I’ve often felt like quitting performing improv, but every time I feel like that something happens to get me back into it, and sometimes the inspiration can come from unexpected places.
Most recently it was from watching the Louie CK sitcom Louie, which is the best thing I’ve seen all year. At places it feels like the show is talking directly to me, it’s really funny, and also features a surprising amount of advice and guidance for up and coming performers.
The scene below in particular I found helpful.
In this scene Louie has just done a shitty comedy gig in the smaller Lounge Room at a casino, and ended up quitting his job there. He bumps into Joan Rivers after the show, who is also performing at the casino but in the bigger theatre space, and here’s what happens:
[clink of glasses]
Joan: To comedy
Louie: Thank you very much
Joan: So, you’re in the lounge?
Louie: Well, I was
Joan: You were fired?
Louie: I quit
Joan: What do you mean you quit? Nobody quits
Louie: I quit
Joan: Are you crazy? Are you a trust fund baby that you quit?
Louie: No, it’s just they got upset because I was saying stuff about the casino, I was making fun of Trump.
Joan: You’re in a Trump hotel. You don’t fun of the owner of the hotel, are you crazy? He’s not going to hire a comedian that’s going to say fuck Donald Trump.
Louie: I know but I just I
Joan: You know, this is not an easy business. You want to try my life sometimes? I work at Arizona, how about that? And Indian casinos, you think that’s easy? You tell a joke they don’t like, instead of a tomato they throw a tomahawk. What do you expect? I mean, you’ve got a job, how lucky are you for goodness sakes?
Louie: Yeah but come on, you’re in the nice theatre here. They’ve got me in the shitty lounge.
Joan: I was in the shitty lounge sweety puss, two years ago. For all I know I’ll be back in the shitty lougne two years from now, and you’ll be in the main room. Things change, that’s the business. Look at the perks you are getting, you’ve got a job, you’ve got a card for the free food in the employee cafeteria. I mean stop bitching and go buy a pocket that’s lined with plastic and throw food in when nobody’s looking.
Louie: Yeah great.
Joan: You know what’s wrong with you guys? You don’t know when you’re lucky. Appreciate where you are for god’s sakes. It goes up it goes down. I thought I had the lock on old. And then guess what? Back from the dead, Betty White. Dusted off her old dumb tits and trotted them out. It could happen to you. You think you’re doing so well and then Dane, what’s his name, Dane Cook guy that asshole, he could come out and take your job from you. Know when you’re lucky.
Louie: Yeah I know. Yeah I know all that. It’s just sometimes I get sick of the bullshit.
Joan: Sick of the bullshit?? What is your problem? I am a million years old, do you know that? Do you know what I’ve been through? I’ve been in this business for a million and two years, and I’m a woman. It’s not easy. Do you know how many blowjobs I had to give to get where I am now? Come one, give me a number, give me a number? How many blowjobs did it take for Joan Rivers to end up in a suite with lots of flowers?
Louie: I don’t want to guess that.
Joan: Come on guess, come on. To go from clubs to Carson from Carson to Fox and my own show on daytime and an Emmy and then the red carpet, come give me a number.
Louie: I don’t want to guess.
Joan: Guess guess come on, give me a number. I want to hear your number.
Joan: Excuse me?
Louie: Around 40.
Joan: What the fuck? How dare you! [she hits and slaps him]
Louie: I’m sorry
Joan: I haven’t given any, none! None!
Louie: I’m sorry
Joan: I don’t do blowjobs. Smell my breath. I don’t do blowjobs!
Louie: I’m sorry.
Joan: That’s not what gets you places in this business for god’s sakes. God.
Louie: I thought you were saying it was a lot, I’m sorry.
Joan: Don’t talk to me anymore.
Louie: I’m sorry.
Joan: Listen, I’m a mother, are you a mother?
Louie: No, I’m not a mother.
Joan: Yeah well I thought you were, the way you whine like an old bitch with fat twins, that’s what you whine like. And you listen to me, I have done it all. I have done it all. And the only thing I’ve learnt, the only thing I’ve learnt is, you don’t quit. You don’t quit. You have a job for god’s sakes, you don’t quit a job.
Louie: You’re right.
