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Accepting Other People’s Success

Accepting other people’s success is not easy. Sooner or later it will happen to all of us: One of our friends will get ahead while we are left behind. It’s always hardest with the people we are closest to.

You may start out in improv classes with people, and some of them will end up making a Harold team but you won’t. Or they will get cast in a show or be hired by a big theater before you do. They may get an agent before you, and end up doing commercials, TV and film, while you’re still taking classes.

I’ve been feeling that way lately, now that Steve Carell has been nominated for an Oscar. Back in the ’90s here in Chicago, Steve was on the Second City Mainstage. I was in the same building writing and teaching corporate workshops for Second City Communications. Even back then, Steve was someone we all aspired to be.

Recently my wife, Lauren, very seriously said to me, “Aren’t you excited for Steve Carell’s nomination? I mean, if he did it, don’t you think you could do it, too?”

(For the sake of this blog, I wish I could say yes.)

My jaw dropped and my face had that “are-you-kidding-me?” look on it as “NO” dropped out of mouth, which sounded more like a “Fuck You.” If I was doing an improv scene with my wife, it’s clear I just denied her reality.

Lauren was a bit surprised that I had such a strong reaction.

I trust Lauren because she always been brutally honest with me about my acting, improv and the size of my penis. And she was sincere, which made it even crazier for me. I guess the crazy part was that I would not allow myself to even go there, to even think for a second that if Steve Carell did it, I could do it, too. I think they call this limited thinking.

When we hear news of people’s success there are really two ways of dealing with it. One is self-pity, thinking “What am I doing wrong? Everyone else is having success except me. I will never get it.” The other is to be inspired and think, “If they can do it, I can do it, too.”

Now, I am not close to Steve Carell, and to say I am one of his peers is a stretch, but I have been fortunate to work with other great people who have gone on to do great things, and over the years, I’ve realized that if one of my friends gets a great opportunity – a chance to be on a boat with Second City, a spot on the Mainstage, a pilot on TV – that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It means I am friends with the winners.

When Jay Sukow was a guest on Improv Nerd his advice for improvisers was to “play with people who are better than you.” In so many words, he was saying “Hang with the winners.”

It’s not easy to work with people who are better than you, especially if your goal is to be the funniest or the best or the audience’s favorite. When you work with people who are better than you are, you can often feel like shit and tell yourself you aren’t funny at all. But take it from me: Instead of having the goal of being the funniest person on your team, try to have the goal of just getting better. And when you play with people who are better than you are, that’s exactly what happens.

I remember getting to play with TJ Jagodowski on Carl and The Passions. TJ is Mozart. When I played with him, I first had to let go of the idea of being the best or the funniest, and once I did, I felt relief realizing I was never going to be better than he is. Your ego always wants you to be the best or the funniest, but the artist part of you is always going to want to play with the best.

When you hang with the winners, you’re bound to see many of them go on to land great opportunities. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you suck, it just means they’re paving the way for you.

Experience Jimmy Carrane’s unique method of the Art of Slow Comedy during a One-Day Intensive on April 25. Perfect if you’re going to be in town for the Chicago Improv Festival. Sign up today!

Stop waiting and start creating

Improv can be a lot like being on the playground in 3rd grade waiting to be picked for the kick ball team.

Today it is much the same: When you audition to get on a Harold team at one of the many improv theaters or hope to be asked by a classmate who is forming a bar-prov group, you are waiting to be chosen. And if you don’t get picked you become that rejected little third-grader all over again, kicking and screaming, that life is unfair, and if you don’t watch it, you may end up quitting over it.

Remember, you don’t know if you are going to be picked or not. That is out of your control. What you do have control over is what you create. Nobody but you can stop to you for doing it. That is your power.

When I create, I am the happiest, and I don’t have to worry if I have been picked or not, because I am too busy focusing on what I am doing, creating. Plus, when you create something, it’s like a magnet that attracts people to you, and opportunities seem to fall out of the sky. When I create, my vision for myself and my career gets crystal clear, so those things I used to think would make me happy don’t seem as good anymore.

I used to always want to get cast in commercials. For years, I would go on commercial auditions, hoping, wishing they would pick me. My chances of getting picked for a national commercial were really slim — Ever commercial audition felt like a was playing the Lottery, a game of chance.

When I create, I get clarity, I get focused. Today I’m so focused on this blog that you’re reading now, and doing Improv Nerd and writing a book, that I’m not really interested in commercials anymore. And the more I continue to create me own thing, the more other people call me and want to work with me. It’s the avalanche you cause by creating something.

When I look back at the people who were around when I was starting out in Chicago, the ones who have gone on to have huge careers were the ones who had the courage to create.

Where would Tina Fey be if she hadn’t written, produced and starred in 30 Rock? Where would Steve Carrell be if he hadn’t co-written and starred in the 40 Year Virgin? Where would Adam McKay be if he hadn’t co-written and directed Anchor Man? If they had sat around only taking projects they had been picked for, they might not be very far at all.

Ok, you can argue that some people did not have to create to get where they are today. Fine, I’ll buy that. You can wait around to get picked for something — and you might get chosen — but your chances of success are higher if you create opportunities for yourself.

And it happens on all levels, not just the comedy super stars I mentioned. Who wouldn’t want to be respected like TJ and Dave, Improvised Shakespeare Company, Cook County Social Club, or the four original members of UCB? I have toured around the country teaching and doing Improv Nerd and have seen people build improv theaters and create improv communities where there were none before. That is creating.

So if you are sitting on a bar stool finishing your fourth draft beer while you’re whining to your friends that nobody ever asks you to be in their projects, remember: The only power you have is the ability to create. No person or institution can take that away from you, even if you think so.

Our self-esteem has been beaten up pretty good by rejection or perceived rejection, so for God’s sake, shut the fuck up and create.