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Focusing on the Good

I have yet to have a student in one of my improv classes or workshops come up to me and say, “Hey, can you just point out the good stuff I do today?” Nope, it’s always the opposite: “Hey, can you please tell me the things I’m doing wrong? I can take it. You can go hard on me.” (By the way, I am never sure what that really means.)

As improvisers, me included, we are much more invested in what we are doing wrong than in what we are doing right. There is this misconception that if we solely focus on our weaknesses we will automatically improve. Not true. I am all in favor of working on your weaknesses, but not at the expense of ignoring your assets. Those assets are what help build our confidence and shape our voice — both key ingredients in succeeding in any art form.

I never really understood this until last week, when I met with my 80-year-old father, who is dying.

My dad knew that I had a lot of anger towards him, so he contacted me a couple of months ago and requested we meet. I was filled with resentments. I love the definition of resentments: It’s like taking poison and hoping the other person is going to die. And if that is true, at my rate I was going to die before my father, because they were killing me.

So, with a lot of help from people in my group therapy, I put a list together of the resentments I had towards him as well as things that I am grateful for that he gave me.

When we finally met, I brought my friend Matthew from group therapy because I was terrified. My dad was hooked up on oxygen and we sat in the living room, him in a chair on one side of the room and me on the couch on the other.

On the way over, I had asked Mathew whether I should read the “bad stuff” (aka the resentments) first, or start with the “good stuff” (the gratitudes). He came up with a genius idea: “Why not let your father decide?”

Before I began, I made my amends to my father for withholding these resentments, because I realized I had been holding onto them as a way to push him away. Then I asked my father, “Would you like me to read the good stuff first or the bad stuff?”

He knew his answer immediately: “Screw the good stuff,” he said. “That is all bullshit anyway. I want to know what I did wrong.”

As soon as he said that, I could completely relate. That is me. I am that insecure student who only wants to hear what they are doing wrong.

I read my list of resentments. It was actually easier than I thought. My father was matter of fact. “You’re right, all those things are true,” he said.

This is where it gets good. Then Mathew asked me, “Would you like to read the good stuff, for yourself?” I thought for second, and then I said “Yes, yes I would.”

I began reading the list off of the notebook paper, and I my throat got tighter and my eye lids felt heavy. Tears started to swell and I began to cry as I read each and every one of the good things on that list.

My dad did give me a lot – he taught me to love reading and writing, he was always supportive of my career, he paid for improv and acting classes when I first started out, he gave me the performance gene that I have today, and he was always proud of my accomplishments. Reading those attributes, I could see myself in my Dad in a way I could never see before. For years, I had ignored all of my Dad’s gifts, which meant I was also ignoring my own.

I cannot think of anything more transformative in my life than this experience. Before meeting with my Dad I had felt stuck, blocked and creatively constipated. No matter how hard I pushed, nothing came out. Afterwards, ideas are flowing freely again, like a running faucet that cannot be turned off. I’m lighter and more confident and willing to be a little more honest and take more risks, which only helps my work.

It was clear I had not been acknowledging my good qualities at all. And I suddenly realized that if I want to have a bigger improv career and a better life that I must continue this work of embracing the things the things that are good about me.

Since improv is such a personal art form, whatever is affecting us in our every day lives can have a huge impact on our stage life without us even knowing it. In my case, I learned it in reverse order. Would you expect anything less from me?

There is no blog this week

This week there is no blog. I am taking the week off. I am exhausted. I have been traveling across the country teaching Art of Slow Comedy improv workshops and doing live Improv Nerd shows.

Trust me, I’m not complaining, I am grateful. Never have I been so in demand. Sure, I could sit down right now and squeeze out a blog on the computer, but if I did that, I would have a resentment. A big, juicy resentment. And I’ve learned that if I’m going to have a resentment doing something, it’s better to not do it.

Resentments make me think crazy thoughts like, “Why am I even writing this blog that I am not getting paid for? Nobody appreciates all the hard work I do. It doesn’t fill up my classes fast enough, anyway. I am wasting my time. So, fuck it. Let’s blow the place up and quit writing this fucking blog.”

