Friday, July 31, 2015

The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment (#22: The Experiment Ends & Life Begins)

By Pam Victor

[The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment is my one-year challenge to make a living through creative pursuits. Read all the updates here.]

Well boy oh boy, tomorrow is August 1, 2015, the official last day of The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment. As I summed it up on August 1, 2014, "The crux of my 'Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?' Experiment is to see if it’s possible to do these things that I love from the tips of my toes to that godly space above my head while getting paid just like other hard working people." And I even went ahead and made my financial goal see-through rice paper, scary vulnerable transparent: $16,000 in a year through improvisation, writing, teaching - "the things that put wind in my soul’s sail, make my heart want to keep kerthumping, rev up my juicy lady motor, make me eagerly lean forward and want to learn and explore and experiment and do more every day forever and ever until hopefully even after I die." 

I have twice in one paragraph quoted myself, so obviously I succeeded in my goal to become a pretentious twat. But has the Experiment itself been a success? Spoiler alert: Yes.

Doing what I love with the people who I love.
The Ha-Ha's 2015
I achieved my financial goal a few months ago, so I've been putting away a little bit more since that time. Enough that if I was the sole breadwinner of our family of four, we would be just teeny tiny bit over the poverty line. Though the Experiment is a success, according to society I make a meager living. That said, when improvisers hear how much I made, they can't believe how much it is. However, when normal people hear how much I made, they can't believe how little it is. But the fact remains, I made a bit over $25,000 in one year through teaching, performing, and writing about improvisation. I'm sure you will rejoice this achievement or make sympathetic clucks depending on which side of the aisle you're sitting in. For both, I thank you.

This Experiment is about much more than just money. It's about the experience of making a living doing what I love, and if I still love what I do after doing so. Was that do-si-do a success? I'll have to go with a more moderate "Yes" on that one. Yes, I still love improvisation. Of course I do. I love it like I love breathing. Has every moment of the last year been skipping through a field of daisies, mojitos, and kittens? No. No, it hasn't.

Like Rick Hall told me last September when he was on the
With Laura Hall and Rick Hall at the BCAF 2015
[Photo credit Lisa Cordner]
panel of my talk show at the Boston Comedy Arts Festival - oops, that pretentious twat just snuck out again - anyway, he said that getting the job is work, doing the job is play. Most of the time, I still deeply love performing and teaching, but actual performing and teaching is about 20% of the work necessary to do this job. The other 80% is sitting in front of my computer alone in my office, doing what needs to be done to get onstage and into the classroom. 

The Big Stuff I Accomplished During the 
"Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment:
  • Designing, running, and teaching a multi-level improv class curriculum called The Zen of Improv
  • Teaching 70+ Zen of Improv students, plus probably an equal number of workshop students in several different states
  • Publishing a book with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi
  • Writing sixteen essays in The Zen of Improv series
  • Almost always getting paid to perform improvisation
  • Producing The Happier Valley Comedy Show and Sunday Improv Fun Time (a jam/show)
  • Facilitating many workshops with guest teachers
  • Firmly establishing a home, school, stage, and loving community for improv comedy in Western Massachusetts
That seems like a year well spent when I see it all bullet-pointed out like that.

What's the big lesson I learned over the last year of doing what I love? It's all about hustle. (Yes, Zach Ward of DSI Comedy Theater got the hashtag right. #hustle) This job has been a ginormous 24/7 mofo of hustle. I'm CONSTANTLY thinking, working on, managing the next gig. I am always brainstorming new ideas to try to figure out how to expand my job still further. I'm still trying to crack the nut of applied improv, how to utilize improv for personal and professional growth in my "Through Laughter" Program and how the hell to get those gigs. I'm always working on my websites, both of which I had to re-build over the past few months. (Add Web Design to my skills! But don't put that under "Doing What I Love" - Egads! What a pain in the ass. Goddess bless the web designers, those patient souls.) Hustling also includes booking workshops, finding classroom and performance space, planning new classes, designing curriculum, taking registration, answering endless questions, sending out proposals ... basically, putting every possible pole in the water in hopes of getting just one bite. Hustling has become reflexive and nearly compulsive and may have made enemies of my Facebook friends with. Basically, I've spent the last year getting a new business off the ground. Which means I've been working without stop almost every day and many evenings for the last year. 

