard by now, last week, after 108 years, the Chicago Cubs finally won a World Series title. Pretty incredible, especially for me who has been a Cubs fan my whole life.

But if you have been reading this blog with any sort of regularity, you know that a celebration of any kind doesn’t come easy for me, and this one was no exception.

As I stood in the kitchen with my wife, Lauren, nervously listening to the radio as Cubs legendary broadcaster Pat Hughes made the last call of the World Series, I jumped up and down with joy. But in less than two minutes, I was already replaying the moves the Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon had made during the game. Moves that I did not understand. Moves that I thought were mistakes. What the fuck was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be excited? They won, something they had not done since 1908.

That did not matter. My head took over. Why did he pull his starting pitcher so early? Why did he pull his middle reliever so early? Why did he put his closer in so early after the guy had pitched a ton of innings the night before?

It was as if I was ignoring the results. They won the World Fucking Series. The real question is why couldn’t I enjoy it?

The simple answer is this is what I do.

I do this in my life and certainly in my performing, especially if a show has gone well. Instead of feeling excited, or even joy, after a good scene or a good show, I would rather pick it apart, replacing excitement with my drug of choice: shame.

I did this again last Sunday night at Second City where John Hildreth and I were celebrating our five-year anniversary of our show, Jimmy and Johnnie. A pretty big accomplishment. So big that after the show we had a little party to celebrate.

But, you know me, I’m not good at celebrating and feeling joy. Instead, I need to find some shame so I can medicate those feelings. So, during the show I did a character that was not very PC by today’s improv standards. The young audience gasped a couple of times, and I got the hit of shame that I needed. Surprisingly, during the show, I was able to let it go as we moved on to the next scene, knowing I would have plenty of time to pulverize myself about it afterwards, which is just what I did. Despite the fact that it was a good show overall, I used this character choice to beat myself up by replaying it in my head for the next 48 hours.

I often have guests on Improv Nerd who say they don’t analyze or even remember what they did after they improvise a scene. I am not sure if that’s really true or if all of these guests are lying to me. If they actually don’t analyze their scenes after a show, I am impressed. I not only remember every moment, especially the bad ones, but I like to beat myself up about all the moves I think I should have made or not made.

And that is excatly what I did when the Cubs won the World Series. I went right into picking-it-apart mode so I wouldn’t have to feel the excitement or the joy of them winning. Instead I decided to bask in the shame, like a bath of cold, dirty water.

We think as improvisers it’s our duty to dissect every move we make after a show or class, because we think it will make us better. But sometimes it just makes us miserable. I am not saying don’t ever analyze your scenes; that would be unrealistic. Instead, just try to do less of it. Since I obviously I don’t know how to do less of it, I would love your help. In the comments portion below, can you tell me how you celebrate your successes without dissecting them to death? Thanks.