I’m scared to write this.
I’ve been thinking about it for months and I keep sitting down in front of the keyboard and suddenly finding a reason to do literally anything else.
Sometimes I get jealous of other improvisers.
There we are. I said it. I even italicised it.
It feels like such an awful thing to say. Especially when our art form is all about support. We should be elevating each other’s ideas, not shooting them down. Sometimes a show is so good, I pass through enjoyment and out the other side into jealousy. I start to feel sad. I compare what those brilliant improvisers do with my own paltry skills and I realise I haven’t laughed for a good ten minutes. Instead I’m spiralling. My internal critic pops his squinty-eyed face around the doorframe of my subconscious and starts speaking directly to all my insecurities.
But I love improv so much.
One of the reasons it’s so hard is because of my perceived place in my own improv community. I’m a teacher and a director and I play on a couple of teams that regularly tour internationally. I feel like I should be pretty good by now. I am pretty good a lot of the time. But every now and then, I can’t stop myself from comparing.
Mark Twain said “comparison is the death of joy”.
Theodore Roosevelt said “comparison is the thief of joy”.
But who said it better?
(bit of comparison humour for you there)
Either way, they’re both right. You start comparing yourself to other people, your joy levels are going to take a hit. And unfortunately improv thrives on joy.
When I see an outstanding improv show — 95% of me is thrilled. Transported. Enraptured.
But that other 5% — oh boy.
I say all this for a couple of reasons. Firstly because if I feel like this, I’m sure other people do too. Hell, I KNOW other people do too. So if any of this chimes with you, know you’re not alone. That’s important.
And secondly, I’m getting better. I’ve developed some strategies. And they work. So here are a couple of pointers for next time someone else’s brilliance begins to tie your self-esteem in knots.
- Tell people when they’ve had a good show. Don’t sulk. Don’t leave. Go up to them and tell them what you loved. Be specific. It almost always means the world to them. And doing something positive goes a long way to chase away the ambient negativity.
- Understand that someone being amazing at improv, doesn’t preclude you from being amazing too. This isn’t a zero-sum game. The world is wide enough for Hamilton and me, as Aaron Burr once memorably sang. I know this seems simple but REALLY try to internalise this idea. Improv prowess is not a finite resource.
- Finally, remember that improv is first and foremost an art form but it’s also an incredible community to socialise within. Watching people be goddamn insanely talented is the natural consequence of knowing a load of goddamn insanely talented people. It goes with the territory. Enjoy it. Look who you get to be friends with.
I feel much better about this stuff nowadays. I feel like I’ve claimed back a part of myself — that bit that fell in love with improv in the first place.
My final 5%.
And I know I’ll never sing like Rhiannon or play characters like Cariad or think as quickly as Katy but that’s alright. There are other things I can do better than them. Like jump chairs.
Even better, we get to use all that talent to make each other look good.
And that makes me feel joyful all over again.
Hello. I’m Chris. I’m an improviser, director and podcaster. If you like this article then consider sharing it with your own improv community. You can find out more about me on my website — take a workshop with me, see one of my shows or just listen to my improv podcast. You can subscribe to my newsletter here.
And if you want to talk about any of this, please, please email me.