I am not going to do that. I am going to do something different, because I value our relationship too much. I enjoy writing this blog too much. In fact, I have built something pretty nice here. So if you have not heard already, I will tell you now — this week there will be no blog, and no apologies to you or to myself. It’s OK. I need to recharge the batteries, because I have a big week coming up in Austin at The Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, where I will be teaching and doing four live Improv Nerd shows, and hopefully, when I return next week, I will feel invigorated and inspired because I took the whole week off and did not write this blog.

That is how it works. It’s called self-care, and that is what I am doing by not writing a blog this week: Self-care. Remember those words, and the example I have set for you. In my improv classes I often tell my students: “Show, don’t tell.” That is what I am going to do right now. So, instead of telling you that I am not going to write a blog this week, I will show you.

See?

I am sitting on the couch not writing. I feel great.  I am looking out the window, and am thinking how nice it is to take some time off from writing. Why did I not do this sooner? You know what’s interesting when you take a break and don’t write a blog? You have time to put your feet up and relax. I am putting my feet up on the coffee table. I didn’t even know why we had this coffee table in the first place. Now I know it’s to put your feet up on it. See, that’s the kind of discovery you make when you decide not to write a blog.

I wonder if you’ll miss me if I don’t write a blog this week? I hope you do, actually, but no matter how much you please with me, I’m not going to do it. Just think of how excited you’ll be when you get my blog next week, after a whole week off. 

There are still a few spots left in Jimmy’s next Intermediate Level classes, starting Sept. 8 and Sept. 13. New this term — the Intermediate Class will include a performance on Oct. 18. Sign up today!

Warning: Resentments are toxic to your career

If you want to kill your improv career, make sure to have resentments. Lots and lots of resentments, toward all kinds of people, places and institutions.

If your Harold team gets broken up and they don’t put you on another team, or you audition for something and don’t get cast, do what I’ve done and say: “Fuck them! I am never going to step in that theater again.”

You can lie to yourself with your self-righteous anger, believing you got screwed. But the truth is you felt hurt, disappointed, shame, and sadness — but you don’t want to go there, because it’s too painful. And you have no interest in looking at your part in the situation because you are having too much fun blaming, being a victim and not taking any responsibility for what happened. Instead, not knowing it, you’re closing the door on future opportunities by cutting them out of your life for good.

I have been doing this my whole improv career. There has not been an improv group or show or theater or place that I have taught at that I have not left without a resentment(s). It usually boils to down how I was treated or paid or how they did not give me what a wanted.

And I am embarrassed to say that at 50 years old, I am finally realizing how much my resentments and self-righteous attitude have gotten in the way of my success. I know some of you are going to be surprised by what I am about to say: I am pretty successful, but I could have been even more successful if I had not let those stupid resentments pile up over the years. I get it that I am truly powerless over them, but it does not make things any easier. Anytime my pride got bruised, I made the damage worse for myself, thinking I was protecting myself. Liar.

If any you’ve ever thought, “Why isn’t Jimmy even bigger?” I will tell you it’s because of all of the resentments.
Looking back at my career, the one regret I have is holding on to them for so damn long. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t let them all go yet, but I am starting to get in touch with how they killed my career and my relationships and realizing that when I cut people, places and institutions out of my life out of anger, nothing good happens to me.

I am sad about it and I wish I could give you some quick fix or some sage wisdom that you’ve come to except from me, but the best I can do in this situation is what my older brother, Bobby, used to say to me in high school: “I don’t want you to make the same mistakes as I did.” And I have made many, and today I realize that the only one I hurt is myself.

People have told me that “Having a resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” If that’s true, I have drunk so much poison over the years that it has become toxic to me and has made me immune from being even more successful. I may still be alive, but it has killed parts of my career. The good news I am late bloomer and I still have time left to change.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? We have two sections of Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy starting Sept. 8 and Sept. 13. Only $249 if you register before Aug. 25. Sign up today!