by Michael Phelps, 20-time Olympic Gold Medal Champion
Ten years ago, I wrote a list entitled 15 Things You Should Know About Touring. Apparently, Second City still hands it out when new touring members are hired. This list is for when you are fired. Or more likely, when you decide to leave The Second City for bigger and better things. These come from my personal experience. Please take them or leave them. But I recommend that you take them:
1. Make your home your own personal sanctuary.
This should be the number one item on your list. It doesn’t matter if you move to New York or Los Angeles, or even if you decide to stay in Chicago. Most of my time in Chicago, I lived in a dining room that was fitted with an accordion wall, thus making it a “bedroom.” It was depressing and demoralizing. You need a place where you can relax and be yourself and let all the bullshit slide away the second you enter its doors. Part of moving on and growing up is taking care of yourself. Nothing says perpetual man-boy/woman-girl like using a sheet for a curtain. Unless you’ve put some serious sewing into that sheet rendering it unrecognizable as a bed topping, do not use it as a curtain. Or a door. Or a tablecloth. Or even on your bed anymore, because that thing has been hanging in your windows.
2. Write a sitcom spec script.
If you have a writing partner, write one together. Just know that if you get hired as a writing team, you split a salary. So better yet, write one with your partner and one on your own. Writing is hard, so just show up to the page and do it. Do it! While you’re at it, write one for me, too. I’m having a really tough time coming up with a third act for mine.
3. If you own a pair Skechers, throw them out.
This one is for the guys. It doesn’t matter if they are Skecher sneakers or what their website describes as “dress” shoes. Throw them out! One of the first things ladies notice are a man’s shoes, and Skechers scream, “I still have action figures displayed on my bookshelf.” I know you think that contrast stitching means business in the front, party in the back, but think about it. I’ve just described a mullet. You are wearing the feet equivalent of a mullet*.
*Except in Middle Earth. The feet equivalent of a mullet for hobbits is an actual foot mullet.
4. If you see a guy wearing Sketchers, give him a break.
This one is for the ladies. He doesn’t know. He thinks wearing shoes with stitching, overlay and perforation accents make him look hip. Take him aside and kindly tell him he has other options in footwear. Even better, take him shopping for shoes and help him pick out one nice pair of sneakers and one nice pair of dress shoes. He will be forever grateful and may just ask you to marry him one day like I did with my wife.
5. Sign up for all frequent flyer miles.
I know I had this on my last list, but it is just good advice. And just because you’re not in The Second City anymore doesn’t mean you won’t travel. Travel! Accrue miles! Travel more! Live a little; you need something to write about.
6. Don’t hold grudges.
7. Don’t use improv as a substitute for really working.
After I quit the touring company, I was improvising almost every night. I really felt like I was busy, but it was an illusion. I was performing a lot and doing very little. Pick one or two shows you really enjoy, and stick to that. Quality over quantity. Spend the other 5 nights working on my spec script.
8. Watch Justified.
Season 2 is amazing! Or watch Enlightened. Or Breaking Bad. Don’t stare into the abyss of Google looking up animals that are friends or pictures of Mike Jeffries’ face. If you want to work in TV, find shows you like, and watch the butt out of them. Know a show inside out. Be passionate about what you love and learn to express it. When you make small talk in ridiculous show biz meetings, it might help pass the time.
9. Be patient.
You’re not going to ever get what you want right when you want it or the way you think you should get it. Just keep working, and things will come when they come. It is the hardest thing in the world, but resist comparing yourself to others. Use the initial twinge of jealousy as motivation, as an indicator to yourself of what you truly want. And teach yourself to be happy for others. It’s not a race. It’s about finding YOUR voice and speaking with it. No one else will do that. It’s yours.
If you move to LA, go eat at The Reel Inn in Malibu. If you move to New York, go get a burger at the Burger Joint inside the Le Parker Meridien hotel. If you stay in Chicago, eat everything! I don’t need to bold that last one, since it goes without saying.
John Lutz performed at ImprovOlympic and was a member of the Second City National Touring Company. Since then, he has been a writer for Saturday Night Live and an actor on NBC’s 30 Rock, where he played the role of Lutz. He is currently working on his first book, The Lutz Experiment.