Thoughts on a bad day of improv.


You’re inevitably going to feel like shit after a bad show, audition or class. It’ll happen. Here’s how I get out of my funk:

1. “You do not have the right to use this art form to feel bad about yourself” – Martin de Maat

I love this quote. Improv, at it’s core, is an art form that is meant to make people happy. You are making people laugh. I repeat, you are making people laugh. You are brightening someone’s day… inflicting happiness. Who the hell are you to use an art form born from happiness to feel bad about yourself? The VERY first thing you learn in improv is that you have to love and respect your teammate. You would never go up to them after a show and tell them that they really could have done better. That they’re shit and should really consider quitting. You would never tell your teammate that the reason the show bombed was because of their initiation… that if they were just a little more on their game, you could have succeeded. So why are you saying this to yourself?

2. No one is forcing you to do this.

Like most art forms, you are doing this because you love it. Because you’re passionate about it. No one is forcing you… it’s not like your parents will feel let down if you don’t succeed. If anything, quitting means that you’ll save them many sleepless nights. So why are you doing it? It makes you happy. If it no longer makes you happy then you seriously need to readjust your attitude. If you strip it all down, there are many negative things about studying improv. It’s expensive, it makes you vulnerable, you don’t get much sleep, you’re going to doubt yourself constantly, you’re not going to make much money and only a handful of people are going to really “make it” in the comedy world. So why do I even bother? Because the environment is intoxicating. Because I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. Because I love it. It all comes down to that… I love it. Remind yourself that you can quit at anytime but you’re conciously choosing not to. There’s something in that little fact that you should extract and remember in times of self-doubt.

3. Trust in the compliments you receive.

I know the difference between an empty compliment and a sincere one. You do too. People are so transparent. Chances are that you’ve received many compliments and words of encouragement… but you try to convince yourself that people are just trying to be nice. That’s bullshit. You know when someone is just trying to be nice. After studying this thing for over a year, I’ve received both types of compliments. It’s black and white. There’s a huge difference between being told “You were great!” and “I know you’re going to do great things”…between “Keep in touch!” and “I will help you in any way I can”… between the audience laughing then moving on and hearing “Wow… that was good” three seconds after the laughter fades. Keep an ear peeled for sincerity and believe that people aren’t investing in something that they don’t believe in.

4. Reflect.

I have a big audition this week. I was ordering headshots for it when I had a flashback to my very first audition. I was terrified. I remember praying that I would arrive late so that I would have a reason to miss the audition. Somehow I convinced myself to go in. What happened? I was terrible. I mean, really terrible. I did a scene where I was a nun who gave out blowjobs. I wish I were kidding. I cracked up hysterically remembering this because it’s the complete opposite of who I am as a performer. I’m known for strong female roles… I’m the type of person whose eyes would pop out of her head seeing the scene I auditioned with. Instead of being nervous about my upcoming audition, I’m extremely proud of the type of improviser I’ve grown into. If I went from being a blowjob nun to being able to freestyle rap about equal pay in just a year… then I have faith in my future.

5. Redirect your disappointment.

At the core, disappointment only means that you care. Instead of being hard on yourself, redirect your energy and be proud that you care enough about this art form to evaluate how you did. Learn to grow from bad shows instead of dwelling on them. It does no good to sit and feel shitty. Ask yourself why you’re feeling bad? Are you just being a dick or did you really do something wrong? Did you support your teammates? Did you pay attention and live in the moment? What skills do you need to work on? Everyone makes mistakes. Improv is literally making shit up on the fly. It’s sitting back and trusting that your mind is skilled enough to hit hard. That means that everyone is subject to a bad show every now and again. Sometimes you just had a bad day and your mind was too distracted to work properly. It happens. A bad show doesn’t make you a bad performer. Break it down and try to figure out why you didn’t kill. It doesn’t do anyone any good to just sit and pout.

6. You’re never going to be good enough…

…for yourself. You’re just not. You will have your days where you feel great and are proud of how well you did… but even on those days, you could probably find a way to improve. I used to be really hard on myself. Now, I’d say that I’m a pretty confident person and performer. One of the things that helped along the way was Jay Sukow’s advice to let your teachers & directors tell you when you need to improve on something, not yourself. That’s their job, not yours.

7. Don’t be the asshole.

One of my favorite improv quotes is Susan Messing’s “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole.” This doesn’t just apply to improvising, but the atmosphere after as well. There’s nothing worse than having one of your teammates wallow in a hole of self pity after a show when they really didn’t perform half as bad as they thought they did. No matter what you say, you can’t convince them that they were great. They’re someone you looked up to… someone who you thought was immensely talented. Now that image is tarnished in realizing that they aren’t confident. Well if they feel bad about their performance, then I must be really horrible. Don’t be that asshole. If you feel like shit, pretend that you don’t. You’re an actor, after all.

8. Feeling bad about yourself will never move you forward.

Never. Guys… improvising, by definition, is to “create and perform spontaneously or without preparation.” You are literally making things up. If you’re nervous or in a period of self-loathing, you’re only hurting yourself. Why fill your head with horrible thoughts when you could occupy the space with something more constructive. When I head to an audition or show these days, instead of getting nervous, I tell myself that I’m going to crush it. I read cards and notes from my past teachers, directors and classmates that are filled with compliments and encouragement. I walk into the room with confidence and tell myself that I’m talented enough to kill it. So much of it is a mind game. Even when you don’t feel like you’re incredible and talented, you have to momentarily convince yourself that you are. When you think that you can do no wrong, you are able to take risks and show off your talent. I can’t trust myself to improvise inside of a head filled with bad thoughts… so no matter how I really feel that day, I meditate. I remove all the bad thoughts then play the role of a confident performer (probably thanks in part to my pre-show/audition ritual of playing Beyonce’s “Diva.”)

9. Uh… did you realize that you’re facing most people’s biggest fear?

Public speaking is consistently ranked as one of the top two biggest fears. You are not only public speaking, but you’re speaking off the top of your mind. In front of an audience. An audience that expects you to be funny. Uh… that’s a big deal. Most people would never do that. I never had stage fright so sometimes I forget this… it only takes having my non-improv friends in the audience to remember. No matter how great or horrible the show is, the first thing anyone says to me is “I don’t know how you do it.” People respect you for just showing up. That’s big.

10. Hey, it’s about having fun.

My love of improv isn’t all about great shows and nailing auditions. It’s about the notebook that I have filled with quotes about life. Late nights at Ale House spent with the strangest, but most incredible, people I know. The happiness that I didn’t have in my life a year ago.Times where I had to leave the room to calm myself down because I was laughing too hard. Days where I entered the building with tears in my eyes from a horrible day and immediately cheered up after seeing someone I love. Moments of inspiration during times of self doubt. Learning to love myself and others around me. It’s not about how well I did during a set. It was never about that.

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