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Just Good Enough

“Perfect is the enemy of good.” — Voltaire

For most artists, creating is the fun part. The problem comes when they want to get their work out in the world. They have been bitching and moaning that they’re nobody recognize their art for years, but when they have the chance to put themselves out there, they fold. They hide under the covers, they don’t return e-mails or phone calls. Since they are clever people, they come up with clever excuses like, “I am not ready,” “People are born with talent, and I don’t have it,” or “I am going to make a fool myself.” These are lies, and not even original ones at that and they’re coming directly from Perfectionism, which, as we all know, is a big fat liar.

Let’s address these lies one at a time:

  1. “I am not ready”
    I have said this my whole career, especially when faced with a new opportunity. And guess what? When I have pushed myself to do the thing I am terrified of doing, 85% of the time I am pretty good at the thing I thought I wasn’t ready for, and when it is over, I can’t tell you how proud I feel that I followed the fear did it anyway.
  2. “People are born with talent, and I don’t have it”
    Everyone’s talent has to be developed. I started out in the Chicago comedy scene back in the ’90s and I saw a lot of people make it big. The people who made it certainly had talent, but they didn’t just have talent. They keep pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. Stephen Colbert was one of those people who was at Second City around the time I was at iO. And Colbert said he learned a very important lesson from his director, Jeff Michelski: “You have to learn to ‘love the bomb.’ It took me a long time to really understand what that meant. It wasn’t, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t, ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing…”  Though Colbert was talented, he realized he still had ways to go in developing it.
  3. “I am going to make fool of myself”
    What does that really mean? Are you going to feel silly or feel embarrassed by putting yourself out there? The answer is yes. But really, this feeling is all in your head, because people really aren’t thinking about you as much you think. When I started out in improv, I really sucked at it. For years I sucked at it. When my friends and family would come to my awful shows, and they were awful, in the back of a seedy bar, they never criticized me. Actually, it was the opposite. They always admired me for doing it, even though I wasn’t very good. Who feels silly now?

There is no such thing as perfect, ever.

I’m not saying cut corners and just throw some half-baked idea out there, but on the other hand, don’t wait until every fucking star aligns, you’re at your perfect weight, and both of your parents are dead to show your work to the public.

So many artists have dreams of making it big, but they wait and wait and wait so long to actually write that screenplay, finish that book, film that pilot, etc. that they never actually do it. And the reason they’re waiting to do it is because they want it to be perfect.

Some artists actually wear perfectionism like a badge of honor. They like to talk about what they are working on more than they like showing it to the world. That’s fine, but I’m not sure this makes you an artist.

The reality is there is never a perfect time or a perfect theater or a perfect publisher… or a perfect agent. You get where I’m going with this? You will hate me for saying this, but I have performed thousands of scripted and improvised shows for more than 30 years and I have never, ever done a perfect performance. Why? Because like the Loch Ness Monster, it does not exists.

I have not written a blog, including this one, that I have not wanted to make changes to after it was published. I have never done an improv show that when it over and I didn’t wish I had made different choices. I have not performed a story on stage that I didn’t think could have gotten stronger laughs. I have done tons of incredible performances, gotten great reviews, standing ovations and performed to sold-out crowds, but even those shows had flaws. They were not perfect. This can either drive you crazy or keep you humble. Most of the time, it keeps me humble.

If you have been taking acting, improv, sketch, stand up, or storytelling classes for years, at some point you are going to need to get out there in front of an audience and risk the chance that you are not going to be perfect, and maybe even awful.

If you have been slaving away for decades writing a play, a book, or a film/TV script, at some point you are going to have show it to someone who actually could do something with it like produce it or publish it or at the very least represent you. And yes, when you show it to one of those people, you take the risk that you’ll be flat-out rejected, but you also take the chance that they can help you get it out to the world.

And when you do get rejected or get horrible review or you bomb, and hopefully you will, Perfectionism will tell you this is the end of the line. Quit now. That is what Perfectionism wants. It would actually prefer that you don’t even start in the first place, and it’s pissed off that you’ve gotten this far. If this sounds painful, it is, and if you haven’t experienced this, then you haven’t put yourself out there. Perfect is not a goal; it’s a suicide attempt. Aiming for “Just Good Enough” is realistic and practical, and speaking from experience, every time I put any of my art out in the world, even when it’s just good enough, it always comes back a little closer to perfect.

