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216: Scott Adsit

Scott Adsit played Pete on NBC’s 30 Rock for seven seasons and is an alumni of The Second City, where he was part of the ground-breaking show “Pinata Full of Bees.” In this episode, which celebrated Improv Nerd’s 5-year anniversary and was recorded at The Chicago Podcast Festival, Scott talks about meeting Paul McCartney, why he still loves to improvise and what Jimmy was like when they both started taking improv classes at Columbia College in Chicago.

Time for a Break

Time for a break

Jimmy, Jet, Johnnie, Scott AdsitThere is a myth among improvisers that the more classes you take and more shows you do, the better you will be. We can become addicted to this art form, always hungry to do more.

But sometimes, you can do more by doing less. If you feel burnt out or over-extended by performing, by all means, slow down, stop and take a break.

Symptoms of improv burn out:

  • Feeling like you’re not having any fun
  • Feeling resentment when you are doing a class or a show
  • Feeling annoyed at your teammates or classmates, or people in general
  • Daydreaming during a class or show that you are back at your apartment watching cable TV

Most people, including myself think they can muscle their way through these feelings and keep on performing. Let me tell you, this doesn’t work. Improv requires creative energy, and we only have so much.

In some cases you may be burnt out and don’t even know it. I should know. It just happened to me two weeks ago.

I was really pushing myself by teaching improv classes, adding extra Improv Nerd podcasts, and doing more long form shows. At one point I did four shows and class in a 24-hour period.

I was telling myself that “this is how people get ahead.” Whatever that means.

The problem wasn’t that I was doing too much, it was that I wasn’t enjoying it. One of the four shows was with Scott Adsit from 30 Rock, John Hildreth and Jet Eveleth, and I was looking forward to it. It was for the Chicago Improv Festival, and we had a packed house. We improvised together for 40 minutes and the audience loved it. It was a great show, or so I was told.

My wife came up to me after the Scott Adsit show and told me it was the best show she had ever seen me do. I could not feel it, I could not see it, I could not believe it. By this point, I was burnt to a crisp, and the first thing to go is my perception. When I’m burnt out, I can’t be objective. Instead, I stop having fun and I think everything I do sucks.

And here is the sick part: When I think my performing is terrible, I think the solution is to work harder. So I tried that, and that led to me becoming even more annoyed, angry and impatient.

Why did this happen? Simple. Because I made improv my higher power, my god, the thing that will provide me with unlimited happiness. And in the process, I stopped taking care of myself and stopped doing things that are good for me, like working out, reading and connecting with friends.

In my head, I think if only I could do the perfect show (the one that doesn’t exist), then I will be whole again. And the irony is even if I did do the so-called “perfect show,” it would be wasted because I wouldn’t be able to feel it!

So after I supposedly “sucked” in the show with Scott Adsit, I was sitting on the couch with my wife in the office of our couple’s therapist bitching for 10 minutes about how I feel numb about all of the good things happening in my life and how nothing on stage or off is providing me with any joy.

And this is what he says: “You can get more done by taking a break.”

What the…?I was kind of shocked at first, but later I realized he was right. I needed to slow down, stop and take a break. I like what our therapist said because it reminds me that I have to take care of my life, because if I don’t, it will deplete my art. And when my art is depleted, that is hell ― improv hell.

I am happy to report that I took two days off this week, and I am beginning to feel some joy again. Hope you do, too.

The anxiety of getting bigger

All of us in the performing arts want to get noticed. We improvisers want to get recognition for our work, and most of us would love to be famous — in my case, maybe too much.

I have always looked at fame as something that would take away my years of low self esteem, would make me whole and heal me from a childhood of abandonment and neglect.

I always thought that when I started to get noticed and recognized for my work in improv comedy I would feel elated, joyful, excited. But lately, I’ve come to realize that attention doesn’t make me feel any better.

In less then a year the Improv Nerd comedy podcast has grown beyond my expectations. The comedy podcast keeps getting more and more fans, I am getting amazing feedback from the subscribers and my interview skills are getting better and better, yet I feel worse. Worse because I am much more comfortable dealing with failure than success. As a control freak, success sucks, because you can’t control it. Failure — that’s a feeling I know like a warm bath that I could sit in all day. So instead of joy, I feel anxiety that my life is getting bigger. I still think of myself as a poor schlub whose friends are only doing me a favor by being on my show, instead of thinking that people might want to do the show because it’s fun and I am good interviewer.

I am getting the one thing that is like Kryptonite to me, and that is respect.

You may be saying to yourself “I could take the fame. I want the big movie deal and the TV show and the millions of dollars in the bank.” But trust me, that might be harder to take in than you realize.

My girlfriend, Lauren, said the other day that if I had $3 million I would still be miserable, because I would walk around feeling that I didn’t deserve it. She is right. I’d be like the guy who worked at the liquor store part-time and then won $30 million in the lottery and five years later he’s back at the liquor store because he’s broke. Why? Because on some level he did not think he deserved it.

I think we all deserve success and recognition for our work, and I think we probably all need a little help at being able to take that success in. When I figure out how to take in success without having a panic attack, I’ll let you know.

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