Let's start with, you're talented…

What we do is pretty amazing. We get up in front of people and make shit up. And regardless if we suck or not that night, we are brave for just getting up there. And we need to give ourselves credit for that fact alone. I know a lot of you are refusing to give yourself kudos for your shows because you’re telling yourself you are not as good as TJ and Dave, so I am going to give them to you right now: “You are great. You are courageous. You are talented.”

Now if your head is going, “Jimmy doesn’t know me. He is full of shit. How does he know if I am talented or not? This blog sucks. Jimmy sucks,” welcome to the club. This is the negative talk in your head, and it has nothing to do with me or my lousy blog. It has to do with you. Are you willing to be gentle on yourself until you get the place where you think you are good at this? Are you willing to give yourself props regardless what level you are at for trying one of the scariest art forms out there?

My guess is, if you are like me, probably not. You are more interested in beating yourself up after a bad show or comparing yourself to others. Great, I get it. Believe me I don’t want to ruin your pity party, but here is another way to look at it.

Improvising in front of an audience is a very vulnerable experience. As soon as we step on stage, we have come out of hiding. We are getting bigger. We are willing to be seen. All this is terrifying. And regardless if we have a killer show or we bomb miserably, we will have feelings. Intense feelings that will overpower us. We tell ourselves we should have certain feelings based on how we did on stage or in class. Good Show = Happy. Bad Show = Suicidal Thoughts. That is bullshit. I’ve had great shows and felt awful and had awful shows and felt great.

And here is the best part, are you ready? Most of the time I can’t tell you if I had a good show or not because my perception is all screwed up.

This is especially true for beginners, because you have no reference point for what a good or bad show feels like. And while some people may be able to do their first show and feel great, it make take other people many, many shows before they can feel comfortable afterwards.

I still lose my perspective on what is a good or bad show. Last summer, I sat in with my old team, Carl and The Passions, at IO-Chicago. This is a team filled with some of the best improvisers in the country. I felt rusty. I felt in my head until about three-quarters of the way through the Harold. I got off stage and was filled with shame and convinced myself I sucked. That night, I put myself to sleep with those thoughts and woke up thinking I was the biggest piece of shit in improv. A couple of days later I ran into to Dina Facklis, whose team, Virgin Daiquiris, had shared the bill with us that night, and she said “Are you going to come back and play with Carl because my friend said you where her favorite.”

I had not even thought about that. I was too busy thinking of ways of how I could kill myself. I was also grateful that she said that, because I had lost any perception of my work. It reminded me that I am better than I give myself credit for, and I am still way too hard on myself.  And that those affirmations that I so generously gave to you also apply to me: “I am great. I am courageous. I am talented.”

If life isn't going your way, improvise

Dina Facklis and Tim Robinson Have you ever been stuck in traffic? Or had people cancel dinner plans with you at  the last minute? Or been fired from your job? When things aren’t going your way, you can use it as an opportunity to create something even better.

Recently I had booked Dina Facklis and Brad Morris as guests on Improv Nerd, a comedy podcast and live show that I host. Brad lives in LA, and I was excited and looking forward to interviewing him. About a week before the show he contacted me saying he could not make it because he was filming something.

When things don’t go as expected my typical response is, “This sucks, I am doomed, why am I even doing this show? Poor me.” So, I contacted Dina and she went right to work providing me a list names we could substitute for Brad.

One of those names was Tim Robinson from Cook County Social Club. He was contacted and he agreed to do it. Recording the Improv Nerd podcast was so much fun with both of them, and I was blown away with Dina’s honesty and Tim’s enthusiasm. As it turned out, we had Tim on the show one month before CBS picked up his pilot for a series, and who knows if we would have gotten another opportunity to interview him again. When the show was over, it was easy to look back and realize this was how it was supposed to be, but it sure didn’t feel like that about 48 hours before the show. After the show, I thanked Dina for helping me out and she didn’t think anything of it. She said when stuff like that happens — that’s improvising.

She was right. This is how you improvise in your life. She looked at life like she was in a scene and when her partner initiated something, she didn’t judge it as good or bad, she just used it. Me, I thought my life would end. What Dina taught me was that improvising in life is first, to have an attitude that whatever happens is what is supposed to happen, and second, to trust that it is going to be better than you imagine, and third, to take the action. This is no different than when you’re on stage. So next time you’re stuck in traffic, people cancel or you lose your job, think of it as the Universe giving you a big invitation, and together you are going to create something even better than you imagined.