163: TJ and Dave

TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi are true improv legends. Their show, TJ and Dave, is an international award-winning show that has inspired improvisers all over the world. Jimmy sat down and talked to them about the history of TJ and Dave, their new book, Improvising at the Speed of Life, and why they decided to give up running The Mission Theater.

Are You Sick of Improv?

Have you ever been sick of improv? Like, just over it? I am right now, and I hope I’m not alone with this one.

I have been improvising pretty much my whole life, and right now I am sick of it. I have lost my passion. Frankly, I’m just bored with it, and when I feel like this, I usually start thinking, “I am done with improv. lt’s over, I quit.”

Last Friday night, my wife, Lauren, and I went to see some improv at our friend Dan’s apartment on the north side of Chicago. Twenty or so young improvisers began to show up around 8:30 p.m. in his back yard, helping themselves to cans of cold beer from the cooler before finding a folding chair to sit in. As the sky got darker, two lamps lit the cement patio floor, and the show began.

Lauren and I were by far the oldest ones there. We looked more like chaperones than performers. I was there to do some stand up, which I did. About half-way through my set, the lights went out, and someone yelled “Keep going!,” which I did. This set the tone for the evening. Everybody was clearly there just to have a good time and have fun — something I clearly still struggle with doing.

After I finished my set, two different groups went up and improvised for about 15 minutes each. They weren’t performing on a big-name stage to a sold out crowd, but these guys clearly had passion. There was something so pure about their improvising. There was freedom to it — no pressure and clearly no expectations. They were doing it for each other, not to get put on team, not to be seen, but for the love of it. You cannot fake that ever.

I had a great time at the show, but afterwards, I started to feel depressed that I didn’t still feel as passionately about improvisers as they did. I chalked it up to just being old.

Then on Monday morning, I drove down to Lincoln Park to meet Curt Mabry and his wife – two improvisers who were in Chicago from Shanghai — and Dave Pasquesi. I love seeing Dave, I have tremdenous respect and admiration for him, plus he can make me laugh. The four of us sat at one of those long wooden green benches in the park and talked about improv for about an hour and a half. What I found amazing in our conversation is that even Dave, who started improvising before I did, seemed to be even more passionate about improv today than he was when I first knew him, which threw my theory about lack of passion only applying to older improvisers right out the window.

So, then I concluded that it must just be me. I must be the only one in the world who ever feels sick of improv. No one else feels like they’re doing the same scenes over and over again or making the same choices in character and emotions over and over again like you’re in the movie Groundhog’s Day but me.

The last couple of months have been a struggle for me. It was hard putting up Improv Nerd this last season. The guests and my staff were great, but I was getting tired of it. I hope I hid it well from everyone because it’s embarrassing to admit this to you, especially because I feel like I have to be improv’s biggest cheerleader 24/7.

This is not the first time I have fallen out of love with improv, and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be the last. The hardest thing to remember is that “this too shall pass.” But when I’m in this place, I usually scare myself into believing that my boredom of improv is permanent.

I think some of my lack of passion for improv could have been prevented if I had taken my own advice and slowed down and taken care of myself over the past couple of months. But by writing this, I know there is a better chance that this feeling will go away more quickly, and hopefully I’ll get some of my passion back for this art form that has been such a big part of me. Really, what other choice do I have other than to wait it out?

Just Announced! Jimmy is offering a Two-Person Scene Tune-Up Workshop on Aug. 22. Learn how to have an emotional life on stage, start scenes in the middle and more. Only $79!


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