The Improv Life: My Thoughts on “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport
This book was inspired by Steve Martin’s famous quote that he uses as a ready-to-go answer for how to be successful in entertainment whenever he’s asked that question.
One of the book’s main arguments is that passion is overrated, and that chasing a career fueled by passion is extremely difficult and leads to burnout and bitterness when your dream gigs don’t arrive in the timeline you had in your head.
Instead, he urges you to collect “Career Capital” – a high level of skills and experience in a very niche sub field that you enjoy working in which allows you to leverage those skills for more opportunities to your liking.
The more “Career Capital” you can acquire, the more control you can acquire in what type of work you can do.
Finally, if you can center the work you do around a “Mission” (work that excites you, utilizes your skill, and keeps you growing through challenges) then you have it made.
It’s a good quick read, especially for anyone who may find themselves in a career slump and wants to get back to a place where they’re doing work they like.
However, one thing stood out.
It’s a little ironic that this book’s main argument inspired by the author’s interpretation of Steve Martin’s original quote – Be so good they can’t ignore you – is antithetical to the reason for Steve Martin’s success. His passion for comedy and performing and pushing himself as an artist beyond his limits is why he broke through and became successful.
That discovery eats away at me, and I’m trying to find a middle ground where the truth of Steve Martin’s original quote and Cal Newport’s twisted-but-practical interpretation can coexist and feed off each other.
This reminds me of when I heard Metallica’s main riff for “Search and Destroy” sampled for a trap song that I hated the instant I heard it. I got that some people would like it, but I knew the original song too well to accept this crap track.
This was a good book, but the twisted interpretation is going to bug me for a while.
Man, today I had a very special guest. Literally, one of my favorite people in the whole world – David Escobedo, global improviser. Also, this was my first international podcast as David is in England!
Me and David go a ways back since we were both producers for Spectacles Improv Engine, a now defunct theater in Orange County, CA, USA. David and I produced a show called Ladies and Gentlemen, and ever since then I’ve been in awe of the guy.
David is simply amazing. David is on the front lines of the global improv movement. He’s connecting with improvisers from all over the world, connecting with them and collaborating with them, discovering new ways to play and work with another.
His Facebook page, The Improv Boost, is one of the most active and visited Facebook pages for improvisers across the world. David is a community builder, and The Improv Boost is proof of that.
In this podcast, we talk about his improv journey, his recent experiences in the UK Improv Scene, his most recent insights and revelations, and much more.
Here’s What We Talked About
Why it’s nice to have your name pronounced correctly
The Mexican Food in England and where the good spots are
David’s experience as a Mexican-American man from San Diego in England
How there is a lack of awareness of Mexican culture in England, and how this ignorance causes people in the UK to celebrate Mexican culture with the things they know about it, which unfortunately are stereotypes, and how David has to educate people about his culture
David’s journey to becoming a global improviser
How David walking away from a theater that did not give him back the love he was pouring into it may have been one of the best things he’s ever done
Why he started The Improv Boost, and that by starting The Improv Boost he has transcended whatever box or finite boundaries a singular improv theater may have wanted to confine him to
Powerful quote: “When they mean family, they mean kingdom.” – Me, reflecting on David’s idea of theaters weaponizing the idea of family to keep students in line.
David’s experience in arriving to the England Improv Scene and how it was five years behind the American Scene in terms of some of the community standards of holding people accountable and dealing with toxic leaders and their “petty empires.”
