In the process of writing Improv ABC, I thought a lot about the skills that lead to great scene work. But despite all the research, thinking, and writing, I’ve been feeling a bit stuck in my last few shows. That’s when I came across this:
“If you want to have more great shows, truly improve as an improviser, and have a bigger improv career, you may not need to take one more class or join one more team. You may just need a little self-awareness.”
It’s a quote from Jimmy Carrane’s new book, The Inner Game of Improv, which is about exactly what it sounds like: more practice isn’t always the answer. Sometimes, you need to work on yourself.
That isn’t just advice for improvisers either. The challenges and solutions Jimmy outlines in his new book can help any creative person who’s feeling stuck.
It’s a quick read full of great tips and Jimmy’s candid, humorous storytelling, and I would definitely recommend snagging a copy from Amazon. But if you want to learn a little more, here are 4 killer level ups I took away about having a bigger, better improv career (and a healthier creative outlook).
Realize That Perfectionism Isn’t Noble
“Perfectionism is pretty simple: It’s the fear of making a mistake. And if we can’t make mistakes, we won’t take risks, we won’t get better and our career will be over.”
I used to hold up my perfectionism as a badge of honor. I’d “turn-a-weakness-into-a-strength” during job interviews. I’d say, “gosh, I am obsessed with my work being just right and it holds me back.” Ironically, that is a real weakness of mine.
Any creative act is a risk in and of itself. You never know if your work is truly “good” because “good” is subjective. You can sit in your workshop tinkering day and night until it’s perfect, but even then, the trolls on Twitter will still find a reason to complain. You might as well send it out into the world “good enough” and see what happens. Who knows? You might even succeed.
Treat Yourself The Way You Want To Be Treated
“Students often ask me, ‘What can I work on between classes?’ The answer is: your confidence and your self-worth. It’s the thing people see the second you hit the stage or walk into a classroom.”
One of my favorite movies is Swingers, starring Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. It’s the story of Favreau’s character, a mopey guy who can’t seem to get his life together after being dumped by his girlfriend. Vaughn spends a lot of the movie trying to cheer him up and get him dates, but women swoon over Vaughn while treating Favreau like a sad puppy. It isn’t until the end of the movie, when Favreau finally starts respecting himself, that women stop pitying him and start dating him.
You have to believe you are an artist and you have to treat your work like art. When someone says “good show,” take the compliment. Don’t tell them you thought it sucked. When you put out work, celebrate it – don’t downplay it. People look to you for clues on how you want to be treated. If you want pity, sulk and complain. If you want to be treated like a successful professional, then act like one.
Create Your Own Opportunities
“Eventually, we start wallowing in self-pity, telling ourselves that other people are getting ahead because they are more talented than we are….other people are less afraid than we are to put themselves out there, to create their own opportunities, and to promote the hell out of themselves and their projects.”
My buddy, Jason Flamm, created a monthly comedy show and changed his entire life. Through the process of writing his own material, leading a creative team, and producing STL Sketchpad every month, he was able to leave his job delivering pizzas and begin a career in writing.
You can sit around and wait for Lorne Michaels to find you, or you can start creating your own opportunities and find out where they lead.
Learn How To Say No
“You can do more by doing less.”
I used to be a member of three different improv teams and I coached two others. I saw shows three or four nights a week. I played in every jam. Eventually, I hit a breaking point. All of my teams were falling apart. I didn’t feel good about my shows. I dreaded teaching. I wanted to get better at improv, but by doing so much, I was sabotaging my efforts.
It wasn’t until I reduced my commitments to one teaching gig and one serious Harold team that I finally got my improv energy back and felt like I was starting to make progress.
Improvisers are trained to say “yes” to everything, because on stage “yes” has no consequences. You never have to do the things you agree to. Real life doesn’t work that way, your body and mind will tell you as much. You have to learn how to say no to some things so you can more fully say yes to others, giving them your full focus and energy.
The Inner Game of Improv is packed with actionable lessons (these are just 4 of many), funny stories, and great quotes from one of the most honest and funny improvisers out there. If you’re ready to get out of your own way – in improv or in any creative art – grab a copy of Jimmy’s new book and start giving yourself permission to succeed.
You can learn more about Jimmy’s book or grab your copy here.