3 Most Common Mistakes Improvisers Make

I recently finished teaching one of my Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensives, and I’m gearing up to teach another one this weekend. I’ve been teaching these intensives every year for the past several years, and each year I get the pleasure of teaching students from all over the world: Germany, New Zealand, China, Denmark, Poland, Russia, Israel and more.

In these improv workshops, I realized that regardless of what country students are from, all improvisers seem to suffer from the same issues. It’s amazing how much we all have in common, really. And, since I am now international, I wanted to share with you the three most common mistakes that improvisers worldwide are making and how to correct them.

  1. Problem: Saying Too Much Information
    Solution: Say Only One Line at Time
    This came up over and over again this weekend, and I’ve been seeing this in my improv workshops for years. Improvisers have a tendency to vomit up way too much information onto their partner, not giving them the time or the space to react. If only they would slow the fuck down and deliver one juicy line at time instead of a monologue. It is so simple, but it is not always easy to do, especially if you have had this bad habit for a long time and you are getting laughs.Del Close used to use the analogy that good improv is like tennis or ping-pong: I serve up a line to my partner and then my partner hits back to me, then I hit back to my partner. To me, I like to be constantly surprised by what comes out of my partner’s mouth, which leads to discovery, which is always the most gratifying way to improvise.
  1. Problem: Using Words Without Emotion
    Solution: Act Your Way Through the Scene
    Yes, that is right. I am here to tell you that acting and improvising are not separate. Unfortunately, when many improvisers start to improvise a scene, they seem to forget this and instead rely too heavily on the words they are saying to carry the scene forward. Unless you are incredibly witty and clever, it’s impossible to sustain a scene on just words alone without showing real emotion underneath. This past weekend, when the students started to emotionally commit to their characters and their scenes and react to what their partners were saying, their improvising becoming riveting. Their characters became vulnerable and real and the players automatically tapped into their life experiences. This is called acting. As the improvisers discovered in this improv workshop, emotions are always more important than words.
  2. Problem: Scenes are Too “Nicey-Nice”
    Solution: Let Yourself Get Angry
    Anger is the emotion most improvisers shy away from and the last two weeks proved to me this is true no matter what country you are from. Partially this is because improvisers are often taught that they are always supposed to “agree” to what someone says and that we should avoid arguments. So improvisers incorrectly assume that if they are “yes, anding,” they should never get angry, which makes their scenes flat and lifeless.Plus, showing angry is vulnerable, so many improvisers choose to avoid to play this emotion at all because it’s too scary.If you take one of my improv workshops, I will most likely encourage you to use anger in your scenes because I believe it’s important that we learn how to play using all of the emotions, not just the ones that feel safe.In one of my workshops this past weekend, we were doing a series of scenes where people would come out and do variety of emotions: happy, sad, afraid and angry. Two people came out and did an angry scene, and when they were done, they hugged each in the back line. I thought, “Wow, anger actually brings people closer together.” Who knew?

    What are some issues you are experiencing in your improv? Let us know. We are always trying to get better.

This fall, take your improv to the next level in Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 Class. Wednesdays from 7-9 p.m. starting Sept. 18. Only $259 if you register by Sept. 4!

My Top 10 Moments of 2016

Well, 2016 is almost over, and I want to thank you for all your support and encouragement over the last year. As you know, it’s hard for me to find joy in most things that I do, but when I take a look back at this year, even I am impressed with all of the incredible things that happened.

Here are my top 10 highlights of 2016:


  1. On July 2 in the afternoon, the most beautiful little girl, Betsy Jane Carrane, was born, making me officially a father. Now she’s almost six months old, and we have already given her six different nicknames. I love that little “Chunko” so much.
  2. In March, my father died. I was fortunate enough to have made amends with him before he died, and I got to say goodbye to him on his last day on this earth. I said I loved him. Lying in the hospital bed, he could not speak. He just raised his shaking hand to communicate that he loved me too, in one of the most intimate conversations I have ever had with him.
  3. With the support of Lauren, I went to Los Angeles in April to attempt the impossible and to try see if I could sell the podcast Improv Nerd as an actual TV show or as a web series on a digital platform. I had tons of meetings with executives and recorded five episodes of Improv Nerd in Feralaudio’s state-of-the art studios. Instead of being completely scared, I was actually excited and proud of myself for showing up, and so grateful for all of the support I got from friends who are “in the business.”
  1. While in LA, I was a guest on Dan Harmon’s popular podcast, HarmonTown. What was only scheduled to be a short appearance lasted almost an hour, and working with Dan Harmon and the rest of the guests was a complete blast. I really felt like a star.


  1. In January, I got to travel to Austin, TX, one of my all-time favorite cities for food, people and improv. While I was there, I got to teach improv workshops and do shows at The Institution, a theater run by Tom Booker, one of my old friends from my Annoyance Theater days.


  1. In March, I had the opportunity to travel to Pittsburgh’s growing Arcade Comedy Theater, where I taught improv workshops and interviewed and performed with Kristy and Jethro Nolen, whom I knew and loved back when they were here in Chicago. Pittsburgh is a surprisingly cool city, and it was so much fun reconnecting with Kristy and Jethro and seeing how much the improv scene is growing there.


  1. In August, I had the chance to travel to Miami, a city I had never been to before, and teach and do shows at The Villain Theater and interview Jeff Quintana for an episode of Improv Nerd. It was the first time I traveled after having the baby, so it was hard to be away, but it was also fun to feel single again.


  1. In September, Improv Nerd turned 5 years old, and we celebrated with an amazing show at the Chicago Podcast Festival in November with special guest Scott Adsit. The show was in front of a big crowd at the Athenaeum Theater, and it was awesome to work off the energy in the room and play with Scott, who had some great stories to share, including one about me from college when Martin DeMaat called me a “log.”


  1. This year really marked an increase in the number of big guests that I was able to get on Improv Nerd (partially thanks to Lauren pushing me to do more phone interviews). I got to interview some of the biggest names in comedy including Cecily Strong, Jane Lynch, TJ Miller, Mike Birbiglia, Jon Favreau, Jon Glaser, Jason Winer, Simon Helberg, Nia Vardalos, Kevin Nealon, Nora Dunn and Hello From The Magic Tavern.


  1. I also had a great year teaching some of the most talented improv students in Chicago. I am humbled and grateful for the level of students I had in my classes and improv workshops this year, all of whom learned how to challenge themselves, each other and me. Oh, and it was pretty cool that my Art of Slow Comedy summer intensives completely sold out, mostly filled with students from around the world. I’m international, baby!

What were some of your best moments of 2016? Tell us in the comments below.
Want to start off 2017 right? Sign up for Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 3 class, starting Jan. 4. This class features a performance on the last day of class. Only 2 spots left!