If you want to get better at your art, you have to constantly stay open to learning.
This has not always come easily for me. After a couple of years of improv classes, I thought I had it all figured out. I was done with classes. I was more interested in the results than in getting better.
But a true artist (and I know plenty) never stops learning.
Today, as old as I am and as big as my ego can be at times, I am grateful that I do a pretty good job at staying opening to learning.
I would even say that learning brings me joy. And if you have been reading this blog for some time, you know joy does not come easy for me, either.
When it comes to learning, this weekend was a big deal for me. On Saturday I re-opened my one person show, “World’s Greatest Dad(?),” and it went extremely well. The show and my performance keeps getting stronger because I willing to learn.
For this run, I am working with stand-up comedian Dave Maher. Dave is about 20 years younger than I am, but I wanted to work with him because he had put up a successful one-person show called “The Coma Show” about him waking up from a coma. I also like his style of comedy, so despite the age difference, I decided to give him a call.
We’ve been working together for several weeks, rehearsing and tightening the show. He is smart, funny and gives honest feedback. He’s given me writing notes, performance notes and helped me with the show’s structure. Working with him has been really fun, and I’m so grateful for all of the help. Now I just need to slow down a little and pause for the laughs a little more.
Then on Sunday, was the 8th anniversary show of Jimmy and Johnnie, and our special guest was TJ Jagodowski. I have always learned by watching TJ improvise, and I learn even faster when I am lucky enough to play with him.
TJ’s and John Hildreth’s approach to improv is similar — they can organically find a point of view for character in a scene in a matter of seconds and just heighten the shit out of it. This is something I struggle with since I am more reactive in my improv.
As an improviser, TJ always plays at the top of his character’s intelligence, he always responds honestly, and he always brings a sense of playfulness to his improvisation. This can be ego-deflating or inspiring, or a little of both.
When I play with him, it can be easy to fall into the trap of comparing myself to him, but when I do that and tell myself I’m shit, I block myself from learning. Instead, I try to approach playing with TJ as if I’m in a grad school class for improv, and remember that playing with someone who is better than me can only make me better, too.
I am grateful today that I am able to keep learning from these artists and don’t have to leave Chicago to do so.