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Top 10 Tips for Getting Ahead in Improv – Part 1

I love all of the questions that people ask at the end of each Improv Nerd show. I get inspired by all of the young improvisers who are trying to figure out how to navigate life in this crazy community and create a path for themselves. It’s not easy.

So, if you’re one of those improvisers who is trying to figure out how to shape your improv career, here are my top 10 tips for getting ahead. I’m starting with five tips this week, and next week I will give you five more tips to getting ahead in improv.

1. I have been taking classes and I don’t know what I want to do with improv. What should I do next?
The good news is improv has gotten enormous and there are so many choices. The bad news is all these choices can make your head spin.

When I started I wish I would have gotten to sit down with someone and say “This is what I want to do in improv.” I wanted to be hired for The Second City Main Stage, but I was never honest about it, to myself or others, and when the opportunities came, I was on my own, which meant I sabotaged any chance of getting in.

My suggestion would be to sit down with two supportive and trusted friends and tell them what you want in improv. Write down your vision for your improv career and then allow it to change, and believe me, it will. Careers in improv are not straight lines and keep a look out for the pleasant detours.

2. I did that, now what?
You just told people two people what you want. That’s pretty brave. Now be prepared for the emotional hangover — anger, fear, shame, sadness. Who do you think you are?

At that same meeting, ask your friends to give you a minimum of five action steps. Simple baby steps you can take to get you closer to your vision. If your vision is to be on a team at the UCB in L.A. and you’re going into your junior year of college in downstate Illinois, your action steps could be to buy the UCB manual, go to their website and listen to Improv4Humans with Matt Besser. All these steps help you get closer to your goal and will make your improv vision a reality.

3. How do I get the most out of my improv class?
Show up like you would for an audition or your temp job. Show up on time, showered, shaved, and sober. Show up ready to play. How you show up for improv class is how you show up to your life. Most improv classes are filled with tons of opportunities — shows, jobs, connections and friendships — and if you show up like a pro you will only increase your chances.

4. How many groups should I be on at one time?
This is up to you, but just remember, when you’re too over committed, your work suffers, your life suffers and you suffer. Give yourself time to take a break. And make sure that every group that you’re a part of, that you’re there because you want to be, not because you think you “should.”

If you feel over committed, disconnect from improv for a couple of days to get your head clear and ask yourself what projects are you involved in that you feel excited about? Or challenged by? Or feel joy about? Let these emotions guide you, and then before you make any changes, talk to at least two trusted friends. You are improvisers for God’s sake, you chose this career because you don’t have to do it alone!

5. What do I do when I don’t make a Harold or improv team at an institution?
Feel your feelings. Call your friends and get their support. Don’t minimize it. It sucks. Go ahead and feel angry, disappointed, hurt, rejected, betrayed. You paid all this money and you put in all this time. Blame. Character assassinate. You have my blessing.

And when you are done feeling those horrible feelings, you may be one of the lucky ones who realizes that no person, place or thing can tell you that you cannot improvise, only you can. You have woken from this nightmare and taken back your power. Some never do. They are the bitter ones. You, on the other hand, realized that you make your own opportunities, and you may even look back one day and be grateful you did not make a team in the first place.

I hope this helped. Next week when I get back from vacation, look for five more tips from me. In the meantime, if you have any other questions, feel free to write me at jimcarrane@gmail.com.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Jimmy’s next Fundamentals Art of Slow Comedy Class begins June 28. Only $249 if you register by June 16. Sign up today!

4 replies
  1. Edgar Mota
    Edgar Mota says:

    how do I break out of the habit of not agreeing of what my scene partner says during an improv set. thank you

    Reply
  2. Greg Morelli
    Greg Morelli says:

    With all of the hard work you’ve put in, hosting another season of Improv Nerd, publishing another book (http://goo.gl/j6yIMb), and teaching so many levels of improv, you befuddle The Ghost Of Del Close.

    Here’s hoping you & Lauren completely disconnect from the delightfully ambitious world of improvisation during your well deserved vacation.

    Personally speaking, I look forward to the 2nd half of this series. And working with you down the road, Jimmy.

    Thanks for helping to keep my head in the game, attitude in check and perspective grounded in the theme song of Frozen…

    LET IT GO.

    Reply
  3. Stuart Green
    Stuart Green says:

    Thanks again Jim,
    I’m glad I found your blog-post and look forward to more-sels along the way.

    Cheers,
    Stuart

    Reply

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