5 Things I Hope Every Improviser Gets for the Holidays

With the holidays almost here and the year almost over, it’s the perfect time to think about what gifts we’d really like to receive. This year, if you’re an improviser, instead of asking for another plaid shirt or pair of skinny jeans, how about asking Santa for some things that will really make you a better improviser?

Yes, the things on this list can’t be put in a box. But as the Grinch realizes: “‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little big more.'”

So without further ado, here are the five things I hope Santa is able to magically leave under the tree for you this year:

  1. Patience
    Patience is so important, both with your improv on stage and with yourself and the progress you are making. On stage, taking my time and not rushing things has always served my improv very well. So my wish for you is to slow it down and absorb what your partner is saying. And in terms of your development, remember what Miles Stroth said: “It took me four years to stop sucking.” And it’s going to take even more years to get really great at it. Remember, everyone is on a different path: Some people will get ahead quicker than you will, some people won’t, and most of them will quit. The secret ingredient to succeed in improv is a thing called patience, and you are going to need a lot of it.
  2. Listening
    This may sound like I am re-gifting this to you, but this is one thing improvisers always seem to forget. You can always improve on listening. Remember, without it, you cannot yes and… It’s that simple. So my suggestion is talk less and listen more. You can thank me later. I am off to number three.
  3. To Fail 1,000 Times (or more)
    Yes, that is my wish for you. Are you thinking, “What kind of gift is that, you big jerk?” Actually, of all the items on this list, failure is the most useful and the most practical. It’s actually a short-cut to getting better. So I am wishing you fail 1,000 times or more because nothing will make you a better improviser than trying new things, making bold, beautiful, 100-percent committed choices that tank. That get no response. Crickets. That feel like you have taken a gigantic dump on stage. That fall so flat they scare the shit out of you and fill you with so much shame that you wish you were filled with helium so you’d just float away. Whenever you fail, you’re really learning.
  4. Give more
    Give more on stage and off. It doesn’t cost you anything. Not a penny. So, when you are on stage improvising and partner initiates a clear, strong idea, drop yours and support theirs. When we’ve been doing improv for a while, we become selective in our agreement. We subtly judge other people’s ideas and don’t commit as fully as we should. How about keeping it simple and looking for opportunities to yes, and… even more to your fellow improvisers? Off stage, make sure to give people more sincere compliments, ones that you would like to get. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You get the reputation that you are nice person one whom other people want to work with? Doesn’t sound so bad to me.
  5. Keep Learning
    The best definition of humility I ever heard was the ability to be teachable. Are you humble enough to know that you need to keep learning new things or do you think you know everything there is to know about improv? Don’t be one those arrogant pricks who is done learning and acts like he has it all figured out. Whenever I start assuming that I know everything there is to know about improv, I realize that I am really not as good as I think I am, and I’m probably full of shit. Nothing changes until I can be humble enough to start getting help and get my big, stuck-up ass into some sort of class.

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An Improvisers’ Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving

Next week is Thanksgiving here in America, and most improvisers will be headed home to spend some time with their dysfunctional families. For most improvisers, spending the holidays with their parents can be as painful as being cut from a Harold team or bombing on stage. But don’t worry, you don’t have to get drunk or play Xbox for 48 straight hours to get through it. I am here to help. I’ve come through for you this year, by creating my “Improvisers Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving.”

  1. Don’t go 
    That is right, you heard me. I know it may come as a total surprise to you, but you actually have a choice to go or not to go to Thanksgiving. Just like you have the power to make choices on stage, you also have the ability to do it in your own life. And believe me, for some people, not returning home for Thanksgiving can be viewed as a very strong choice. I know in Chicago a lot of improvisers stay in the city every year and end up getting together with other wayward improvisers to celebrate Thanksgiving, and from what I hear, they always have a good time.So, if you choose to not go home for Thanksgiving, don’t be shy or too proud not to invite yourself to one of the many orphans’ Thanksgiving that are most likely happening in your improv community. It’s probably going to be way more fun than hanging out with your Aunt Ida.
  1. Go As a Duo or as a Group
    If you choose to go home, then how about taking some improv friends with you? This is a win-win for everyone. Most improvisers are charming and witty and can a take a dry, bland Thanksgiving with boring relatives and turn it into something memorable. In my late 20s and early 30s, I would invite “orphan improvisers” like David Koechner, Pete Gardner, Noah Gregoropoulos and others to my parents’ house in the suburbs. My somewhat-stiff parents still talk with great fondness about the time I invited a bunch of improvisers over for Easter and we ended up destroying a lamb cake playing object freeze for a hour at the dining room table.
  1. Help Out
    I cannot think of better way to stay out of your head during a painful family get-together than by helping out around the house. Clear the dishes, take the trash out, help Uncle Irv into his car. This works just like object work or going to your environment in a scene. It keeps you out of your head and you would be surprised how fast the night goes.
  1. Avoid Questions
    I have always found the absolute worst part of the holidays is the ridiculous questions I get from my relatives about improv and my career. “What is this improv thing you do again?” “Can you make a living at it?” “Are you any good at it?” “You have been out of college for three years now. Are you going to get a real job like your brother? He is doing well in sales.”  Unless you are on Saturday Night Live or write for Jimmy Fallon, they just won’t get it and their questions are going to just make you feel like a loser. So, I am telling you this from place of love. Fuck that. You need to go into those situations strong and be proud of what you are doing. Think of it like putting on bug spray. If you go into Thanksgiving and you feel good about what you are doing, you won’t be eaten alive by the mosquitoes. So, by all means, talk it over with friends beforehand. Have them role play with you so you can figure out what you will say to those shame-filled questions until you are ready to go into the deep woods all by yourself.
  1. Bitch About Them Afterwards
    After the Thanksgiving dinner, make sure you have a “buddy” you can call to rehash, make fun of, and complain about your family. Make sure you find someone who is less healthy than you are and is willing to agree with on everything you say about them. Avoid people who will take your family’s or your parents’ side and say something stupid like, “They are just doing their best.” I cannot tell you how many holidays I got through knowing when it was over I could call someone and let out some steam about what I just went through. Also, some of the craziest holidays I had turned out to be some of my best material for future shows. So there’s that.

Of course, this is a starting-off point. I listed my five favorite ways to get through Thanksgiving, but I would love to hear what you do to survive the holidays. So down below in the comments, if you would share with us some of the ways you use to survive Thanksgiving, I would really appreciate it. And yes, have a great Thanksgiving!

This holiday season, give yourself the gift of great improv! Sign up for Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune Up on Jan. 2. Register today!