Powerful quote: “It’s so important for people to realize that their journey in improv is not as someone’s student, but as their own journey in improv.” – David talking about why it’s important for people to study with a lot of people and focus on their development as an improviser, not as a disciple of a specific teacher or identifying with a certain community
David’s encounter with tribalism in the UK Improv Scene and how he combatted it
How the sense of classicism is different in England and how that affects how improv teams and communities develop
David leading by example in England and showing other groups how they can work together to elevate each other
How the British Improv Scene is developing independent of influence from the American Scene
How the Keith Johnstone school of improv is more prevalent in England and how that’s influenced the style over there
How David’s experience in England has opened up his eyes to new ways to doing improv
Individuality vs. Dividuality = Western culture vs Eastern culture
Dividuality – your actions affect a larger community
“Status is expressed how we treat other people” – David Escobedo
You can’t learn to be more creative; you’re just as creative as you are. But you can unlearn to be uncreative – David echoing Keith Johnstone
How people seek gurus but how they should be their own leader
Some of the turnoffs David experienced while studying at some of the big LA improv schools
How David to learn improv on his own, and reflecting on how he could create space for others
The pitfalls of teaching, coaching, and directing
The kind of teachers you should avoid at all costs
The relationship between skills and community, and how Gurus sell one more than the other but how you have to have both
How the UK improv scene is beginning to have conversations about boundaries as being inspired by the Me Too movement that happened in the US and forced improv theaters to have conversations about sexual harassment and create policies to combat it and create safe and inclusive spaces
Key quote – “You can have vulnerability without having boundaries” – Brené Brown
How England’s long history and tradition creates a conservative environment that makes it hard to have open and direct conversations about difficult topics like sexism and racism
Key quote – “Allow yourself to suck at something new…in the risk is where the genius happens” – David Escobedo
How Americans have to have more humility about our improv and how we relate to the global improv scene
David’s overall experience in the UK, how it is being an American in the UK and having to explain America’s politics to UK folk, and the next parts of his journey
It was awesome having David on the show, and I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him. Thank you for being on the show, brother!
Here are some of the different Facebook pages David mentioned at the end of the show. Check them out!
The Art of Yes – [From the Facebook Page] “Welcome to The Art of Yes! Our goal is to inspire others, share knowledge, and provide a forum for asking questions about improvisational theater (otherwise known as improv). All posts will be moderated, and we kindly ask you to refrain from advertising any shows or local events. We encourage you to invite friends, family, coworkers, basically anyone who is or may be interested in improv, to join the community. Hope you enjoy reading the Art of Yes as much as we enjoy creating it!”
Today Improv – [From the Facebook Page] “Today Improv is a Los Angeles based company teaching improv for actors, improv for business and improv for everyone else. Change your life”
Improv MKE[From their website] – “What if you opened an improv theater and school that brought teachers from all over the country and the world who can teach others some of the things you’ve learned over the years and continue to learn yourself? That’s what Improv MKE LLC is all about! The organization is designed to create access, both in-person and online, for people to have fun, learn, grow, and play together in ways they never thought possible! Thanks for coming by. We hope you stay to play with us. YES AND, we also do corporate stuff! Entertainment, workshops, and custom-created programs and training are available! We do it ALL!! Mainly because Michelle is no longer a baby, and has a team.”
The Black Improv Alliance – [From the Facebook Page] “The Black Improv Alliance provides a space for improvisers of African descent to build worlds and tell their authentic stories unapologetically! We are committed to dismantling white supremacy in improv, one scene at a time.”
Ep.6 of The Improv Life with Jorge Emanuel Berrios
Welcome to Episode 6 of The Improv Life!
Alright, y’all, so I sat down with an improviser I am genuinely in awe of: Jorge Emmanuel Berrios.
Jorge is probably the most physical improviser I have ever witnessed! The only improviser who I can think of who comes close is a guy in the OC named Mark Wolf. So Jorge and Mark are the only ones!
Honestly, when Jorge does improv, it’s as if you’re watching a live action cartoon character. He stretches his body in every direction possible. He bounces. He jumps. He extends. I’ve seen him do the splits out of nowhere with no warning or setup. You can’t take your eyes off the guy. Hey, if you’re going to be a performer, that’s the one quality you’re going to want to have.
Also, he is probably one of the most charismatic performers I’ve ever seen. You know they say, “Game recognize game,” but I know a good performer when I see one. With Jorge, there is no doubt about his abilities: this guy is the shit.
So it was a pleasure to talk to him about his journey and how far he has come. Check it out!
Here’s What’s Jorge and I Discussed
How Jorge was in an unheard of (9) Miami Quinceneras as part of the Court where he developed his dance abilities
We talked about the importance of food in Latinx immigrant families and the relationship that creates with body image and perception
Jim Carrey’s influence over Jorge’s comedy style
Jorge’s experiences working in a call center and being told that “He had to be more serious and less funny” if he wanted to be funny
How (1) stand up class changed his life and outlook on comedy by making it possible of him perceiving himself as a comedian
How Jorge decided to move to LA after long and thoughtful reflection and used a job interview as a reason to come out here
And a bunch of great tangents about our Latinx identities and shared experiences! Check it out!