The Sad Tale Of A Comedy Junkie
It is 1996. I am a young Irish stand-up comedian. The stage is not my home. It is more like a youth hostel in Wiesbaden. I never storm during my act – just lightly rain shower. I have started referring to laughs as Godot. Most evenings when I do a gig there is a lot of waiting for one.
I live in London. They say a man who grows tired of London grows tired of life.
Stuck in a dingy bedsit in Cockfosters and deeply depressed about my non-burgeoning career I develop a serious drugs problem – I can’t afford any.
I want them. I need them. To forget who I am. (Like all the agents I ring).
But where can I get my hands on some drugs?
Desperate to partake in this dangerous snorty needle netherworld, I start hooking up with another comedian on the circuit, the well-connected and slightly dodgy Z. (Z is not his real first initial just in case fans of Zachariah Burgess, obscure and justly neglected London- based comedian originally from Tubbercurry think I’m referring to him). Me and Z start taking E. And some blow. And some caine. Ok, initially, I don’t have the lingo down pat but almost immediately I feel a complete transformation in personality.
I imagine myself an airline pilot in a 1960’s advertisement. Airborne. Confident. In control of my own destiny.
I also start wearing a slightly silly camp white-peaked cap.
This new confidence gives me the brio to constantly harangue venue managers and wangle gigs. Suddenly, I have work lined up. Again. Now, all I have to do is be funny. Again. Forget again. Just once. Be funny once. That’s all I ask. Be funny once.
My first newly arranged gig is in a place called The Laugh-A-Go-Go in East Croydon. Since artificial stimulants have helped me in the day-to-day business of my career, I start to wonder if they may also help me in the actual execution of my career. Look at George Carlin. Lenny Bruce. Richard Pryor. Funny guys. The drugs helped open their minds to a new comedy frontier – ok with Lenny Bruce it became a sort of final frontier, and Richard Pryor had that unfortunate free- basing accident in 1982 – by this stage my lingo has become flawless – but in the greater scheme of things it did seem to clarify their artistic mission.
So the night of the gig, I decide, yes. I will, for the first time take something before going on-stage.
I drop a few E’s. On the ground. Outside the venue. They were my last E’s. I go to retrieve them up but a one-eyed, three- legged stray poodle has got to them first. He’s going to have an unforgettable night. He’ll be the funniest pooch, or feel like the funniest pooch in East Croydon – but what about me? I had to score some gear. Soon. I was on in thirty minutes.
Twenty of those minutes are spent standing at the back door of the bar, outside the Gents looking shifty, trying to attract the attention of various single men and getting punched. I come to the conclusion that this strategy isn’t working and is causing an unnecessary loss of blood. I also decide to stop wearing that slightly silly camp white-peaked cap.
Three minutes to go. I am saved. She is pick-me-up gorgeous. An all-purpose comedy groupie with her own unique fashion sense – punk Amish. She is in love with anything to do with comedy and anybody doing comedy. She recognizes me from a photo in Time Out from 1992 and asks me do I want to do a line. In my pre -lingo days and being originally from a modestly populated town in Ireland I’d have thought she was suggesting we go steady, have a bit of relationship, maybe get married, have a couple of kids, who knows where it’ll take us, but in my new found level of narcotics sophistication I know exactly what she means.
We retire to the Ladies. She locks the door of the cubicle. She puts a line of cocaine on the rim of the loo. This is seedy, authentic, on-the-edge living.
But not very hygienic.
She snorts a line. She arranges one for me. Suddenly I hear the MC announce my name. I have to go. I half-snort some of the powder, get up, unlock the cubicle and somehow find myself on stage. I open my mouth. I sound like the electronically altered voice of a former satanic cult member on one of those television documentaries. After two minutes I realize the drugs aren’t opening any new comedy frontier. It is the same old comedy frontier. Only much less coherent.
And over the next excruciating fifteen minutes I don’t hear the sound of one Godot.