Why You Have to Network to Get Ahead

If you want a bigger career in improv you are going to have to network. If you want to climb the improv ladder, you will not be able to able to avoid this step. You are going to have to play the game. You are going to have to schmooze.

If you don’t want to, fine. Maybe you think your career is big enough as it is. You can hate me for saying this, but when I hear people who refuse to network, what they are really saying is they are afraid of success. That’s been my experience.

Networking is important because talent is rarely enough to get ahead. Your talent will only take you so far, and the quicker you learn this, the better off you will be.

Ideally, networking should start the first day of your first improv class. You don’t have to whip out your headshots and business card, but you do have to think about building relationships with people and trying to be someone people want to be around and someone who is easy to work with.

When I was coming up in the early ’90s in Chicago we all wanted to be hired by The Second City. We were all told we had to go see the improv sets after the Mainstage shows. We needed to hang out. We needed to get to know Joyce Sloan, who was the producer at the time and who did the hiring. If Second City had a party, you had to find a way to go. You needed people to get to know you. Unfortunately, you can’t get ahead in show business by being anonymous.

When I was at The Annoyance Theater, the only criteria to get cast in a show back then was if you were a nice person. How would we find out if you were a nice person or not? You had to hang out there or go to the bar down the street after a show. If The Annoyance had a party, you had to make sure you got there. I don’t think a lot has changed since.

Networking is simply about building relationships. I have had opportunities fall out of the sky because people I had worked with in the past gave me a job or referred me to people who could hire me. And I have missed as many opportunities as I have gotten because I refused to the play the game.

This doesn’t mean you have to be running for president or buying people drinks at the bar. You just need to show up and be yourself.

Here are my Top 4 Tips to Networking in Improv

  1. Be nice to everyone
    Be nice to everyone — not just the people who you think are talented. Remember, you never know where people are going to end up. They may become directors, producers or writers — the kind of people who can actually give you a job someday.
  1. Ask questions
    If you are nervous or afraid to talk to people, remember to try be interested versus interesting. Put your improv skills to good use and listen to others. People love to talk about themselves. It makes them feel good.
  1. Know the players
    Do a little research and know who the Charna’s, Mick’s and Ali’s are in your theater. It’s your job to know who the teachers, directors and producers are, as well as the players on established teams.
  1. Be a person
    There’s a time and place for bits. You do not have to prove you are funny all of the time or prove that you are the smartest person in the room about improv. In most social interactions, sincerity and being genuine will go much farther. You have nothing to prove, other than that you are a good person to hang around with.

Want to take your improv to the next level this summer? Sign up for one of Jimmy Carrane’s eight-hour, two-day summer intensives. Class will be limited to 14 people for personal attention. July 11-12 or July 25-26. Sign up today!

5 replies
  1. Laura Hall
    Laura Hall says:

    Great article, Jimmy. I couldn’t agree more. I can let myself be intimidated by the networking part of this business, until I’m reminded that it’s just connecting with people. I love what you said about just being someone people like to be around and easy to work with. Spot on.

  2. Chris Shurland
    Chris Shurland says:

    This is a great article. I am making my way up the improv ladder and one thing I notice with so many players is they just want to play. Having a little bit of a business mind about getting out there and networking, marketing, etc. would shoot so many very talented people much higher. Yes, it is fun to play, but the sky is the limit for those that work on the business side of things.

  3. Laura Ann Parry
    Laura Ann Parry says:

    I get nervous about networking. I have to catch myself before I fall into “acting” to be noticed or endeared. You are absolutely correct in all your observations in social interaction. It’s hard. But, when you are sincerely listening to what someone else is saying, it’s easy. Just be congnizant of social cues and try not to follow one person around the whole time. They may be looking to network with folks other than you, are too uncomfortable to take their leave from you and end up avoiding you at future gatherings.

  4. Courtney
    Courtney says:

    Totally agree! I love the book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” for this reason. It taught me that networking is about cultivating relationships not being interesting. Thanks Jimmy!

  5. Gregor
    Gregor says:

    This is so great, Jimmy. You have no idea how many young minds you just put at ease. Serously.

    I spent my 20’s in a battle with crippling shyness. I made excuses for myself when I didn’t get cast in theater after theater: UCB, Chicago City Limits, IO, Annoyance, Second City. By the time I got cast at The Pit, it was bittersweet. I had to move back to Chicago, my family had bitten off more than they could chew with a restaurant. I couldn’t look the other way, my clumsy heart wouldn’t let me.

    I admire a business approach to the arts: Perry Farrell, Jack White, Chelsea Handler, Red Foxx. These acts put asses in seats: BUSINESS!!!

    Their talent is obvious…to me. My mom would argue to the contrary, which is what’s great about the arts, it’s subjective and the spotlight is arbitrary, especially if you’re waiting for someone else to pass you the fame baton.

    Go and get it.

    Thanks again for writing this, Jimmy. 2015 is clearly your break-out year. Enjoy!


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