I was amused to read that the Irish comedian Dylan Moran was “incoherently drunk” in his debut show in Christchurch, New Zealand. He’s hardly the first to find such consolation before performing. The all-time champion in this well-travelled road was Dylan Thomas.
In the early 1950s, in return for a substantial financial return which he desperately needed, he agreed to do a lengthy near year long tour of American universities, with afternoon and evening scheduled performances.
I have a quite extraordinary book recounting this tour by the long-suffering American academic who accompanied Dylan, necessarily closely. He asserts it was impossible to get Dylan to eat anything, rather, from the moment he woke he reached for the bottle and never let up until day’s end. It ultimately resulted in his early demise.
In the late 1970s I was persuaded by a woman I met at a cocktail party to rescue the New Zealand Ballet, then in dire trouble. So I went on the Board, the other four then directors all being friends, happily gave me total freedom.
Initially the novelty of this after over a decade of active involvement in boxing gave it appeal, but basically ballet bored me, the challenge aside.
Anyway, during all of this and while in London my then wife secured tickets for Rudolph Nureyev’s initial performance, following his escape from Russia.
In due course he lurched onto the stage, barely able to stand.
A Hooray Henry type sitting beside me rose and brayed “Bravo, Bravo”.
“For Christ’s sake, he’s drunk”, I told this goose, something confirmed to me the next day by a woman I knew, whose husband was involved with the ballet.
The first time I ever met Tim Shadbolt was appearing with him and a couple of others in a televised debate about God knows what now, nigh on half a century back. After 10 minutes, I complain to him that Shadbolt was plainly pissed, so stop him from speaking, I urged.
“No, no”, the organiser assured me. He normally goes on like that and is stone sober and so it proved.
I always found a glass or two of wine helpful before public speaking, now fortunately behind me. But I was never drunk, although I have no doubt the last time I addressed an audience, about 4 years back in Queenstown, the polite but disappointed attendees could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
After a laudatory Chairman’s Introduction, I rose to go on stage, tripped over on the first step, then helped to my feet, wobbled about and couldn’t remember a bloody word of what I intended saying. The function necessarily wound up quickly. A few days later, back in Wellington I was diagnosed as having had a minor stroke.
All of that aside, my sympathies go out to the Irish comedian. Being a performer is mentally onerous, notwithstanding the seeming confidence he or she necessarily emanates.