If you aren’t a follower of the Improv Nerd podcast, I highly recommend it. Jimmy Carrane has been improvising since God was a boy, and his podcast is always interesting and insightful.
Sunday morning I woke up and caught the 9:30am train into the city, hoping to get a spot in Jimmy Carrane’s Art of Slow Comedy Intensive. I tried to register a few weeks in advance, but the class size is restricted to 14 and it had already sold out.
Jimmy spoke with the class about two of us on the wait list and they welcomed us into the class. As a result it was a pretty big group – 16 of us all told. Jimmy opened up the class with a vulnerability exercise that really set the tone for the rest of the day. One by one he prodded us to share our fears and insecurities around improv, our relationships, ourselves. At the end of the exercise we grouped up and affirmed what each had shared. Many of us had the same fears, the same hang-ups. We all felt our common humanity and it grounded the work for the rest of the day.
The remainder of the workshop Jimmy customized based on what the class needed and desired. We did a montage of scenes to give Jimmy a feel for each of our performance levels and then he worked us through exercises to refine our skills. His coaching style is inquisitive. He asked if we were open to feedback. When we attempted something based on his direction, he asked how it felt. Most of the time his suggestions had real impact on the performer, but when they didn’t, Jimmy was expert at crafting a different approach.
The result was phenomenal. In the scene-work I was more engaged, felt more intensely, and laughed harder and deeper than I had all weekend long at a variety of shows. There were a few of us in the group who gravitated toward jokes, and Jimmy called us out on that. It was amazing how the audience became engaged when the attempts to be funny were put away. The stakes became real.
One of my favorite scenes was with a young improviser, Megan, who just moved to Chicago from San Francisco. We started the scene preparing to go over to a friends house and I was frustrated (a common persona for me in improv scenes, which Jimmy later called me out on). I had been working on my car and didn’t really want to go. Megan said that several couples were going to be there, but I noticed something in her tone of voice and body language that seemed to indicate there was an ulterior motive. I said, “This isn’t about my drinking, is it? Is this an intervention?!?” From there I blew up and slammed the car hood. We argued briefly and my character calmed down a bit. Then I asked, “When I’m drinking, do I ever frighten you?” She looked me right in the eye and said, “It scared me when you just slammed the car hood.” It was a moment of epiphany for my character and he ended up agreeing to go and get help. It was a beautiful, moving scene.
There were so many great scenes: A gay couple who were thrilled about getting married now that it was legal. They later found that the magic had gone out of their relationship after they married, so they got a divorce and were thrilled to be together again. Another couple met at Agorophobes Anonymous and were forced together by a therapist. Their relationship blossoms as they begin writing each other letters – one even looking forward to leaving the house to walk to the mailbox. Eventually to be closer they buy houses next to each other with a tunnel connecting them underground.
In summary, I was honored to work with Jimmy and such a talented group of improvisers. I thoroughly enjoyed working with everyone, and my only regret was not doing scenes with several of the talented group.