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Curb Your Expectations

When we first start taking improv classes we have no expectations. Actually, we are ecstatic. We are just so happy that we finally got up the nerve to start doing it. Each week, we look forward to improv class. We rush off to it. Our life starts to change. Our crappy day job becomes tolerable. Our body changes. People think we are working out or losing weight. We make a whole bunch of new friends. It’s like we are learning a new super power. We feel like we are able to fly.

Then it happens. After a while, we want more from it. Showing up for class and just learning and having fun is no longer enough. We get impatient and frustrated. We are not satisfied with our progress. Our friends always told us how talented and funny  we were – so how come we’re not further along? What went wrong?

Simple: We put expectations on our improv.

We told ourselves if we took X number of many improv classes for X number of weeks, we’d be great at it by now. What we forgot was that the arts don’t work like that. It’s not a science. There’s no formula for when we’re going to make it. If our friends had wanted to be really honest, they would have told us that talent alone doesn’t matter — hard work and dedication will trump it every time. So grow the fuck up!

Art is fragile, very fragile. It cannot hold up under that much weight. Having too many expectations is a heavy load that will crush your art and break your spirit. This is where the creative process and human behavior collide.

Having expectations is a normal thing. I know that doesn’t make you feel better, but it’s true. Still, by focusing on what’s coming next and where you “should be” by now is just a way of delaying getting there.

I have constantly put expectations on my career and my life. Sometimes I knew I was doing it and sometimes I had no idea. It doesn’t matter; it ends in the same miserable result. Your works takes two steps back and your life sucks.

I always wanted to do TV and film parts when they came to Chicago, and I had an expectation that just because I was good at improv meant that I would automatically get TV and film parts. I thought my improv training was enough to make me a star, and couldn’t figure out why my TV and film auditions sucked.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that not all of the credits transfer from one thing to another, and over time, my expectations grew into entitlement.

It wasn’t until I started working with an on-camera coach and taking on-camera classes that I started auditioning better and getting parts. I had put expectations on my improv, and they were holding me back from going on to the next level. They will always do that. They are tricky little bastards.

I wish I could say something wise here, like “stop having expectations,” but that is just stupid. Really, the best advice I can give you is when you start feeling like you’re not where you “should be” (aka – “I should have already gotten on a team,” “I should have made conservatory by now”), try to stay in the moment and know that you’re right where you’re supposed to be. Try to focus on why you started doing this in the first place – which was to delight in the unexpected and just have fun.

In Chicago this April? Sign up for Jimmy Carrane’s Art of Slow Comedy Intensive, taking place April 25 from 12-4 p.m. Spots are going fast!

Expectations: The fastest way to kill your improv career

I’ve heard that expectations are pre-meditated resentments, and the fastest way to kill your career is to have any expectations about how it is supposed to turn out. Apparently, that’s a lesson I still need to learn.

When you have a certain expectation about how a show or a team or anything else is going to go, you suck all the joy out of having the experience, and instead, you get stuck in a state that there is never enough and you forgot why you are doing it in the first place. You are part of the living dead.

This has plagued me my whole life, and this is where I am right now with Improv Nerd. We have had over 260,000 downloads for the podcast since it started, and we’re closing in on having produced 100 episodes in under three years. I get e-mails from people all over the world on a weekly basis about how much they appreciate what I am doing, and I am being flown all over the country to do Improv Nerd and teach The Art of Slow Comedy workshops.

But that is not enough. I am not where I thought I should be by now. When I started Improv Nerd, I thought I would be Marc Maron by this point. Clearly, I am not. I thought doing Improv Nerd would lead me back to the radio or would get me an interview show on TV. It has not. I have clearly forgotten why I am doing this.

If you are reading this and you are like, “Wow, Jimmy is filled with self-pity,” you are right. That’s what happens when you have expectations: They turn into resentment, then into self-pity, and if you are really lucky, bitterness. I wish you would see me in a better light, but right now, I am filled with self-pity and anger. No, rage. Rage at God and the Universe for screwing me over once again! I have worked my ass off with Improv Nerd and feel like I have gotten shit for my effort. Fuck you, God! Fuck you, Universe!

It all started over the weekend when I had a really small audience for Improv Nerd at Stage 773 in Chicago as part of the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival. We had a great guest, the super talented Beth Stelling, and Stage 773 could not have been more supportive.

But almost nobody came to our show, and what made it worse was when I was leaving the theater, there was huge a crowd that needed to be roped off waiting to come in for the next show.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to die. I am tired. I am second guessing myself. My confidence has taken a hit. All because I had this stupid expectation that after almost three years, Improv Nerd should be a hit and I should have gotten something (read: money and fame) out of doing it.

Everyone always tells you that you’re supposed to do things for the fun of it, for the joy of doing it. Don’t worry about where it’s going to lead, just enjoy the moment. I’ve even said a lot of those same things in this very blog. But let me tell you, that is a lot easier to type onto a page than it is to do in real life. In real life, I have expectations that if I put effort into something, I’m going to be rewarded immediately  (read: more money and more fame).

The good news is at least I’m talking about this with my friends, in therapy and with you right now, so hopefully my resentments can be lifted.

The one thing I love about the accomplished guests I’ve had on Improv Nerd is when they talk honestly and openly about the times they wanted to quit and something happened that changed their mind and they not only persevered, but they became even more successful. This always makes their story even sweeter and their success more attainable. Here’s hoping that, like my guests, I can find a happy ending, because having these expectations is not only killing my career, it’s killing me.

Only a few days left to get the Early Bird Special for Jimmy’s next Fundamentals of Improv class, starting June 28! Register before June 16 to sign up for $249. Or sign up for his one-day intensive on July 6!