A picture of my nephew getting ready for the Justin Bieber concert at the Skydome. While I am not a JB fan, I can appreciate that being at that concert was probably one of the best nights of his five year old life.
Bill Murray on Gilda Radner:
“Gilda got married and went away. None of us saw her anymore. There was one good thing: Laraine had a party one night, a great party at her house. And I ended up being the disk jockey. She just had forty-fives, and not that many, so you really had to work the music end of it. There was a collection of like the funniest people in the world at this party. Somehow Sam Kinison sticks in my brain. The whole Monty Python group was there, most of us from the show, a lot of other funny people, and Gilda. Gilda showed up and she’d already had cancer and gone into remission and then had it again, I guess. Anyway she was slim. We hadn’t seen her in a long time. And she started doing, “I’ve got to go,” and she was just going to leave, and I was like, “Going to leave?” It felt like she was going to really leave forever.
So we started carrying her around, in a way that we could only do with her. We carried her up and down the stairs, around the house, repeatedly, for a long time, until I was exhausted. Then Danny did it for a while. Then I did it again. We just kept carrying her; we did it in teams. We kept carrying her around, but like upside down, every which way—over your shoulder and under your arm, carrying her like luggage. And that went on for more than an hour—maybe an hour and a half—just carrying her around and saying, “She’s leaving! This could be it! Now come on, this could be the last time we see her. Gilda’s leaving, and remember that she was very sick—hello?”
We worked all aspects of it, but it started with just, “She’s leaving, I don’t know if you’ve said good-bye to her.” And we said good-bye to the same people ten, twenty times, you know.
And because these people were really funny, every person we’d drag her up to would just do like five minutes on her, with Gilda upside down in this sort of tortured position, which she absolutely loved. She was laughing so hard we could have lost her right then and there.
It was just one of the best parties I’ve ever been to in my life. I’ll always remember it. It was the last time I saw her.”
Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall and Spencer Tracy.
When I first heard the song just a few years ago, I just thought he had written it for me. But then when I listened to it more, I thought it’s just a beautiful expression of how we are toward each other as people. We don’t think that we are sufficient for each other - that no one wants to know the real me or the whole me. I just want to give you the part of me that I think you expect to see from me. And almost as if that little part of me is more than the whole of me because I don’t want to give you any of the poison.
|—||Kurt Vonnegut, Slapstick|
The New York Post published an interview with Adam Carolla on Sunday in which he said, among other things, “dudes are funnier than chicks,” and, regarding writing for television, “they make you hire a certain number of chicks, and they’re always the least funny on the writing staff.”
I was lucky enough to spend a summer living in New York while taking improv classes at UCB. I had a lot of incredible teachers and made wonderful friends. One of those friends shared a letter of encouragement written by Zach Woods (my favourite parts are Peter Gwinn’s advice to get new shoes and how Zach writes a lovely message and then apologizes for it). This is the letter:
I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. Everyone gets in ruts from time to time, and I know how discouraging it feels. While there are some things you can do to help, I think the short (and probably disappointing) answer is you’ve just got to ride it out. Ruts always last longer than we want them to, but they don’t last forever. So try to be patient….as impossible as that sounds.
Here’s some other stuff….
-I think sometimes people who care a great deal about improv can get so wrapped up in the improv community and improv itself that their self-esteem becomes dependent on the quality of their improv. This happens to me more often than I’d like, and it’s always bad news for both my improv and my self-esteem. I think it’s important to remember (especially when you’re in a slump) that the qualities that make you valuable as a human being have nothing to do with group games or tag-outs. Whether or not you’re a worthwhile person has nothing to do with improv. If you’re doing awesome shows, you could still be an asshole, if you’re doing bad shows you could still be a kind, generous guy. Hopefully you’re not neurotic enough to be plagued by these issues, but, I know I am, so I figured I’d mention this stuff, just in case. So….
Remind yourself that your value as a person is in no way related to, or dependent on the quality of your improv.
- Another thing that can put people in their heads is a need to “achieve.”
While it’s great to get some validation in the form of recognition or approval, I think it’s best not to put too much stock in external recognition. The warm, mushy feeling that comes from ‘achieving’ (getting put on a team, class, etc.) is fleeting, and soon you’re back to worrying and working and trying to improve. I think it’s good to be patient and to move at your own rate. Try not to measure your progress against other people’s progress. I know that’s hard (maybe impossible) but I think if you allow yourself to improve at your own rate, it liberates you from the self-conscious, insecure, self-flaggelation that is anathema to good improv. Put your nose to the grindstone and do the work. It’s important to have goals, but I think it’s also important that those goals be rooted in personal progress rather than external achievement.
- Slumps are sometimes a result of improv-overkill. If you’ve been watching and doing improv constantly, it’s possible that you’re a bit burnt out. Good improv isn’t inspired by other improv, it’s inspired by life. If all you do is do/watch improv, you may have a deficit of life experiences to draw from. Take time to do the non-improv activities that you enjoy— things that have absolutely nothing to do with comedy. This will allow you to recharge. It will also put you back in touch with the things that make you unique and interesting as a person. That stuff is essential to good improv. Improv isn’t just about game and technique, it’s also about personality. It’s important to take time to do non-comedy things that make you who you are. Listen to the music you like, read a book, fly a kite, hang out with your non-improv friends, go swimming, walk a dog, do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t require a coach. Just get away from improv.
In a weird way it’s kind of like the game of a scene. If all you do in a scene is hit game, game, game, and you never play the reality of the scene, both the game and the scene will feel inorganic and contrived. Similarly, in life, if all you do is improv, improv, improv, and you don’t do interesting, fun non-improv stuff, your improv will feel stiff, and your life won’t feel so good either (in my experience).
-Get a new pair of shoes. I don’t know if this works, but I was in a slump once and I asked Peter Gwinn what I should do. He told me to get new shoes and wear them during rehearsals/shows. Make sure they are significantly different from the shoes you currently wear to rehearsals/performances. This might be bullshit, but it might be a miracle cure.
-Eat healthy, sleep well, exercise. I find that this stuff makes a huge difference. Taking care of your body allows you to focus better, etc. You probably already do this, but if not, eat some soy and get 8 hours of REM.
- If you feel like a show/rehearsal went badly, don’t beat yourself up. If you notice yourself moping or obsessing over the show, try to do something to take your mind off it. You are not helping your improv by mentally abusing yourself. Self-flaggelation is just a way of indulging one’s own insecurities and fears. Sometimes you can’t help it, but try to avoid abusing yourself if you can.
- And remember, your slump is temporary. It’s more in your own head than in reality.
Be patient, relax, and your slump will pass. Seriously.
You’re going to be alright,
PS. I apologize if this email comes off as pedantic and/or convoluted.