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Surprise! I’m Happy

Something weird has been happening to me lately: I wake up and I feel successful.

I have not changed my diet. I am not getting enough sleep. And I am still not famous. But still, I feel successful.

As you know, for me, this not a normal feeling. And you could see why I would be uncomfortable with my life going well.

Well, I am not. I am actually enjoying it.

Putting up “World’s Greatest Dad” has really helped with that. For someone who has always wanted to do stand-up since I was a kid, this is the closest I have come to fulfilling my dream.

I also feel grateful that I get to teach to some really incredible people, who appreciate my style of teaching.

And I get to write a blog that people read.

I get to interview the best teachers and improvisers and artists for my podcast, but I’ve stopped putting pressure on myself to do it every week, and now I only do it when I feel like it.

I get to improviser at least once a month.

I have a great family with Lauren, Betsy and Coco the cat.

I have lots of friends.

For today, I love my life.

I know that this too shall pass, and sometime soon, I’ll go back to feeling miserable and like what I have isn’t enough, but for today, I just wanted to get it documented that I am actually happy so when Betsy gets older and she gets to know me better and she says something like, “Dad, are you ever happy?” I’ll have proof that for a couple of days in my life, at least, I was happy.

Hurry! There’s still time to sign up for Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensive, happening Aug. 10-11. Sign up by Saturday to save $30!

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!

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.