How to Handle Improv Rejection

I’m tempted this morning, after learning I wasn’t cast in Austin Secrets at The Hideout Theatre, to say that how a person handles rejection is the truest indication of his maturity. Looking back, I think one of my life’s defining struggles is how to cope with the inevitable rejections that life offers us. Some examples:

1. I was an asthmatic child. Even though I played Little League for a couple of years with the 0-28 Yellowjackets baseball team, I was never athletic. Entering 6th grade I tried out for the citywide league and wasn’t selected by any team. I handled this rejection by begging for a cheap magic set and learning how to do a pretty kick-ass ball trick.

Now you see it, now you ... oh wait, you still see it.

Now you see it, now you … oh wait, you still see it.

2. I was also a Cub Scout, with my mom serving as our Den Mother. Those were some of my happiest childhood memories—learning how to tie complicated knots, going camping with all of my friends, playing tag in our enormous backyard (aka, the Chickenyard), just generally laughing and farting like young boys do. I went on to become a Webelow and eventually a full-on Boy Scout. But just two months into my tenure as a member of Troop 366 I was ostracized from the rest of my troop for being not … man enough? I’m still not sure, exactly. I responded to this rejection by quitting Scouting altogether. (In retrospect, though, fuck the Boy Scouts.)

3. And girls? Oh boy. Fuggedaboutit. My first kiss wasn’t until I was nearly 16, and she ended up going to the Speech Team Banquet with another boy just a week later. Three different high-school “girlfriends” who attended the fancy girls prep school Hockaday all rejected me for not being wealthy enough for them. (One of them, upon seeing my first car, a 1985 rust-red Plymouth Duster, told me she suddenly felt sick and ran back inside her mansion.) In college, I ran off a couple of promising relationships because of my insecurity. And a few years ago, after catching a girlfriend I was deeply in love with cheating on me, I responded to her rejection by forgiving her almost immediately and, somehow, begging her to take me back. Yuck.

4. The first three years I did slam poetry I didn’t make the final round of a single weekly poetry slam. That’s, like, 100 poetry slams that saw me eliminated right off the bat. Ego-destroying? You bet it was.

5. Last year I got to the third round of job interviews three times before being rejected in favor of someone else.

6. A few months ago, after not getting cast in the improvised Shakespeare show at The Hideout, I threw a minor but public hissy fit on this blog and on Facebook. That one just left me feeling like a boob. (Not the good kind of boob.)

So yes, like you, I’ve had my fair share of “no thanks” and “fuck offs” in my life—some harsher than others.

Plus, jealousy rears its head sometimes. You look at who or what was taken in your place and think, “Really?”

25141-socks_sandals_opinionThe ex-girlfriend who cheated on me? She cheated on me with a guy who wears socks with sandals. The Boy Scout Troop pushed me out, in part, because I lobbied hard for our Troop name to be the Flaming Arrows. And one of the job interviewers admitted that they picked one candidate over me because she was “recently out of college”—which I always thought was a bad thing.

But today, swallowing the bitter pill of rejection for the 404th time in my life (out of an eventual total in the thousands) is less … bitter. I’m bummed. I haven’t been able to totally abandon my attachment to my own ego. I’m not Buddhist enough for that incredible feat just yet.


But I’m not as bummed as I normally would be. And here’s why:

* For starters, the men cast in Austin Secrets are all fantastic and more experienced improvisers than me.

* Plus, I laid an enormous poop egg at my audition. It was some of the clunkist, most self-aware improv I’ve done in many months. (More on that in an upcoming post!) The truth is, if casting was based solely on the audition, I would’ve been shocked if I’d been cast.

* Life is too short to worry about short-term disappointments.

* Opportunities in this fantastic community pop up all the time. And while this marks three straight Hideout mainstage no-gos for me, I know there will be other auditions and other chances to put my best foot forward.

474715_10151520195944962_587043168_o* I’m a lucky guy who has experienced some fantastic improv in my first two years: Manhattan Stories, Braised in Texas, Fandom, This American Live, etc. It’s not like I’ve been shut out. You win some, and you lose some. Que sera sera.

* Last night, Mia and I put on a fucking fantastic Mandinka show at ColdTowne. Mandinka continues! As does Past Lives!

* I understand that being a director in a town this small (with such a large community of performers) is a fucking nightmare. You have to not select people you like and who are fine improvisers. You have to be the bad guy or gal sometimes, and that’s just no fucking fun. I’ve had a taste of that and it’s a rock/hard spot dilemma.

In the end, I’m happy for everyone who was cast. Just as they’ll someday be happy for me when I’m cast in something. We’re allowed to have a few moments of “well, shit, that sucks” when we experience rejection.

But the quicker we can abandon the self-pity and jealousy and take up, instead, a focus on the next bigger, better opportunity … well, the more successful we’ll be. As improvisers and human beings.


  1. Ryan Hill on July 2, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Love this. Well done. FYI, I’m not Buddhist enough either. I think the term for that is “Enlightened.”

  2. Kevin Miller (@happywaffle) on July 2, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I console myself with auditions by examining the cast list and seeing if I have any argument with who they picked—if there’s anyone on the cast list who I could do a better job than. With most Hideout shows, including this one, the answer is a resounding “No!”

    I also recommend casting a show of your own. I’ve done it once before, and I have no particular desire to ever do it again. You inevitably have 3-5 times as many qualified candidates as you do spots in the cast. You scourge yourself like a medieval monk as you decide who to accept and reject. And the next time you try out for something, you GET it: “Wow, I really rocked that. I bet 30 other people rocked it, too. Oh well!”

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