Joan: Of course I’m right. Listen, you’ll be fine. You’ll be absolutly fine. Tomorrow morning you go down stairs, and you go tell Sam, it is still Sam right?
Louie: I don’t know, I don’t remember his name.
Joan: What do you mean you don’t remember his name? You work for the guy, you’ve got to know the guy’s name. How can you work with someone and not know their name? You think you only meet these people once? You’ve got to learn their names for god’s sake. You learn their names on the way up, so when you need their help on the way down you have their name.
Louie: His name is Sam, I think his name is Sam.
Joan: His name is Sam, and he is a person. Tomorrow morning you go down there and you say ‘Sam, I’m sorry, I was wrong’ that’s important ‘I want my job back’
Louie: Ok, alright
Joan: Listen, I wish I could tell you it gets better, but, it doesn’t get better, you get better. You think it’s been easy? I’ve been up I’ve been down I’ve been bankrupt I’ve been broke. But you do it. You do it because….we love it more than anything else. That’s why you’re doing it. If you want a real job honey, there are a million things you can do, but what we do is not a job. It sounds so stupid, what we do….is a calling, my dear. We make people happy. It’s a calling.
Books to read if you feel like quitting
I also find the following books really helpful:
The War of Art
The Artist’s Way
“The only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Aristotle
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Theodore Roosevelt
“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” Earl Nightingale
“You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” Jim Carey (full video at http://youtu.be/V80-gPkpH6M)
“You are either going to do something, or you’re not. Decide what one it’s going to be and commit, but don’t fuck about in the middle.” My Dad!
Experiment. Play. Allow yourself to get it wrong, but keep playing.
Getting it wrong in front of an audience can feel painful, but it’s part of the learning. Don’t quit, learn from it, keep playing, keep playful. If you’re going to have to get it wrong 1000 times before you’ve finally got it, start getting it wrong now!
“Accelerate your rate of failure” – Keith Johnstone.
Don’t wait for permission
Don’t wait for evidence that you’re on the right track
Don’t wait for approval
Don’t wait for encouragement
Don’t wait for the right time
Do it now
Why people might not give encouragement
Sometimes all we need is someone to say “go for it”! But we have to be able to take action without needing that.
Why don’t people give encouragement? Because by giving encouragement they also feel responsibility for you. They care about you, so want to keep you safe.
So learn that the only person who can take responsibility for you is you. The person who can really say “go for it” to you, is you. Whatever you feel like doing next year, do it.
The subtle ways people quit in improv
These are things I’ve said or done myself over the years and have also seen regularly. Having awareness is helpful!
“I want to perform but I don’t want to do all the admin”. For me this is similar to saying “I want to get into swimming but I don’t want to walk to the swimming pool, and I find the changing rooms a bit chilly”. The best performers I know, who also earn a living from performing, aren’t in a magical place where they don’t do any admin, they do even more of it. But they’ve learnt to do it more efficiently, and they work, hard.
The slow dissolve. This is pretty common, a group is going really well and then it just kind of finishes, without anyone making the decision that it is finished, and before you know it 2 years have gone by. Be fiercer and more honest with yourself, and ask what are you actually doing each week? Keep on top of what you’re doing, and don’t let fun things die. And read War of Art, it’s good for this.
Dropping the ball. The moment when just as someone has finally ‘cracked it’ and is stood on the doorway of success they suddenly stop. Their mind will swamp them with loads of reasons, but actually it’s that the glimmer of success (which also suggests change) scares them and they jeopardise themselves and give up just when they were about to make something amazing. The good news is that if this happens to you, you can pick the ball up again even if it’s years later.
Dropping the ball happened to me with solo performing. I did it a couple of years ago, mixing improv, stand up and characters and loved it so much, received such a loud signal in my head that screamed ‘YOU SHOULD DO THIS’ that I got totally scared and did nothing for two years! I’m only just coming out of my shell with this now, and about to pick up the ball again.
Best of luck everyone!
So don’t quit! I don’t even know who is reading this, but don’t quit! Whatever creative endeavour you’re thinking of doing next year, go for it. It might be hard work, it will be hard work, but it’s worth it.
Do something beautiful that wouldn’t exist if you weren’t there.