Time management has been my greatest challenge, by far. My biggest source of income right now is classes. I teach about three or four classes each week. That means that between classes, workshops, performances, and rehearsals, I'm out of the house about five or six nights a week. Often, I leave the house before my husband gets home from work and I get home after he has gone to bed. You'd think we'd see each other on weekends, but shows, workshops, and classes tend to land on Saturdays and Sundays. Plus, if I have a free moment, I tend to sneak down to my office to get a little work done in hopes of whittling away at the endless, regenerating monster of the to-do list. I pretty much work in front of my computer all day long, then shove some late afternoon combo meal (linner? dunch?) into my gullet before dashing out of the house to teach/perform/rehearse. I have a ridunkulous work ethic and the hustling is non-stop. And stressful.

What I'm saying is, I am very tired.

Nevertheless, I have to take a moment to say that I feel very - excuse the expression - blessed. You cannot believe the people I get to work with! I know you think you can believe it, but you just cannot. I'm telling you, improvisation is like the most powerful Awesome People Magnet ever. I have received nothing but encouragement from every improviser I know. Over the last year, I've felt like I have a team that literally spans the globe rooting for me. Here are a few stand-outs who have let me know they're cheering me on: 
  • Everyone I perform with has let me know they have my back, but most of all my improv family in Western Mass - Laura Patrick, Christine Stevens, Moe McElligott, Maile Shoul, Mosie McNally, and Scott "Sunshine Face" Braidman - such talented improvisers, such huge hearts, such cherished friends
  • Neighbors who have heard me on the radio and took the time to say so
  • My ImprovBoston family. (Thanks especially to Mike D!)
  • The improvisers I worked with in Florida 
  • The gentleman in Italy who translated my Zen of Improv essay and offered me a place to stay if I'm ever in Milano 
  • The members of our audiences
  • Readers of my blog, especially those kind and generous souls who took a moment to let me know that someone appreciative is out there reading
  • Susan Messing, whose sexy voice rings in my head when I'm struggling: "If you're not having fun, you're the asshole," "Being brave is being scared as shit but doing it anyway with the results of flying," "You, love, will put your head down and take care of your beeswax," and so much more.
  • My mentor/friends Will Luera and Piero Procaccini
  • Dr. Sue Keller, a dentist who sponsors The Happier Valley Comedy Show and sent me a clipping in the real, actual mail when I was in the paper 
  • The people, like Sarah and Tom, who come to almost every show. And like Adelaide who buys a ticket every month, even if she can't attend the show. 
  • And boy oh boy! do I LOVE LOVE LOVE my students so damn hard. They are some of the most brave, loving, supportive, and fun-loving people I've ever met. I cannot tell you how many
    Some of the Best Students in the World
    different ways my students inspire me each day. I feel so grateful for getting to meet, work/play with, and become friends with them. I am excited and optimistic about the improv community that is building around these classes. I hope you get to meet, know, play, and/or work with my students one day because I'm pretty sure they're the best students on the planet. And that's not an exaggeration in the least.

What's ahead? The good news is that my Experiment was enough of a success that I can continue to do what I love. That means my next challenge is to figure out how to do what I love in a more sustainable way that will keep me going over the long haul. I need to figure out how to take days off and re-charge. I also would like to expand my applied improv program because I have learned that improvisation is as helpful to people off the stage as it is on the stage, and I would like to bring the joy and learning to more people. My next financial goal is to be able to cover all of my son's college tuition, so we can eat something besides rice and beans this year. I also would like to establish a physical "clubhouse" for improv comedy where we can teach and learn and perform and nerd out. I have a lot of ideas for more shows and classes, and a permanent forever-home for improv in Western Mass. would allow them to happen. I would like to find more paying performance opportunities. I would like continue to facilitate more paid improv gigs for others. I could go on ... I have more goals, hopes, and dreams that I'm looking forward to making my work and play in the year ahead. Still dreaming. Still hustling. Still on the joyride.

