Time for a Break

Time for a break

Jimmy, Jet, Johnnie, Scott AdsitThere is a myth among improvisers that the more classes you take and more shows you do, the better you will be. We can become addicted to this art form, always hungry to do more.

But sometimes, you can do more by doing less. If you feel burnt out or over-extended by performing, by all means, slow down, stop and take a break.

Symptoms of improv burn out:

  • Feeling like you’re not having any fun
  • Feeling resentment when you are doing a class or a show
  • Feeling annoyed at your teammates or classmates, or people in general
  • Daydreaming during a class or show that you are back at your apartment watching cable TV

Most people, including myself think they can muscle their way through these feelings and keep on performing. Let me tell you, this doesn’t work. Improv requires creative energy, and we only have so much.

In some cases you may be burnt out and don’t even know it. I should know. It just happened to me two weeks ago.

I was really pushing myself by teaching improv classes, adding extra Improv Nerd podcasts, and doing more long form shows. At one point I did four shows and class in a 24-hour period.

I was telling myself that “this is how people get ahead.” Whatever that means.

The problem wasn’t that I was doing too much, it was that I wasn’t enjoying it. One of the four shows was with Scott Adsit from 30 Rock, John Hildreth and Jet Eveleth, and I was looking forward to it. It was for the Chicago Improv Festival, and we had a packed house. We improvised together for 40 minutes and the audience loved it. It was a great show, or so I was told.

My wife came up to me after the Scott Adsit show and told me it was the best show she had ever seen me do. I could not feel it, I could not see it, I could not believe it. By this point, I was burnt to a crisp, and the first thing to go is my perception. When I’m burnt out, I can’t be objective. Instead, I stop having fun and I think everything I do sucks.

And here is the sick part: When I think my performing is terrible, I think the solution is to work harder. So I tried that, and that led to me becoming even more annoyed, angry and impatient.

Why did this happen? Simple. Because I made improv my higher power, my god, the thing that will provide me with unlimited happiness. And in the process, I stopped taking care of myself and stopped doing things that are good for me, like working out, reading and connecting with friends.

In my head, I think if only I could do the perfect show (the one that doesn’t exist), then I will be whole again. And the irony is even if I did do the so-called “perfect show,” it would be wasted because I wouldn’t be able to feel it!

So after I supposedly “sucked” in the show with Scott Adsit, I was sitting on the couch with my wife in the office of our couple’s therapist bitching for 10 minutes about how I feel numb about all of the good things happening in my life and how nothing on stage or off is providing me with any joy.

And this is what he says: “You can get more done by taking a break.”

What the…?I was kind of shocked at first, but later I realized he was right. I needed to slow down, stop and take a break. I like what our therapist said because it reminds me that I have to take care of my life, because if I don’t, it will deplete my art. And when my art is depleted, that is hell ― improv hell.

I am happy to report that I took two days off this week, and I am beginning to feel some joy again. Hope you do, too.

6 replies
  1. Elisa Markus
    Elisa Markus says:

    Jimmy, I love your honesty. You always have such insightful things to say, and I love that you are always willing to dismantle your assumptions and long held truths to examine whether they continue to serve you or not.

  2. Louis Hirsch
    Louis Hirsch says:

    Of course your right. Though feeling annoyed at people in general is something I can do without being burnt out. If it is not fun for you ultimately it won’t be fun for anyone else so there is no point in doing something when it has stopped being fun. Read a book, talk to your friends even vegetate in front of the TV for awhile.
    You are too valuable to both yourself and the Improv community to let yourself get burnt out. 8)

  3. Sarah Savage
    Sarah Savage says:

    🙂 Jimmy,
    I’m very happy you are finding some peace. You are an amazing artist and taking care of yourself will help you preserve your talent and motivation. Be well, your students, collaborators, and fans love you!

  4. Jim Smetana
    Jim Smetana says:

    You’re right about the burnout–you can overconcentrate on anything and become dead in the head. How many times have you strived to find a solution to a problem, beating your head against a cinderblock wall? And once you walk away and get a little distance the answer just falls into place! Love that JimmyNews!

  5. Carl
    Carl says:

    OK…I just read 34 blog posts by you and I will have to say…that I am truly grateful that I was pointed to this site earlier today by my long-form improv teacher here in Atlanta GA. Yes, I know, the hot-bed of improv. However, I will say, that I have gleaned a tremendous amount of insight into some of my feelings and thoughts thus far……look…I know you wont pay attention to nor give a shit about me complementing you based upon the previous 33 posts…so Ill say…if not for you…then for me…THANK YOU….thanks for being open and honest enough to bare yourself in this therapy-blog-session thingy-schtick that I AM SURE your therapist makes you do….ha ha ha…seriously….you really dont have any idea of how invaluable this is to someone like myself….I just started long form 5 weeks ago and improv all together 6 months ago….Ill read the rest of the posts tomorrow…like 10 more posts…thanks for the MASTER CLASS today. I hope u get lost and end up in Atlanta for a show!


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