I remember the day vividly. I was standing in the middle of a circle at ComedySportz on a Tuesday night in September for the first rehearsal with my new team Caution Tape Party. “What’s your biggest goal?” I was asked. Icebreakers, right? “Uhm, like in life? Or comedy?” ”Just your biggest goal.” Had I more time to think about the answer, I probably would have set visions of grandeur: “I want to make a living off of comedy,” “I want to write my own show,” “I want to bring back The Cosby Show and be cast as Clair Huxtable’s apprentice.” With just a second to think of my biggest goal, I blurted out the truth: “I want to quit my job.” As if saying it out loud didn’t put enough weight on it, I was asked a follow up question, “When do you want to do this by?” “Uh… by the end of the year.” “As in the end of 2013, or a year from now?” “A year from now.” There it was. At 11pm on a Tuesday night, I said it out loud. I had until September of 2014 to get a new job.
Today is my last day at my current job. The improv community got me to admit I wanted a new job, supported me when I came to rehearsal nearly in tears after an awful day, encouraged me that leaving my job would not only improve my life, but my comedy as well, and eventually hooked me up with my new company.
But it’s so much more than that.
My first introduction to the Chicago comedy scene was made through Brian Posen. On my first day of class he told us that improv would change our lives… that he’s seen people move, get married, change jobs – all through improv. I didn’t believe him. Was I wrong or what?
Improv taught me to live for today. That’s one of the biggest lessons that you’ll get from this art form. You live in the moment. Don’t get caught up talking about what you did in the past, don’t get caught up talking about the future… the audience wants to see you deal with what is happening right now. Notes such as “This is the moment” “It’s all about the now” and “Today is the day something wonderful happens” fill my notebooks. Don’t live a life hoping that something wonderful will come in the future. Make it happen now. If you’re miserable with some aspect of your life, you have to deal with it right away. Why should I spend 40 hours of my week miserable?
If you don’t like something, change it. As a writer, I find a metaphor in everything. A few months ago, my teacher was telling us that if we initiate the scene as a tree and five minutes in, our arms are tired and we can’t hold the pose anymore, then transform into something else. If you don’t like where you’re at, you’re the only one with the power to change it. Since your team loves and supports you, they’ll adapt to your change. You should never feel stuck… you always have the power to change things. For so long I was sitting in my job thinking that I couldn’t change what was around me. I thought that I should just be grateful that I’m employed and suck it up. I have a great life outside of my 9-5 so is it really all that bad? I was a tree whose arms were unbelievably tired and I had to just take that leap.
Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you’re ready. Todd Edwards nailed this into our heads. Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you’re ready because they never will. If you really want something, go for it. Don’t wait around for things to come to you. That’s not how it works. We all would love to think that if we just continue to work hard and be a good person, the universe will just hand us an opportunity. I spent a good year saying that I’m “always looking for a job.” I use that phrase because I think it nails down the fact that you’re not really looking that hard. When you’re “always looking” then you’re really just applying to something that may come across on some idle Saturday but spending most of your time just wishing you had a different job. Waiting for someone to come to you and hand you an opportunity. That’s not going to happen. You have to let people know you’re looking and apply for everything you come across. You have to work really hard for it. No one is going to give you anything – you have to work.
Good mentors can make you work hard without screaming at you. The main reason I had to leave my job was because I was treated horribly at work by one person. I was constantly getting yelled at for nothing. Literally nothing. The other day I was screamed at because our computer system shut down. Mind you, I’m not in the IT department & the system shut down because of a virus I didn’t cause. That doesn’t make me want to work hard. That doesn’t make me want to impress anyone. I define myself as a hard worker. It’s part of who I am and who I’ve always been. I always want to do my best. However, when someone yells at me over trivial things for two years, I’m unmotivated. When someone screams at our janitor for taking out the trash that she accidentally threw something important into, it doesn’t push me to succeed. What pushes me? Good people who earnestly care about the result of your product. When I had Jay Steigmann for writing, I worked my ass off. For every sketch she assigned, I’d write three… then rewrite them until I felt like I was turning in something that reflected my potential as a writer. This wasn’t because she was some insane hard-ass who demanded excellence. It was because she actually cared about what we produced. Her feedback was valuable and on point, which meant that I was willing to work harder so that when it came time for her to review it, my notes wouldn’t be that I should have proofread, or that it was sloppy, or that I lacked point of view. I wanted my notes to be something that I wouldn’t have thought of before because I already put everything I could into the first draft. Getting someone to work hard doesn’t mean being on their ass all the time. It means embodying your work so that they want to impress you. The other night my improv class with Jason Shotts ran an hour and fifteen minutes over. Our three hour class turned into four hours and fifteen minutes of the hardest work I’ve ever done. At the end, I was left absolutely exhausted, drained and physically spent. He pushed us to out limits, but he did it out of love because he wanted us to realize our potential. We worked hard because we all collectively cared about the work being done… including the teacher. If you want people to care and perform well, you have to care and perform well too.
Follow the fear. Jay Sukow, who is one of best human beings I’ve come across, nailed this one into our brains. The main reason why I didn’t leave my job earlier was because I was afraid of the unknown. I wanted to wait around for a “safe” job to come across. Something that felt like a safe transition. However, that job doesn’t exist. Anything was going to be a risk. I had nothing to lose and I was still scared. Eventually I just needed to get over that. It wasn’t easy. As I was interviewing for other jobs, I kept thinking about what could go wrong. My past experience made me expect the worst. But honestly… nothing is safe. When I got my old job, I thought I had my dream job. It was the exact field I wanted to go into. Then what happened? I realized that it wasn’t where I was meant to be. So even when you think you’re safe, you’re not. Even now, as I’m headed into a new job, I’m terrified of the unknown. If Jay didn’t constantly remind me to follow my fears, I would probably spend another two years sitting around waiting for something safe. Just go for it.
Most of all, you deserve to be happy. A key part of being happy is feeling worthy as a human and spending your time with those who build you up. People who want the best for you. About a month ago, I had a panic attack at work. That was the straw that broke my back. I went so long without having any… I went so many years with the ability to keep my anxiety at bay. I was simply not willing to go back down that path because of a job. The improv community is full of people who are dedicating their lives to making others happy. They’re simply some of the best people in the world. When I’m at my worst, I know that I can turn to these people to raise me up. I found true happiness through them and I learned that I deserve to be happy in all aspects of my life. There’s no one holding you down and telling you to stay miserable. If you don’t like something, change it.
So touché, Brian Posen. Improv changed my life.
Also, added bonus… for those of you who aren’t in the improv community, enjoy this video I made about a month back of my time in Chicago’s comedy community. I hope it gives you half the vibe of this wonderful world.