It’s ok to be jealous

As artists, improvisers and human beings we all get jealous, some of us worse than others. Saying you never get jealous is like saying you never get angry or you never get sad or afraid. It’s part of the human condition.

With jealousy, the only thing we can hope for is that the duration doesn’t last too long. There have been times when I have been free of it, but jealousy is like cancer: Just when you think you’ve beaten it and it will never come back, it mysteriously shows up in another part of your body.

That’s precisely what happened to me last month. The uber-improv group Beer Shark Mice came to Chicago to do a series of sold-out shows and workshops at iO Chicago.

I have worked with all of the members of that group back in Chicago over 20 years ago, in once capacity or another. Since then, they have all moved to LA and have done extremely well. They are all very talented people. They have all worked hard. But still, I can feel jealous of their success in Hollywood.

Jealousy is not logical, it never has been, so to trying to figure it out makes no sense, but typically, the people I started out with in improv are the ones I can get the most jealous about.

Here’s what pisses me off about jealously, besides the fact that I have it from time to time: I am often too afraid to admit that I’m feeling it. When you say you’re jealous of someone, people misinterpret it and think you’re dissing on the person. That could not be farther from the truth.

Admitting you are jealous is a good thing. If you listen to my podcast, Improv Nerd, you have heard me talk about my jealousy of Tina Fey, who started in improv here in Chicago. First of all, my jealousy of her has nothing to do with Tina Fey. It’s 100 percent about me. It’s my issue. If anything, I am dissing on myself. Secondly, I have admitted my jealousy of Tina Fey over 100 times, and guess what? It seems to have subsided for the time being.

Being jealous of someone else just means that you wish that you had something they have. It can be talent, looks, money, fame… anything that you compare yourself to someone else with and feel like you fall up short.

I denied my jealousy of others — and a lot of my other emotions — for a very long time, and I can humbly say that denying that I felt it didn’t do any good. I didn’t admit I was jealous because I was worried of what people would think of me. People think jealousy and anger are bad, so I denied that I felt those emotions and stuffed them until they reached a toxic level in my body. When you do that, I can guarantee it will come out sideways and it will harm yourself and others and ruin your shows.

I did a two-person show years ago called Naked with Stephanie Weir, one of the best improvisers I have ever gotten to work with. The show was great, but it could have been much better for all of us if I could have dealt with me jealousy better. Not only was I incredibly jealous of her talent, but I also couldn’t admit it at the time, not even to myself. So instead, I made angry and negative choices on stage, which made me difficult to work with. I am sure I was nightmare for all involved, and I still have shame about that show.

If you get anything out of this blog today, I hope that it’s that it’s ok to admit that you’re jealous of others, because if you don’t, there’s a good chance it will turn into bitterness. I’ve been down that road many of times, and if we own it and takes steps forward in our own careers, it will dissipate and we can get out of our own way on stage and in our lives.

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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.