Bad Shows Still Suck
After more than 25 years of doing improv shows, the one thing I can tell you is a bad show still sucks, almost as bad as when I first started.
Oh boy, I had one on Sunday, working with two really talented improvisers I respect, John Hildreth and Rachael Mason, which makes it worse. I left the show feeling awful, like I had exposed to them how truly awful an improviser I am.
The messages in my head go from productive to suicidal: “I was tentative. I was scared. I was too plot-heavy. I had no emotional response. I was too verbal. I could have committed more. I sucked. I hate myself. I want to die. I want to kill myself.”
This is not an exaggeration. These messages are on a continuous loop that won’t stop. Which leads to an awful night’s sleep, waking up remembering the specific scenes and reliving the shame.
Over the last few days, when I am not replaying the scenes in my head, I am imagining ways I can take my life. The irony is I am surrounded by love: a beautiful wife and a new kitten all in the same bed. And despite that, I’m still miserable; nothing can help me at this point.
My wife tries to help, but when you are that far down in the hole of self-pity, it’s really a waste of time. She said something that I imagine I would say to my students: “You have to have the bad shows to appreciate the good ones.”
Of course I could not hear that, the same way I could not hear what my good friend and improviser Bill Boehler said on the phone the other night: “You learn more from the bad shows.”
I was too busy wanting to kill myself, questioning my existence, and listing the ways I still suck.
It’s a form of self-mutilation. Instead of cutting myself with a sharp instrument, I do it with the voices in my head. The bleeding is internal, the pain is excruciating, and the messages continue.
“You suck. You have been doing improv for over 20 years. You teach this stuff? You are a fraud.”
I had students in the audience on Sunday, and now I am embarrassed to go into the classroom. Maybe I am not the best improviser in the world, but I thought I was a great teacher, and now that is all gone in one show. One terrible show.
And the more I think about this the more I want to die.
I wish I had more hope to offer about how to get through a bad improv show. I wish I could tell newbie improvisers that it gets better over the years. But I am sorry to say that suffering after a bad show is still very much part of my process. I guess there is hope that I’m still here to talk about it. If any of you figure out how to get through a bad show, let me know. You may be saving a life or two.