Being Grateful for Where I Am

Next week is Thanksgiving, and I think the older I get the more I am starting to understand gratitude.

When I started out doing improv in my 20s, I was so obsessed about becoming famous. So much so that it took all the fun out of it and affected my relationships. Fame was my higher power.

When friends of mine who I started out together in Chicago got success, I could not be happy for them. I took it personally, and went into a deep depression and was convinced I must be doing something wrong.

By the time I was in my 50s, my anger had turned into bitterness and jealousy, and I was ashamed to admit it, afraid what you would think of me.

It affected my marriage, too. Lauren would get annoyed about me about not being grateful for the things that were right in front of me, including our relationship. My life had never been better, and I could not see it.

Then Betsy was born, and after about six months, after we decided to keep her, things started to change. Before Betsy was born, other fathers would say to me: “Just wait. After she is born, she will change you.” I didn’t know what they meant. But they were right. It happened gradually.

I can’t even put the change into words, but the long and short of it is fatherhood did change me, for the better.

I am happier. Even Lauren noticed I can be easier to be around. She has said, “You don’t seem so obsessed with fame since Betsy was born.”

Thank God. I am not perfect. My desire to become famous still comes back occasionally, but today, I am far more grateful for what I have than I was in years past, and I am no closer to being famous. I would say that is progress.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Gift yourself a gift this holiday season. Sign up for Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune-Up, happening Dec. 30! Only $79 if you register by Dec. 14. Sign up today!

The 5 Things I’m Most Grateful For

The best way to get more good stuff in your life is to be grateful for what you already have. All you have to do is physically get out a pen and paper and on a daily basis and write out the things you are grateful for. You can even call a friend and leave a message on their voicemail about the things you are grateful for. Yes, it is that simple; gratitude tends to build on itself. I am not speaking out of my ass here. I am speaking from experience. In fact, it has worked so well in my life that I stop doing it. You cannot get a better endorsement than that.

This morning I looked back at some of the Thanksgiving blogs I wrote in the past, and I am almost embarrassed by one I wrote two years ago where I asked the reader to list ten things you are grateful for, which in retrospect seems a little ambitious if you are new to this whole gratitude thing. I’m pretty impressed that I had a couple of brave people who wrote ten things they were grateful for in the comments. Thank you for that.

So this year, if you feel up to it, write as few or as many things you are grateful for in the comments below. Since I am asking you to do this, I guess I will lead by example, so here I go.

Wait. Before I go, I want to say that I have seen a new pattern emerge in my life that I want to share with you. If you have read this blog or listened to the podcast Improv Nerd, you know I measure my success and happiness by how much money is in my checking account or how close I am to achieving such a shallow goal as fame.

Yes, we all know how fucked up I am and how low my self-esteem can be, but I don’t want to focus on that for a second; I want to focus on the progress here. Today, when I think about what I am most grateful for, it’s people. For me, that is a fucking miracle.

Now, I will finally go:

  1. My Daughter
    When that little thing came out of her mother’s tummy, I was like “Shit, we made a huge mistake. She looks like a little angry old man.” I panicked. That panic lasted for over four months until Betsy began to smile, and now I am so in love with that drooly, little milk-soaked baby, I can’t tell you.
  1. Lauren
    I love her. My life has become so much bigger and fuller since I met her, and I have never experienced unconditional love from someone before like this. She believes in my talent when I think I am a piece of shit, she makes fun of me always wanting to kill myself, and she loves me despite the fact that I leave a spoon covered in humus on the counter every afternoon, which thankfully we have resolved in couples therapy.
  1. The Entire Staff of Improv Nerd
    I don’t how it happened — it has nothing to do with me – but I have an amazing crew that helps out with Improv Nerd. From Sam Bowers, the director of Improv Nerd who oversees the entire live production and deals with me, a demanding and passive-aggressive host, to Dan Schiffmacher, who produces the episodes and does an incredible job with our YouTube videos, to Joe Pisanzio and Joe Gallagher who also shoot video of the episodes. We’ve also added Marc Serlicttic as our sound engineer, Ian Geotz as our trusty intern, and, of course, Jessie Kunnath, as our photographer. I am forever grateful to this talented and dedicated staff who always have my back. Not to mention all the great people at FeralAudio, Stage 773 and The Second City Training Center who make everything happen.
  1. My Friends
    I have comedy friends. I have recovery friends. I have friends from two group therapies. I have friends that I don’t have a category for. These are the people who see my worth when I cannot see it. They talk me off the ledge and jump in front of me when I am trying to sabotage myself. Talking on the phone to my friends is truly one of the biggest joys of my life.
  1. You
    That is right. If you are reading this blog you are a fan of mine or you listen to the podcast, and chances are you are a current or former of student of mine or you have taken a workshop with me in the past. I am forever grateful to you for your continued support in my career. Thank you for making it possible.Want to sample Jimmy’s improv teaching? Sign up for the Art of Slow Comedy One-Day Workshop on Friday, Dec. 30. Early Bird Special ends Dec. 15!

