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So when I started taking classes at The Second City, it was a much smaller company than it is today. You had basically two choices of year-long programs that you could take. Either basic improv (they call it Level A-E) or advanced improv (the Conservatory). They had one student theater, and it wasn't just for students. They had maybe eight classrooms and maybe a total of 15 teachers. Today, they still have those two programs, but they also offer year-long programs in writing, musical improv, filmmaking, and acting. They also have classes in just about anything you can think of, from movement classes to making online content. Not to mention, you can now major in comedy as part of your degree through the Second City Comedy Studies program.
They have four student theaters now and close to one hundred classrooms. Because of this growth there are so many more opportunities for students to do shows, create, and get better. But there was something nice about being a part of it when it was smaller—you felt like you knew everyone, all the students and all the teachers. You would walk in the building and be able to say hello to every person you saw. Just taking classes made you feel like you were a part of The Second City. As a student you would likely even know the actors on the main stage (and they would know you as well). It was a community, and I was a part of it. But the downfall of being a part of it when it was smaller was that you felt closer to that golden apple of main stage. With only one hundred or so folks taking classes, it felt like your chances of being seen, or more specifically, being picked for one of the jobs, was just a heartbeat away. That's how it felt, but it wasn't actually the case. But because of this feeling (probably self-imposed more than anything else), I put tremendous pressure on myself to be perfect.
Here is the biggest problem with that: creativity is messy. It is very rarely perfect. I was always worried about doing it the "right way" rather then just falling on my face and learning from it. If I did fall on my face, rather than taking it as a learning moment, I would beat myself up, convinced I had set myself back from my five year plan of fame. I had great teachers, especially Marty, and I don't blame them for not getting this message through my young, thick skull. Put simply, you don't know if you will become famous, or even just work as an actor. So many factors go into it—a million, in fact, so you should focus on learning something, enjoying it, and walking away with nothing more than some skills.
How the hell is that advice helpful when you are working towards a major TV career? Just shut up and tell me how to be famous already.
Not everyone is made for it. That shouldn't take away from what you are learning. If you put it into some more digestible terms, it might help. The Daily Show is almost 20 years old. Only about ten people get to be on-air talent per year, so that is only 200 people in twenty years that get that job. Those 200 people come from all over the country. Out of the 200, maybe only ten have had any connection to Second City Chicago. It's not luck, either, and it’s not “right place right time." When applying for a job, you could be up against 100 people for one job. Your skills, past, resume, and ability will help get you to the top of the pile to even be considered to be interviewed. If you make it to the top ten percent of applicants, then you have to dazzle them with your personality. It’s the same exact thing with getting a TV job; you have to not only have razor sharp skills, a good resume, and a solid background, but you also have to then dazzle them with your personality in the end. Just like not everyone is right for every job, not everyone is suited to be on TV. I wish someone put it into these terms for me, then maybe I would have relaxed and stopped trying so hard to be perfect.