Player Profile: Jim McDonnellWritten by Nick Semar
I was a theater major in college, so I did a lot of plays and musicals, and then I was doing my residency in Milwaukee and I was at the original ComedySportz just after they started. I went and saw a show and said, “I want to do that.” And I’ve been doing that since 1987. I’ve done like 3,000 shows, a lot of shows, and I’m still not good enough. But then I came back in to Chicago, and I was the director for ComedySportz for about three years, and then I’ve just been a player here.
How does improv balance with your career of practicing medicine?
It’s always been a career for me. People think you have one career but it’s been two careers for me. For any, many years I did ComedySportz five, six times a week, doing anywhere from six to 12 shows a week; it’s a lot. If you’re a professional actor that’d be pretty good, I really love it, and there’s wonderful people doing it, and I think it’s the most fun thing to do.
What is ComedySportz to you?
I think it teaches you the best things you want to know in life, which is loving other people, listening, forgiveness, it’s all the things you want to learn or teach your children. Plus, it’s really fun. Nobody who does it isn’t changed by it, you are changed by it, everybody is, for the better. It makes you much freer to be yourself and not worry about other people not liking you. You can make mistakes, you can fail, as long as you know you know you tried hard then there is no failure in that.
What has drawn you from scripted shows and kept you doing improv for so long?
When I say I was a theater major I was an English major, but just like my job, I basically did more theater than I did English. It is so exquisitely fun. It is just so impossibly fun. And the thing is the nightly miracle of comedy, that astonishment from other players that occur in the show, that you fall in love with improv and ComedySportz every night. The beauty of when we come here and do a show, we say basically we’re going to have fun, come with us. It’s not like stand up where we’re funny, we’re going to make you laugh, that’s very confrontational. We’re inviting you to have fun with us. And you know what, I’m going to try and do this, I may really suck at it, but that’s ok. It’s really inviting people along. And if you ask people what is the enjoyment of it, there’s this certain empathy that they have with the players, they kind of envision themselves up there, because it’s a challenge and that gives stakes to the show, as opposed to a scripted show which is presentational, this is much more conversational with the audience.