This weekend is the Del Close Marathon, a yearly tradition at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City. It is a huge improv festival/party where you can see some truly amazing performances. I also consider it my “Improv Birthday,” because it was my introduction to long-form improv.
My first DCM was 2009. I was visiting my sister in New York and suggested we go, not knowing what it was, because I had heard Doug Benson say he was going to be there on his podcast. We got in line at the Chelsea Theater on Friday, got in, and didn’t leave for twelve hours. The next day, we did the same thing for fourteen hours. We packed lunches so we wouldn’t have to leave. There are a ton of amazing memories I have from that marathon, but the one my sister and I always recall is Dar Silicon. For nearly an hour, Owen Burke, dressed in a jumpsuit and wielding a dented trombone, improvised rock songs along with a bassist and drummer. It was inspired madness at 5:00 in the morning. At one point, while entirely prone on the ground and resting his head on a beer can in a true moment of exhaustion, Burke led the audience in a chant of “Never give up! Never give up!” until he had regained form and launched back into the frenetic, high-energy dancing that had come to define the set up until that point. We left the basement theater just as the sun was coming up and while we stood in the middle of 26th street trying to hail a cab, I turned to my sister and said “Someday I am going to perform in this thing.” I had never taken an improv class.
Jump to 2011, my third marathon. I am standing behind the curtain of the UCB stage, about to step out and perform. I hit that goal that I had set almost exactly two years before. I don’t remember the set, other than the fact that there was a real dog in the audience, but I do remember the sense of accomplishment I felt after it was over. It was the first time in my life that I can remember consciously setting a goal and then working hard to make sure I achieved it. The whole experience felt great for about a day. Then my next big thought was “What next?” I had to set another goal to see if I could reach it.
Up until this point in my life (I was 27 at the time), I was pretty convinced I would accomplish nothing. I struggled (and still do sometimes) with very low self-esteem and a complete lack of self-confidence for my entire life. The most common thought I had throughout my adolescence and early adulthood was “you aren’t going to be able to do this, so why even bother.” That is an atrophic mindset; I prevented myself from pursuing things that really made me happy. It’s also probably why I still lived with my parents and my weight had gotten so out of control I looked like a farm animal. But by simply setting that goal and then honestly working hard to hit it, a world of possibilities was opened to me. If I can do this with this relatively simple thing, let’s see how far I can go.
So I started setting goals for myself with the following rule: each time you hit one, you have to set two new ones. I found this was important because it is very easy to relax once you hit one of your goals. There is a fine line between celebrating your most recent accomplishment, living in that moment and looking forward to the future. With this process in place, I started reaching more and more, growing exponentially each time I hit a milestone. And this process bled into other aspects in my life, not just in improv and comedy. I found I was constantly trying to better myself, with the knowledge that there was no ceiling to where I could go. Life is a constant journey of improvement and I was determined to do it the best I can.
This year’s Del Close Marathon is my sixth and it is also a very special one for me. It is the first time I will be performing at it as a member of a UCBT house team. I feel very fortunate and grateful. It was a huge goal I set almost two years ago. I am going to take full advantage of this opportunity and enjoy every second of it, however long it lasts. I am also already setting up some new milestones I want to hit, because I have learned from my experiences up to this point that you should always be working towards something bigger.
So while DCM is a fun party and a great experience for a lot of people, it really signifies a lot more for me. I call it my “Improv Birthday” because it was my introduction to improv. But I really could call it my “Re-Birthday” (or some other, better name) because it was a catalyst for a big change in my life. If you’re reading this and will also be at DCM, remember to take a moment during all that fun to realize how lucky you are to be doing this, and also how to always be working to something greater.
NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER GIVE UP!