Jay Sukow is a great improviser and teacher here in Chicago. He’s part of the old guard; he’s been improvising, teaching and directing for years. His students worship him, and rightfully so. He is so positive and affirming in his approach that it makes me jealous.
This July, Jay and his wife and two kids are packing up and moving to Los Angeles. That makes him yet another person in the long line of improvisers who has moved from Chicago to LA.
Whenever someone from the Chicago improv scene moves to LA, I feel some sadness and a sense of abandonment. It’s like being held back a grade in school and watching your friends move on. My brain processes their move as a rejection, and I think that I’m not good enough and I’m never going to make it, like a 38-year-old relief pitcher in the minor leagues who knows he’s never getting to the majors.
Moving to LA has always been a goal of mine for all the wrong reasons. I always thought LA equals fame, and fame equals happiness. For years, fame was my higher power. I was obsessed by it. I was convinced that if I ever got some, it would stop me from feeling so shitty about myself. I know it’s shallow and I read way too many tabloids, but that’s what I thought.
Now, I realize I had it all backwards. Fame will never fill that I-am-not-good-enough hole. That is work for me and my licensed therapist.
And after seeing so many of my friends leave Chicago for the greener pastures in LA, I have also slowly realized that moving to LA is no guarantee of fame and fortune. For every person from Chicago who’s “made it” in LA, there are 30 other people who are still struggling. And LA doesn’t a give a shit how high you’ve risen on the comedy food chain somewhere else. Once you enter the city limits, you are starting over.
I have friends who have been regulars on network TV shows or have gotten huge parts in major studio movies and a couple of years later, they are worried about how they are going to pay their rent.
People want to believe that fame is luck, and that just being in the right city will be your ticket to a big break. But the truth is, the people who I’ve known who are famous worked their asses off to get there. People who are famous and successful do it through something called hard-fucking-work.
Today, as a result of the work I’ve been doing in my teaching and with my Improv Nerd podcast, my “need” for fame is less. So much so that it is confusing. I don’t know if I am giving up on my dream or my life is getting better. I am not going to lie to you; yes, I would still love to be famous, live in a beach house in Malibu on the ocean and hang out with my other celebrity friends, but I do realize that having those things won’t solve my problems.
I remember asking Jeff Garlin about fame when he was a guest on Improv Nerd and he said that that fame just magnifies what you already are: If you are a jerk and you get famous, you become a bigger jerk, and if you are a nice person and you become famous, you become a nicer person. So it was clear to me that if anything, my low self-esteem would just get worse, not better, with fame.
So now, with Jay leaving, I’m not as jealous and bitter as I usually would be. In fact, I’m happy for him and I wish him well. This is good news, and I think it means I am getting healthier. And between us, I secretly hope that since if I let go of trying to be famous, maybe it will increase my chances.