Four days this week, I’ve been doin stuff at bars. Every Sunday I go to trivia, on Tuesday I hosted a different trivia, Thursday saw me host a comedy show, and on Saturday I closed out another comedy show. Four nights, four opportunities to booze it up. Normally, I’d be getting after it all four nights, and while I might not get wasted, the drinks would be flowing – especially because many of those drinks would have been complimentary.
But nope. No drinks this week. And it wasn’t even that hard. I was surprised at the ease with which I navigated these bars I’m usually captaining from the helm of the SS Who Gives a Shit. Having made the choice before the month started not to drink, I don’t have to make that choice every time I go out to a bar. I know I’m not drinking and so it’s no big deal. If I start playing the “I sure wish I could drink right now” game, then things would be a drag. But I’m not playing that game. Making the choice once was enough. I don’t need to make it again.
For a while after I started doing comedy some nearly six years ago (and even on the odd occasion nowadays), I would play up the drunk comedian onstage. And when I would listen back to a set that I’d done when I’d been drinking too much, or playing up my drunkenness, generally, it would pretty much suck. It sure wouldn’t make it cooler or more punk rock or whatever the hell I was trying to make it. It makes it worse. It makes it harder to listen to. It takes a special kind of comedian to be able to have a bunch of drinks before or during a set and still have it seem like a decently polished and coherent performance. When it happens, that’s great, but the positive instances have been few and far between in my experience. More often than not, I slur, I forget, I get sloppy.
This isn’t to say that a beer or two before and during a performance has to be a bad thing. It can loosen the nerves, warm up the belly, get the blood flowing. It’s something to do socially to get ready for a gig. I often bring a drink with me onstage. It can be something to hold on to, to pick up when I’m thinking, or just to wet the mouth. It’s a comfort thing, but it’s not always necessary. In fact, I’ll sometimes purposefully do sets with no drink, just to see how it feels.
And so last night, when preparing to close to a packed house of probably 50 audience members who had been laughing (and drinking) all night while I had been sipping on Coke Zero, soberly worrying about set times and whether or not people would still be into the show after probably an hour and a half of jokes about Korea and sex, I was, once more, a little on edge.
A question people often ask is if I get nervous before shows, and my answer is yes and no. “Yes” because there is a definite rush that accompanies the thought of standing in front of a room of strangers and addressing them. For me the rush isn’t even about whether I get laughs or not. I know that those will come when they need to come. No need to speed things up. In fact, I often feel more uncomfortable when I’m with someone who is constantly hurrying, whether onstage or in life. The thrill for me comes from knowing that I’m about to expose myself, and that gets the heart thumping. But “No,” I’m not nervous because this is something I have to do. “No” because I know that the opposite of me getting onstage is far worse than anything that could happen to me behind a microphone. I can’t think of many constraints placed on me today that would be more damning than that of “You can no longer do comedy.”
So last night, when I got onstage, the nerves just kind of, drifted away. It was a kind of weird comedy magic. Onstage, I felt better. And I certainly didn’t need a drink. Oftentimes, when I feel something that makes me uncomfortable – like talking to new people or performing – I might turn to drinking to mask that feeling. But once I’m in the act of doing, I don’t need to. And that’s good to know.
Liquid courage is a real thing, and it has its place, but it’s not meant to be a solution; it’s meant to be part of the process. It can help grease the social wheels, and tonight when I wanted to talk to someone I’d seen at trivia before, I didn’t. I can claim it was due in part to the fact that I wasn’t drinking, but if I didn’t talk to people because I wasn’t drinking, I wouldn’t have done very much in my life.
I’m overthinking all of this, but that’s what comedians do. We overthink and then think some more and when we’re done thinking we start thinking again. And sometimes, that’s where alcohol can play a very real and very useful role. A little boozin’ can actually take us to a magical place where that thinking switch is off, if even for a little bit, but there are other ways to get there. It’s just up to us to figure those ways out.
It’s the 10th. Feelin good.