Are you a storyteller who would like to get more laughs? Don’t miss Jimmy’s Finding the Funny in Your Story Online Storytelling Workshop on Nov. 21!

Obsessing Doesn’t Make You Better

Most people who start in improv become obsessed by this art from. We take every class we can afford. We perform in every show humanly possible. We eat like crap and get little sleep. We think the more we obsess, the more it will make us better. We tell ourselves that is what successful artists do. We think this is how we get ahead.

But in fact, being obsessed with improv is not really going to get us anywhere. Great artists are present when they create. Obsession is the enemy. There’s no way you can truly be in the moment when you’re trying to control the future.

When we’re obsessed with getting better, we’re not trusting are own talent, God, The Universe, The Muse… whatever you call it. Our obsessive thoughts jam up the spiritual signals that the Universe is trying to send us so they can’t get reach us. We think working hard on our craft will bring us great comfort and security, when the opposite is true.

Every time I get involved in a project, from my first Harold team at iO back in the ’80s to my podcast Improv Nerd to the hundreds of projects I’ve done in between, I obsess about it, and I can tell you from experience that not one minute of this obsessing has helped me get ahead in my career.

Lately I have been obsessing about my current one-person show, “World’s Greatest Dad(?).”

I’ve performed it the last two Saturdays, and every single day, I am either running lines in my head or thinking of new jokes to add the show. My head is tuned in to one station 24 hours a day, seven day a week, and I can’t shut it off.

Then last Saturday, several hours before my next show, I was sitting in a meeting, not paying attention. Instead of listening, my thoughts were focused on World’s Greatest Dad(?), when it hit me like a two-by-four across my forehead why I obsess. I do it to kill the joy. To ruin the fun. And it comes from a deep-down insecurity that I am not enough. That I am never prepared enough. That my project must be perfect so you think I am perfect and then I am worthy of adulation.

Having that insight had a profound impact on the show that night. I was finally able to stop worrying and start trusting myself and the show more.

I actually had fun doing the show, something I had not experienced until that night.

I realize that there is a fine line between obsessing about something enough to be prepared and not obsessing so much that it consumes every waking moment of your life. I don’t think I’ve reached a perfect balance yet, but I am just grateful that I now have awareness about it, which is the beginning to getting some help.

Feeling like you’re in a rut with your improv? Get inspired again with Jimmy’s Advanced Two-Person Scene Tune-Up on Jan. 4! Save $30 when you sign up by Dec. 21.

You Are Never Ready

As you know, Lauren and I are about to have a baby. It’s due on June 30, and it will be our first. Even though Lauren is much younger, I am 52 years old, so you may be saying to yourself what we’ve been saying for the last nine months: “What are we doing?!”

The other night we had a scare, right before we going to turn the lights out and go to bed. Lauren thought she was going into labor. I was like, “No! You can’t be having the baby now. It’s supposed to come on June 30!”

I felt I wasn’t ready. I still had to clean the garage and put a shelf in the laundry room. My wife explained to her blockhead husband that “at this point, the baby can come at any time, if the garage is clean or not.”

This response on my part is such a pattern in my life: When I am scared, I want to control the outcome. But I realized I have another pattern, too: Whenever an opportunity presents itself, I always tell myself I’m not ready.

I have been doing this my whole career. I have been cast in major TV shows and featured films, and in some cases had to audition three times to get the part, and on then on the day of shoot, I really believe I am still not ready. Even though the director, producer, the casting director and my agent had all said I was ready, my head would say something different. I would think, “If only I had taken one more on-camera class or had gone through a formal acting program, I would be ready.”

I have turned down auditions or interviews for potential paying jobs because I was felt I was not ready.

But today, I’m finally realizing that I don’t think you ever know if you are ready for something or not unless you do the thing that you don’t think you are ready for.