An Improvisers’ Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving

Next week is Thanksgiving here in America, and most improvisers will be headed home to spend some time with their dysfunctional families. For most improvisers, spending the holidays with their parents can be as painful as being cut from a Harold team or bombing on stage. But don’t worry, you don’t have to get drunk or play Xbox for 48 straight hours to get through it. I am here to help. I’ve come through for you this year, by creating my “Improvisers Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving.”

  1. Don’t go 
    That is right, you heard me. I know it may come as a total surprise to you, but you actually have a choice to go or not to go to Thanksgiving. Just like you have the power to make choices on stage, you also have the ability to do it in your own life. And believe me, for some people, not returning home for Thanksgiving can be viewed as a very strong choice. I know in Chicago a lot of improvisers stay in the city every year and end up getting together with other wayward improvisers to celebrate Thanksgiving, and from what I hear, they always have a good time.So, if you choose to not go home for Thanksgiving, don’t be shy or too proud not to invite yourself to one of the many orphans’ Thanksgiving that are most likely happening in your improv community. It’s probably going to be way more fun than hanging out with your Aunt Ida.
  1. Go As a Duo or as a Group
    If you choose to go home, then how about taking some improv friends with you? This is a win-win for everyone. Most improvisers are charming and witty and can a take a dry, bland Thanksgiving with boring relatives and turn it into something memorable. In my late 20s and early 30s, I would invite “orphan improvisers” like David Koechner, Pete Gardner, Noah Gregoropoulos and others to my parents’ house in the suburbs. My somewhat-stiff parents still talk with great fondness about the time I invited a bunch of improvisers over for Easter and we ended up destroying a lamb cake playing object freeze for a hour at the dining room table.
  1. Help Out
    I cannot think of better way to stay out of your head during a painful family get-together than by helping out around the house. Clear the dishes, take the trash out, help Uncle Irv into his car. This works just like object work or going to your environment in a scene. It keeps you out of your head and you would be surprised how fast the night goes.
  1. Avoid Questions
    I have always found the absolute worst part of the holidays is the ridiculous questions I get from my relatives about improv and my career. “What is this improv thing you do again?” “Can you make a living at it?” “Are you any good at it?” “You have been out of college for three years now. Are you going to get a real job like your brother? He is doing well in sales.”  Unless you are on Saturday Night Live or write for Jimmy Fallon, they just won’t get it and their questions are going to just make you feel like a loser. So, I am telling you this from place of love. Fuck that. You need to go into those situations strong and be proud of what you are doing. Think of it like putting on bug spray. If you go into Thanksgiving and you feel good about what you are doing, you won’t be eaten alive by the mosquitoes. So, by all means, talk it over with friends beforehand. Have them role play with you so you can figure out what you will say to those shame-filled questions until you are ready to go into the deep woods all by yourself.
  1. Bitch About Them Afterwards
    After the Thanksgiving dinner, make sure you have a “buddy” you can call to rehash, make fun of, and complain about your family. Make sure you find someone who is less healthy than you are and is willing to agree with on everything you say about them. Avoid people who will take your family’s or your parents’ side and say something stupid like, “They are just doing their best.” I cannot tell you how many holidays I got through knowing when it was over I could call someone and let out some steam about what I just went through. Also, some of the craziest holidays I had turned out to be some of my best material for future shows. So there’s that.