When you're using your own machete to clear a new path through life's jungle, it's not always clear which way to go. Though I have some ideas of the general direction I'd like to aim in, like those listed above, the big unknowns are how to get there and which is the "best" path for me. It should come as no surprise that when this self-questioning reaches a crescendo (usually around 3:00am as I'm tossing and turning in bed, scowling in the dark at my easy-sleeper husband,) I turn to improvisation to light the path. 

ME: Excuse me, Goddess of Improvisation? Do you have a moment?

IMPROVISATION: I have only moments, like the one right here and right now.

ME: Um, cool. Thanks. So how do I make my way through the unknown? 

IMPROVISATION Notice where you already are and be there. 

ME: How do I know which path to take? 

IMPROVISATION: Take the one that feels the most ease-ful and fun. Pull the paddles out of the water and into the canoe and let the joyride take you where it's already going. Follow the show. (And by "show," I mean "moment.")

ME: Roger that. Thanks. What is the best path for me? 

IMPROVISATION: The one you're already on.

ME: Oooohkay. Thank you kindly, ma'am.

IMPROVISATION: You are most welcome. Now do five moments of gratitude, notice the moment around you, and never make a joke onstage again.

The Experiment ends today, but, if all goes well, life as a full time, professional improviser is only just beginning.

Ok, I gotta go work on that monster to-do list! Thanks for following me along on my journey. Really, I mean it. Thank you.

* * *

Pam Victor is a full time professional improviser! She is the founder of Happier Valley Comedy, The Happier Valley Comedy Show, The Ha-Ha's, The Zen of Improv curriculum, and the "Through Laughter" Program, which brings personal and professional growth through improvisation. Pam performs "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." She also writes about the meeting of Zen thinking and improvisation in the Zen of Improv written series. Along with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi, Pam is the co-author of "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book."  Read all her nonsense at


  1. Yah! Though our schedules did not line up this time around for classes; I have been following your blog closely. I think what is beautiful is your dedication, not just to making the money, but having fun. I got to a point and am probably still there where Improv lost its sparkle. The competition, rules, how can you not be good enough for Imorov? I read this and have hope for my future. Though slightly disenchanted and more focused on Standup I hope to meet you at your classes someday to have your beautiful love and passion revive mine. Celeste

  2. Pam, I loved reading this! Especially as a college improviser who was a high school improviser who was a child improviser who isn't sure how to keep improv in her life after school ends. You have always made me laugh and I loved you (from afar) for that.
    Rosie Tabachnick (of Funktionlust at NHS)

  3. Dear Pam -
    We have never met, but I stumbled upon your post in the Improv FB page and was so touched by your passion, commitment and willingness to share! I too have made the same journey and found that it continues to take constant "hustle" - that doesn't change. What does change is that you will begin to find your stride. Things that took so much muscle at first begin to get easier. Like training for a marathon. It doesn't always take every last ounce of energy. It does take massive focus to "get the fly wheel going", but you've got some great momentum going and I know your success will continue to grow. I hope our paths will cross sometime soon. Really.
    Most sincerely,
    Ricci Mann Victorio (

    1. Thank you so much for your comment and reassurance, Ricci. It was just what I needed to hear this morning. (And probably most Monday mornings!) I hope our paths cross sometime soon too! Any chance you'll be at the AIN conference in Montreal next month?


    2. Hi Pam - unfortunately we will not be attending this year, but hopefully next year we can! I have known one of the founders, Sue Walden, since we both got started in our improv careers in San Francisco. If I have a chance to come your way East, I will be sure to let you know! ricci

    3. Hi Pam -
      OK, 3rd time is the charm to post my comment....Unfortunately we will not be able to attend this year, but hopefully next year! I have know one of the AIN founders, Sue Walden, since the late 70's, when we were both starting out as improv coaches and directors. Let's stay in touch - I am sure we will find a way to cross our paths with a little energy.... ricci

  4. Pam, I am so, so, so happy for you. Rock on!

  5. So true. Improv is breathing. Breathing is improve. Thanks.
    EW Director, Fiasco Theatre