Second City Network

Success Tips From the Least Likely to Succeed

Success Tips From The Least Likely

I am down here at South By Southwest today, and there’s a hell of a lot of talk about success. It’s often asked how to become successful in the arts.  I don’t claim to know exactly, but I get asked enough to have had to develop a decent philosophy to sound like I know what I’m talking about when blindly speaking about the subject.  And I guess somewhere along the line I starting buying into that philosophy myself. This is the rational behind many religions as well. Perhaps you can take these ideals and start your own devastating mythology that will enslave and exploit millions daily.

DO YOUR BEST AND DON’T WORRY  (or, how to succeed at everything you do.)

Basically – first and foremost – whatever you decide to do  – be it directing, or making music, or writing, or prostituting, or whatever, don’t “kind of”do it. You’ve got to be all in or all out – unless you’re fine with mediocrity, which is certainly valid in its own right, but it’s not what’s getting anybody ahead.  It’s all or nothing. You can’t kind of be a doctor, or kind of fly commercial airliners – so this should be no different.

There Are No Geniuses – Just Quality Control

This is very disputable but I think anyone who’s considered a Genius Talent more times than not also happens to be an incredibly hard worker. Muhammad Ali didn’t just roll out of bed at noon, stare at daytime TV, and put off his training until next week. Ya gotta work for it, son! Even if you’re one of those rare types who has success fall into their laps – eventually, it won’t. You’ll have to get used to hard work. Fact.

Also, there are very few geniuses. Genius is defined as a person with exceptional creative or intellectual power.  A good improviser or bass player is NOT A GENIUS. If you invent improv or the bass you are a candidate – but most geniuses are actually just people who are competent at their job. And that’s something we can all strive for.

We live in a world where mediocrity has run so rampant, that mere competence is championed as alchemy.

Torture Is A Dead End Street

Torture sux. I used to torture myself over everything – music, love, punctuation, things like that. You were made to screw up by design. You are destined to fail over and over. It’s how we learn. Don’t beat yourself up.

I once met an actor who told me he was going to quit acting if he didn’t achieve the goal he wanted in two years. It occurred to me that this person, although highly dramatic, was not really an actor. If you don’t love your art enough to fail at it as well as succeed,  you shouldn’t bother with it. There is no timeline for success. Quit torturing yourself and enjoy the ride.

A college professor said to me if you wanna make it in the arts, keep doing it after everyone else quit.  Perseverance is the key.

Be Good To The People You Work With

This is a no-brainer, but if you whine a lot, condescend, or generally stress people out, those people will start rooting against you. I know I do.

The Venue Is Not The Performance

Don’t get caught up in where you’re working. Get caught up in what you’re doing there. It’s some people’s dream to be on stage at The Second City or SNL or Royal Albert Hall or Broadway, but even if you make to those places it doesn’t matter unless you’re proud of the work you’re doing.  I have played poorly in some beautiful places and it’s not at all that bitchin’ to be quite honest.

There Can Only Be One

Your individuality is your lifeblood. Figure out what you do differently than everybody else and stick with that.  Your faults and strengths weave together a strange mosaic that may not be pretty – in fact it’s downright ugly, vulnerable, awkward, and honest, but it is 100% your own.  If you’re willing to share that – then you have a shot.


Billy Bungeroth, (Editor) is a Director and consultant at The Second City in Chicago and also plays guitar with JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound. You can follow Billy on Twiiter @BillyBungeroth or learn more than you should from his continuing adventures at