11 or so years ago, I was bouncing around in the Washington Improv Troupe. I was working a day job too, because 20-50 bucks a week plus drinks didn’t feed my habit for lunch meat and cheese.
It was around this time, late 98 I think, I was told that I should really explore this part of my life, move to Chicago and train at Second City. I was starting to go GIS and really liked it, and I have this hatred/fear of waiting tables so it became that dream that sits on a shelf and a pull it out whenever my life gets fucked up and I say “woulda coulda shoulda.” We all have that decision point, so I know I’m not unique. If you’re 40 and you haven’t had it yet, you just never recognized it.
But my failed career as a comedy writer isn’t what this is about, its about improv’s only real rule, besides don’t urinate on the audience, but thats really more of a social moray, not a rule. Accept what your team throws at you and go with it. If you block what someone throws at you on stage, its not funny. You block the natural flow of it, its your job to take what they throw, whatever it is, build on it, and keep going. Full acceptance of what is thrown at you, and yes it actually feels like it is being thrown at you, is the key to a successful skit.
I was talking to a friend the other day,and she told me that Tina Fey, who did train at Second City and worked the desk at the Y while doing it, recognized this in her book “Bossypants.” She never says no to her kids, just figures out a way to make it work. I love that philosophy of parenting. Rolling with it. But that isn’t what this post is about either. That’s for another time in the near future.
I had adopted the “Never say No” outlook into my professional life, and it got me to a place where I was a paratrooper. I could be dropped in anywhere, and turn things around regardless of technology, or how effed up the project was. Sure we had requirements documents and other parameters, but that’s just like saying, “You’re a cab driver on the moon” and those are the parameters of the skit.
Then, I get this position, where I love the client, but the company I work for isn’t the greatest. Its a Small Business, and the founder was just looking to cash out on his time in the service and make one last score before he fully retired. My roll with it outlook pushed me over to the point of massive massive burn out. People left, they weren’t replaced, and I was taking on their responsibility, as well as my own. That situation pushed me past a point I didn’t believe existed…..It completely ate me up, and in ways, I still have the professional scars from that situation. My next two positions have suffered because of those scars. Like rebound girlfriends, I treated them without the respect they deserved, its shown in my work, and my attitude.
With the events of the past year disappearing over the horizon, and with other items near resolution, its made me reconsider the “Never say no” aspect of what once was, and what should be my professional character. I need to get back to the “roll with it mentality I had, a scant few years ago.”
Accept what is thrown at you, because that’s all you’re going to get, and for your troupe to continue to perform in this venue, and get free drinks and cab fare home, you gotta be funny, or at least give the audience what they want, and surprise them.