Of course, this is a starting-off point. I listed my five favorite ways to get through Thanksgiving, but I would love to hear what you do to survive the holidays. So down below in the comments, if you would share with us some of the ways you use to survive Thanksgiving, I would really appreciate it. And yes, have a great Thanksgiving!

This holiday season, give yourself the gift of great improv! Sign up for Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune Up on Jan. 2. Register today!

What I'm Thankful For in Improv

Thanksgiving is a hard holiday. You can feel like this whole gratitude thing is being shoved down your throat. And what if you have nothing to be grateful for? Maybe you aren’t as far as you would like to be in your career or you think people you started out with are passing you by. You may have hit a slump in improv or didn’t make a team/group, or your team/group got broken up. You may feel like the worst one in the class you’re taking right now and you want to quit. How can you find something to be grateful for?

Then an idiot like myself comes along and says something stupid like “Why don’t you make a list of all things you are grateful for in improv?” When you hear this, you go off the handle and call me all sorts of names. You are angry, and you stop reading this blog.

Often in my improv classes, I will say to the class after 20 minutes of some brilliant long form, “What did you guys do well?”

The question is usually met with silence, like I am asking them a trick question. The tension is broken when someone sheepishly answers my question with a question: “I thought our editing was pretty good?”

It lands flat, followed by some more uncomfortable silence.

When I ask the next question, “What do you think you need to work on?”, they come alive. Their faces light up and their voices get strong. “We weren’t listening to each other. We had too many walk-ons. I think we had too many of the same kind of scenes.”

This is how we are wired. We gladly take in the negative and dismiss the positive. Like the two cannot exist at the same time. We are committed to not doing anything right, so we never feel grateful because as improvisers, we think we are pieces of shit.

I am no different. I wish I could say I was. I am working on this, and I want to get better today — right now. Because not being able to look at the positive affects my improv as much as my life.

My favorite story of focusing on the negative was when I was doing one of my many solo shows, and the show had sold out. Instead of being excited that I had a packed house, my attention was focused on my older brother and my sister-in-law, who were not there yet. I did not see anybody else in the theater except the two empty seats that I had saved for them in the front row.

That is called ungratefulness. They ended up show up, but it didn’t matter. I was still angry for days. What the fuck? I could not find the gratitude in a sold out show? God help me.

You don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be that person. Let’s commit to each other just for today that we are not going to be those kind of people. I will go first. I am going to take no more than two minutes to write ten things I am grateful for. Here I go…

10 Things I Am Grateful For:

  1. I got to travel to a lot of great cities this year, where I taught and did Improv Nerd Live.
  2. I released my latest e-book, Improv Therapy, and it’s been well received.
  3. I had a great team of people working on Improv Nerd this season. A great team!
  4. Stage 773 is an awesome space for the show and they are extremely nice to us. Good People.
  5. I have improved as an improviser.
  6. I have improved as an interviewer.
  7. I get e-mails from people all over the world who listen to the Improv Nerd podcast and read this blog.
  8. My wife, Lauren, who keeps Improv Nerd going
  9. My assistant Chloe, who is amazing at social media and keeps me focused.
  10. My amazing improv students over the past year. You made teaching fun.

Ok, now it’s your turn. You may feel angry and want to scream at me, I don’t care. Just give it a try and see how you feel. I promise I will not ask you to do again until next Thanksgiving.

Hurry! Jimmy Carrane’s Next Art of Slow Comedy class starts Jan. 7! Get in on the ground floor to take all three levels. Pay only $249 now until Dec. 24 ($279 after). Or, sign up for Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune Up Workshop on Jan. 3. Sign up today!