Just a couple months ago a real estate broker contacted me and asked if I would coach him on his sales presentation. The first thing I thought was I had never done that sort of thing before, and even though I have done a ton of corporate improv trainings and have worked with actors individually, I was convinced I was not ready. So, after shutting up those voices in my head, I said rather timidly, “Yes, I can help you.”

A week later, I helped him. And it turns out that all of the improv concepts that I use in my classes and workshops and all of my experience of working with actors individually over of the years applied. I was ready, I just didn’t know I was ready.

Two weeks later, another real estate broker called. He had been referred by the first guy, and even though the voice in my head was still saying, “I’m not ready,” it was softer. “Yes, I can help you,” I said more confidently. A week later, I was helping him, too.

In terms of having a baby, the advice I get from my friends who are parents is that you can read all the baby books in the world, but just know when you daughter comes out, you will know what to do. Your instincts will kick in.

Usually, I want to do everything perfectly, so unless I feel 100 percent prepared, which we have established is impossible for me, I will keep putting off doing new things.

The beautiful lesson I have learned about having a baby is that she doesn’t care how hard I am trying to put things off. She is still coming. It doesn’t matter how hard I want to control things. This is the start of not feeling ready and doing it anyways — from changing a diaper, to helping with her math, to taking her to college (I will be 70 by the time this happens). So, that little baby has already taught me so much and she is not even here yet.

Have you ever thought you weren’t ready for something and did it anyway? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

5 Tips for Getting Over Perfectionism in Improv

Have you ever been afraid to start a scene because you didn’t think you had the perfect initiation? Or do beat yourself up when you make a move that your teammates don’t seem to understand? If you suffer from these symptoms, there is a word for what ails you, and it’s called perfectionism.

If you think perfectionism in your improv is about making better art, you are wrong. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It robs you of the joy of improvising and ultimately causes you to want to quit. If there’s no joy, you are not making art, you are creating pain.

Improv is a very intimate art form. When it’s working, we are exposing our imperfections and we don’t even realize it.

The bad news is I am a perfectionist. The good news is I cannot think of anything better for a perfectionist than improvising. Doing improv shows and taking classes helps you confront your perfectionism and become more comfortable with our imperfect selves.

Perfectionism in improv for me can show up before, during or after a performance. It’s an obsession, it has no boundaries, it’s a black-and-white thinker. It may show up as over rehearsing or not rehearsing at all. It may look like having panicked notes session after a particularly rough show, or like taking too many classes at once.

In my life, my perfectionism can be so powerful that I won’t take any action at all. I can sit paralyzed on my couch for hours with a whiteboard on my lap with a list of 15 names of potential guests for Improv Nerd, and I can’t email any of them because I’m afraid of not picking the perfect guest. The only way I get out of it is with the help of my wife, Lauren, who says, “Just send the emails out. There is no perfect guest.”

The whole point of perfectionism is to get you to not do the thing you love doing.

If you think you may suffer from it, get help now. Here are five tips I have found that have helped me with my perfectionism in improv:

1. Admit It
Perfectionism is not an asset, it’s not noble. It’s a problem. So realize you are doing it and admit it to yourself and others right now.

2. Set up boundaries, and don’t do it alone
When I record the intros and outros of Improv Nerd, I can really get into my perfectionism and waste hours trying to get it exactly right. To help, I will say to Lauren, “I am recording for no more than one hour.” By doing that, I become accountable to someone else and my perfectionism hates that.

3. Trust the process
Remember that the real joy in improv is in the process — the learning and the self-expression that comes from the connection with others, not the results. When we focus on the results, we are feeding out perfectionism junk food, and it gets so fat that it crushes our art.

4. Accept that improv is messy
If you want to get good at anything, you are going to have to suck at it first. By sucking, you are getting closer to perfection. Sometimes, this cliché can snap me out of my perfectionism for 20 minutes, and often that’s all it takes for me to have fun again.

5. Get professional help
Your perfectionism may be a lot worse than you think. Find a mental health professional or therapist to talk about this with, because let me tell you, perfectionism is serious shit.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Only a few days left to take advantage of the Early Bird Special! Sign up by Aug. 25 and pay only $249 for the next Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy Class. Includes a performance on the last day of class.