A lot of people think 2016 stunk like poop. And it many ways it did. But if there’s one thing my recent trip down Morning-Affirmations-Lane has taught me, it’s that sometimes is does the body a lot more good to focus on the positive rather than the poop.
So here’s a little highlight of some of the things I consider to be accomplishments from the year 2016 (in no particular order):
- Created/produced a new show called What If? Improvising Your Alternate Universe in which I get to play with some of my favourite people and live out the catharsis of some very interesting storytellers. The shows kicked off at Comedy Bar’s “Festival of New Formats” in January, and we’ve at least a show a month every since then, including a trip to showcase the show in Ottawa in March (and another one coming up in January.)
- Wrote a handful satirical articles that were published on CBC Comedy‘s website.
- Recorded 16 episodes of my podcast The Constant Struggle with my brother Nick, and we got to know more about many of our artist friends and the hard work they do to create their art.
- Placed on a Longform Grad Team at The Second City Training Centre alongside some wickedly talented performers. We’re called Chakra Khan and we perform regularly on Thursday and Sunday nights at the John Candy Box Theatre.
- Asked to produce one of the coolest shows in the Second City Longform Program’s new Thursday night line-up. It’s called POPAGANDA and I get to work with my bae, Antonis Varkaris, who hosts the show with an unmatched flare. To date, we’ve booked so many of my favourite improvisers, I think I may have lost count. (That’s a lie, I have a spreadsheet keeping track of everyone who’s performed.)
- My show Guess Who’s Coming to Improv? continues to bring improvisers together outside the classroom and with some of our improv heroes.
- Asked to participate in a review of my college program; where I feel my opinion was genuinely considered.
- Performed in a duo with my wonderful friend Ashley Seaman.
- Accepted to perform in the Big City Improv Festival.
- Spoke on a festival panel about producing.
- Awarded “Female MVP” on my comedy softball team. ❤ Jokebox.
- Asked to be a model for the first time in my life & got to walk the catwalk at the Halton / Hamilton Bridal Show thanks to Bella Mia Bridal.
- Performed in my first international festival alongside my bud David Lahti with The Utilidors at the Boston Comedy Arts Festival and got to play in the All-Star Traveller’s Improv Jam which was total chaos and complete fun!
- Travelled to Calgary for the first time in over 10 years to Emcee my first wedding (OMG how has it taken this long, this is my dream “job”) for 2 of my very good friends, Colleen Chan & Philippe Laroche.
- Pitched a show to CBC with my great writing partner Chris Hedrick.
- Asked to produce Monday shows all summer long for alumni of the Humber College Comedy Program.
- Graduated from the Second City’s Longform Program alongside some wonderful baes.
- Travelled to Ottawa to teach a sketch comedy writing workshop for women.
- Formed a duo with one of my favourite improvisers Leanne Miller.
- Performed on a team in a French improv league in Toronto.
- Performed in the SheDot Festival alongside my platonic life wife Gillian English.
- Was featured in a live promotional radio interview.
- Was asked to be on a comedy radio show that also featured the Kids in the Hall’s Scott freakin’ Thompson! (And the delightful Stephanie Herreira)
- Produced and performed in my second annual World War One-themed improv show to raise funds for the Vimy Foundation.
- Asked to host shows for the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival.
- Took a road trip to NYC & got to see a taping of Late Night with Stephen Colbert, ASSSCAT 3000 at UCB and Dave Attell at the Comedy Cellar.
- Performed an out-of-town stand-up show for a birthday party in Kitchener, ON.
- Produced a night of stand-up and storytelling where comedians openly spoke about mental health issues; as a fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association.
- Helped a friend develop a concept for a new improv show in association with the Second City Training Centre. She’s still running it today!
On top of all that, I spent quite a bit of time planning my biggest show of the year; the one where I married my best friend; my partner in silliness Dan Dingwall.
2016 was a pretty big year for me. And I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store.
Happy New Year everybody!
A job posting came up. I looked at it, and thought – what a cool job, but there’s no way I would ever get it. I’m don’t have enough experience.
But someone encourages me to apply. So I do.
I get the interview. I feel confident in the interview. It’s a job in Canadian comedy. I know Canadian comedy. I feel good.
Months pass. Months!
I find out this week, I didn’t get the job.
I don’t have enough experience.
The Social Capital Theatre is such a great place to go to feel tremendous support from a huge variety of your fellow improvisers in the community. It’s unpretentious, collaborative and so positively uplifting.
My advice: go there more.
My cat just came up to join me as I was deciding to write about a decision I recently made to stop working for a company where I hope to one day work in a more significant capacity, but which for the moment was providing me with more challenges, stress and difficulties than benefits.
