Ever make eye contact with your teammates after a bad show? It looks like everyone failed an audition while getting dumped by their lover and having their dog euthanized simultaneously.
Psychology Today says disappointment is the third most-felt emotion, after love and regret. Makes sense. We love improv, we regret moves we made or didn’t make in a show, and we feel disappointed after a bad performance.
But damn, people, this is part of the gig. Every performer has bombed. Every performer. You will bomb. It’s natural. It happens. It’s part of an improviser’s life cycle. I once spent a scene debating the merits of the Philadelphia Eagles receiving corps to a stone-silent audience. And my scene partner was probably like, “What the hell just got into him? And why are we five receivers deep right now?”
We are so relentlessly hard on ourselves in this business. It would be easier to take if we were equally proud when we succeed. In my experience, the success last a day at most. The failures haunt you.
Here’s how I cope with a bad show…
1) Allow the disappointment and anger and blame to run rampant for just a moment. Blame the audience. Blame the burrito you ate right before the show. Blame your team. Blame your coach. Blame the theater. Blame the planet. Blame yourself.
2) Slam the brakes on that nonsense. It’s improv. It’s gone. Gone. Your hissy fit can’t fix the past. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
3) Look at your contribution. How did this show feel, compared to those shows where you felt great? Did you say or do something unusual that affected your subsequent performance? Audiences will always forgive a weird line or a fumbled pronunciation or a nonsensical move. If you let a “mistake” get in your head, you’re screwing yourself.
4) Get back to basics. Most of the time, you failed because you missed something rudimentary. Did you listen? Were you present in the moment? Did you make an emotional character choice? Did you chase the show or let it come to you? Remind yourself of the simple things. You can do them. You’ll do them again. You’ll succeed.
5) Don’t give up. I’ve played with hundreds (thousands?) of improvisers in classes. All but a few dozen gave up at some point. No one can make you quit except you. And this bad show is not the end of your career. I promise.
In the NBA playoffs, Michael Jordan made nine game winning or tying shots. He also missed nine. That’s 50%, baby. If I told you that the success of all your shows rested on your shoulders, and you’d fail at half of them, would you perform? People far smarter, funnier and more talented than you have left a bloody trail of failure on the same stages you’re on. And if you don’t want to take the shot, someone else will.
Stand up. Dust yourself off. Correct repeated mistakes. Try again. Remember why you love this. There’s always another audience waiting.
Got an improv question? E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com