It’s been 4 months since I moved to Chicago with great expectations of immersing in the scene via the big three comedy institutions. But as of late, I’ve been writing and performing more stand up and solo sketches than I ever imagined I would. My focus has completely shifted.
Chicago’s scene consists of a ton of young, talented performers whose paths of success have been paved by famous people’s tracks by getting on a Harold Team, then Second City Mainstage, then SNL. And then what? Maybe a movie. And then what? Maybe more money - and then WHAT??
After spending some time here , I realized that most people simply want some vague idea of fame: the Ultimate Validation. But it’s just not enough.
A lot of folks out here ask the same questions: “What classes are you taking? What level are you in? What team are you on?” As if simply going through the motions will magically transform you into Scott Adsit or Tina Fey. Sure Tim Robinson, my current comedy hero, went trough all the same steps but what we need to understand is that those steps were taken to develop his POV - which led him to produce his own work which led SNL to want him in this season’s cast.
Because most people don’t understand what they really want, it’s easy to fall into the traps of comparing yourself to others and feeling “ahead” or “behind” the curve. The truth of the matter is is that the curve is not real. The path laid out is an imaginary roadmap that we perceive in order to help build a context around the scariest unknown in life: The Future.
It’s important to clearly define your end game and put your head down and work. And just do YOU, not your version of somebody else. After diving in head first here, I realized that all of this nonsense comes down to me getting up every night and telling my story, which is constantly evolving. For me, life is too erratic and fucked up for me to experience it alone. I get on stage so I can feel connected to other human beings, to understand that I’m not alone. All the fame and possible fortune eventually leads back to this - the more people I can reach the better.
I’m reminded of the Robert Frost poem, but instead of choosing the road less traveled, I choose to pave a tertiary road, one no one’s walked yet. Be the first or be the best, leave the roads traveled for the rest. Below is an excerpt from Will Hines who talks about improv and its end game:
"I think a career in improv has seriously diminishing returns for stuff that translates into a paying job. At first, it can connect you to a network of like-minded people, and help you develop your voice and your confidence. And then after some amount of time, you’ve met the people you’re going to meet and your voice is as developed as it’s going to and you should get rid of all that time you’re spending in rehearsal and write your own stuff." - Will Hines, UCBT NY
Exactly 3 months ago, I landed in O’Hare and was met by a dull, gray and bitchy Chicago chill. Recalling summers in Chicago to be magically hot and humid, I packed 10 tshirts, 3 pairs of shorts and a pair of flip flops. “An ominous sky”, I thought. My improv brother and mysteriously diffident ladies man Chris Blair picked me up; we smoked and pontificated on how inspiring ‘Summer of 2012’ was going to be. I had no idea what was about to happen.
ACT 1: The Immersion
In attempts to horribly bore you with my improv indulgences, below is the training I maniacally crafted for my adult summer camp:
At one point I was improvising 11 Hours a day (including rehearsals for a one-act play in which I was lucky to be cast).
Serendipitously, I was assigned to a iO Summer Intensive section full of hardcore improvisers who were more geeked out about this than I was. Under the guidance of Lyndsay Hailey, we took leaps of faith with each other emotionally off and on the stage. We couldn’t wait to play together so we started booking and performing in barprov gigs, on two Second City stages and at the Del Close theater. I was spending 6-9 hours a day with 13 other people who agreed to be shockingly vulnerable and unnervingly inspiring. Instantly, we became Visibly Tight.
ACT II: The Revelation
Something interesting happened as I clearly overdosed on my favorite drug this summer: Over the course of 24 hours a week for 5 weeks at iO, I received the same exact note over and over again: “Stop taking care of everyone else in the scene and have fun! Play the scene you WANT to be in”. I could not understand what these teachers were talking about. I WAS having fun. This was Summer Camp for adults! I HAD TO BE HAVING FUN!! Right?
I noticed that I was having fun when I initiated scenes, because I was so used to starting strong from training at the Annoyance before taking classes at iO. But when coming off a Harold opening or when my partner initiated, I was too busy looking for the "RIGHT" choice to make, instead of making the choice I found fun. We all say, “let’s have fun up there!” But what the hell does that mean? I realized that I haven’t been having fun with improv for a while now. I was faking it.
The impetus for creating EndGames in San Francisco was a desperate need to be a part of a thriving improv scene; one of which reflected the scene I fell in love with while studying at the UCB in New York. While I was building the platform for myself and other like-minded comedians to share our voices, the mountains of administrative work and the pressure of producing and promoting shows and classes became psychologically insurmountable. Being the first born son of poor immigrants and a classic Sagittarius (I think), I’m prone to lead, structure and make sure others are cared for. I lost my joy in doing the goddamn thing. It became work.
ACT III: The Return
EndGames approaches its 2 Year Anniversary in San Francisco (9/4)! And in that short amount of time, we’ve been so lucky to have graced the pages of SF Weekly, SF Gate, SF Bay Guardian, Bay Stages and have been named #1 Nightlife Choice on Yelp. Helping to build out the scene in SF has been an incredible journey and blessing that not many folks get to experience. I’m so excited for the launch of EndGames 2.0! What?
It’s been our tradition to make a mess and catch up to it, and every single time it’s motivated talented, hard working individuals to double down and commit to the scene and I truly believe that’s made all the difference for us. That’s why we are moving into the StageWerx Theater in the Mission on October 11, 2012. 6 shows a week, Thursday and Friday nights. I have 100% confidence and faith that the producers and teams will shock the once sleepy improv town into a city buzzing of smart, subversive improv comedy.
And with that confidence, I’ve decided to move to Chicago and extend by trip for another year.
As the haze of the iO Summer intensive hangover slowly lifts, it’s clear that there’s no better time than this. I need to continue honing my unique comedic voice and follow the single advice every single iO teacher has told me: "Stop taking care of everyone else in the scene and have fun! Play the scene you WANT to be in". Chicago is where I want to be right now. San Francisco is my end game.