The cat is chewing on my sunglasses, which I will now place in my desk. (The cat or the sunglasses? You decide.)
Sometimes l don’t know what decision is the right one to make for my future. So much of what I read in terms of motivational literature has to do with choosing your own path, and being in control of your own life’s successes and failures; not being the victim of circumstance.
But in an industry full of gatekeepers, it’s sometimes difficult to truly believe you’re the captain of your own ship. It’s like, sometimes I just want to dock my ship at a cool space station, but space-parking is full, and maybe I’m too space-early, or space-late to ever be allowed in.
Everything will happen for my highest good. That’s one of the affirmations I try to remember when I get to feeling this way.
It’s just that sometimes I just wish my highest good was at that damn space station.
Today, I used some of the principles of improv to get me through my first stand-up set in two months. In hindsight, I feel really dumb for not having thought of it earlier. Although, I guess I had to fully understand it in improv in order to be able to translate it elsewhere.
I was feeling very nervous for my set tonight. It was a competition-style show, which I detest. Actually, I’m sortof anti-competition as a whole. I’m very socialist in that way. (Down with the free market!) I posted about it on Facebook, my hands were shaking, it was all the nerves I’ve had since starting stand-up all 5 years ago.
So I thought to myself: why don’t you get nervous in improv anymore? What’s different about this?
And I remembered a few things that’ve really hit me in the past few months of my improv study:
- Fuck the Audience – I got in trouble with my longform class (now team) about this one. But I stand by it. If you keep trying to please the audience, you’re never going to get the response you want. It’ll never feel authentic, it’ll always feel forced. At the end of the day, you have to trust in your own brain that what you’re doing is funny. That you, yourself find it funny. And people can laugh, or they can NOT laugh. You have to be OK with that NOT mattering. That frees you up a bit. And the nerves calmed down.
- Fuck Memorization – (for this one, I got a bit of help from my friend Pete, who attended the show.) I asked him why he thinks I feel so comfortable when I host an improv show, which is basically being alone on stage, with a mic (or not) and getting the crowd pumped up by being funny and generally charismatic (much like a stand-up set.) But when the moment comes for me to shift that into that stand-up mode, I panic. I decided it was because you have to have all your jokes memorized, and I’m not great at memorizing lines, (which is one of the reasons I’ve never booked a commercial.) When hosting, you’re more free to keep things loose. Pete suggested looking at my set-list just as a guideline; that I wasn’t expected to go up there and say things word-for-word. (Which is the opposite of a lot of my stand-up teachings.) Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I should throw away the joke-writing process. I’ve studied that enough to know how a set-up and a punchline works, and how important timing and delivery are, but looking at it in looser terms, instead of memorizing and reciting it as you have a million times, makes the process feel more natural, and for me, less nerve-wracking.
- None of this actually fucking matters – It’s one set in a million. This, I had reminded to me in an episode of The Backline Podcast earlier today. If you have a bad set, just get up on stage soon and try again. Your next one will go better. (My fiancé keeps telling me this too, but for some reason it never quite sinks in.) This obviously applies to stand-up just as it does to improv. (although I don’t have bad improv sets anymore) *blows on fingernails. (Yeah, right!) Seeing this as just a show, and not some big deal competition helped me relax a bit.
- CONNECT – OK so, this may be counterintuitive with point #1. But when I say “Fuck the audience” I really mean forget them in your process / choice of joke-selection / choice of joke-writing. When it’s time to actually get on that stage, I LOVE looking at the audience and connecting with them. It’s something I enjoy a lot while hosting improv shows too, so why WOULDN’T I apply that to my stand-up? It used to scare the crap out of me to break out of my routine and make eye-contact with the audience. But looking at them in the face, reading their body-language, it’s so important! Hosting shows has really helped me understand the energy of a room. I know when to pick up my own energy, and when I can play around with dipping it and sometimes killing it completely. I WANT to make the people in the audience feel like we’re sharing an experience together.
So, I applied these techniques to my set tonight, and I sincerely feel I had a pretty good one. I tried out some new jokes that worked really well. The audience was VERY receptive and it was an all-in-all good time.
I’m not saying this is a surefire trick to a 100% success rate. I know it’s not going to work in a quiet room of only other comedians, but tonight, it worked.
Tonight for the first time, I used improv to help my stand-up.
Yes, And I fucked the audience.
Me, teaching an Intro to Improv workshop to a group of grade 8 girls:
“In life as in improv, it’s important never ever to say nooooooh waitaminute……. let me rephrase that..!”