Roughly 20 years ago, I was early into my college career and working a summer job at a record store. The store I worked at was large and I was at the back counter making sure all of the customers were being helped. Suddenly, I saw a familiar face walking toward me. It was someone I grew up watching on television and the movies.
It turns out that this familiar face was Chicago’s own Tim Kazurinsky, who was a cast member on Saturday Night Live during the Eddie Murphy years and had a supporting character in the Police Academy movies. He came to the back of the store to place some music on special order. Back in those days there was no eBay or Amazon.com.
I complimented Kazurinsky on his career and I found him to be appreciative and down to earth. Moments later, he signed an autograph for me (I still have this at home). We also discussed the entertainment world. In our brief conversation, I mentioned that I was thinking about taking an acting class. His response was a piece of advice that didn’t mean much to me at the time, but it did later. He said, “you should take an improv class.”
I wasn’t familiar with improv, though I did grow up watching a lot of sitcoms and sketch comedy. I made a mental note of his suggestion and I said “thanks” and he went on his way.
It wasn’t until four years later after I had graduated college and was working at my first job that I took Kazurinsky’s advice and signed up for improv classes at Players Workshop of the Second City. As someone who always felt uncomfortable talking in front of a group of people, this felt as dangerous as jumping out of an airplane to me.
I began to really enjoy my first few classes. There were word games and other exercises to get out of our heads and thinking creatively. Most importantly, our teacher established an atmosphere of support among students. More than feeling scared, I felt enlightened by these exercises. And I laughed a lot.
I liked it enough to stick around and take a year’s worth of classes. There were many magical moments and plenty of moments that I felt like I made a fool of myself, but I always gave myself credit for trying. I left every class with a boost of energy.
After a year of classes, we graduated in front of our friends and family at Second City. It was an incredible rush to perform on the same stage that John Belushi, Bill Murray and Steve Carrell performed. Even more of a rush was getting a couple laughs on that stage in front of a packed house.
Taking classes and having our graduation at Second City was a life-transforming experience for me. From that point forward, every time I felt challenged in some way or needed some confidence, I thought about all that I had accomplished from improv. It immediately gave me a lift.
Truth be told, I can’t give Tim Kazurinsky full credit for everything…I had been thinking about taking acting classes, after all. But his advice prompted me into action and I am deeply changed because of it.
How about you…have you received any great advice in your life? What was it?