Improv saved my life

100 Inspiring Voices | Episode #26 | Jimmy Carrane | Improv saved my life


Today I’m joined by Jimmy Carrane, an improv teacher, actor, performer, and writer.

Jimmy has worked with people like Chris Farley, Mike Myers, Tina Fey, and Steven Colbert and is a fixture of the Chicago improv world.

In this conversation, we talk about how improv saved Jimmy’s life, why improv appeals to folks who’ve had difficult childhoods, and what it’s like to see your friends get famous.

On a more personal level, we talk about addiction, the value of group therapy, and how Jimmy has gone on to heal an extremely difficult childhood.


1:50 – “When I first took my first improv class, it was a very low point in my life… I was drinking way too much, overeating, lot of suicidal thoughts. Just hopelessness.”

3:40 – “It was the first time in my life where ‘oh my god’ here are some like-minded people. And everything that I had gotten punished for as a kid was now being rewarded. That was something I didn’t have. People saw value in what I was doing. That was very important to me.”

5:30 – “The biggest [thing to be good at improv] is you need to be a good really listener because everything you are getting, you’re creating in the moment. You’re creating with no script. You’re making it up on the spot.. everything you’re telling me I have to use immediate. And I have to accept it.”

10:15 – “To me it was like the golden age of improv comedy in Chicago. I was lucky to work and was in classes with Chris Farley… Mike Myers… Rachel Dratch… Tim Meadows… Stephen Colbert… Steve Carrell… Jane Lynch… Andy Richter… Tina Fey.”

11:30 – “When you’re around it, you really think I have a great chance. There’s like a one in four chance I’m going to be famous, too.”

11:45 – “I thought fame is going to solve all my problems. Fame is going to make up for a crappy childhood. Fame is going to give me the respect that I deserve. It’s going to give me the recognition. I’m going to be seen. I was invisible in my family. I was ignored in my family.”

15:30 – “I suffer from a lot of addictions. It’s kind of an addiction model. I lie to myself and say: ‘If I eat a whole sheet cake in the dark, alone, it’s going to make me feel better. I’m really taking care of myself.’ And you go and you do that, and afterwards you feel like crap, and you feel like shame, but in that moment… you really have convinced yourself that you’re going to feel better by doing this.”

19:15 – “I was teaching one improv class a week, living off credit cards, and spending the rest of the time listening to Howard Stern in the bathtub. And I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t famous.”

20:30 – “I didn’t have fathering… [group therapy allowed me] to be fathered by these other men.”

24:20 – “Doing those little things started to make my worldview even bigger. It started to help me take in help from other people, and take in the abundance that was out there that I was so resistant, or so blocked to see.”

25:45 – “Every bad decision I’ve made, I’ve done alone… change can only happen when you have other people around. When you’re bouncing ideas off people. When you don’t think your idea is the best.”

27:45 – “We can’t give away what we don’t have.”


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