the wisdom of silenus

There’s a reason why comedians shouldn’t be allowed near alcohol. I think we’re fairly well-disposed to misery anyway, but people prone to annual post-Edinburgh anticlimactic mood slumps shouldn’t drink at all.

Not everyone gets the post-festival depression, of course – some comics I’ve spoken to just came back exhausted.

But there seems to be a fair bit of depression about. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether you stop drinking (as is most sensible, despite the alcohol-withdrawal period) or carry on and just accept that you’ve become an alcoholic.

I know so many stand-ups who don’t drink at all; they don’t need naming here, but if you know any then just ask around and you’ll find a higher than normal percentage of teetotallers. Meanwhile, the ones who do drink probably drink too much.

This is possibly because, Edinburgh aside, drinking – like comedy – is both a relaxant and a downer. They are both mechanisms for those who know just what a bleak and shitty thing life is, and understand that the only alternative to nihilism and suicide is to embrace it anyway, to make something joyful out of it, to create laughter out of pain.

Which is what comedians and alcoholics generally tend to be addicted to.

If you’re fully committed to one mechanism, it’s likely that you’ll either have to forgo the other – or embrace it just as completely.

I think the Greeks were probably onto something with their myths about Silenus. He was the closest companion – often, it’s said, even the tutor – of Dionysus, the god of wine and orgies and music and loss of control.

Basically, Silenus was the guy who taught fun to the god of fun.

In art, he’s pretty much always depicted drunk. Old, bald, and drunk. Sometimes he also has the ears and legs of a horse, but I think that’s probably irrelevant.

Anyway, for those of you who are not familiar with it from The Birth of Tragedy or whatever, the story goes that one day, King Midas – yes, that one – was trying to find the secret of happiness, the thing that is most desirable for humans to have. Midas did that kind of thing, and it tended to get him into trouble. You remember the gold-touching thing.

On one occasion he went to speak to Silenus. Silenus repeatedly refused to tell him, so Midas did what any smart king would do and got Silenus drunk. Eventually, Silenus laughed and burst out,

“Oh wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be better for you not to hear? What is best for you is utterly beyond your reach: it is not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing! But the second best for you is – to die soon.”

Remember – this was Mr. Fun. This is what Mr. Funny Funtimes, the man who taught fun to the god of fun, can only admit when he’s drunk.

Most alcoholics and most good comedians understand the bleak pointlessness of existence all the time, and never more than in the weeks after an Edinburgh run. The laughter stops and we get left with – what?

Overdrafts; insomnia; distraction; collapsing relationships, homelessness (if, like me, you were dumb enough to leave your house to go to Edinburgh)…

And then we come back to London and we make stupid judgements.

And nobody stops us.

We shouldn’t be allowed.


day 12: university of comedy

The biggest problem with being a stand-up comedian at the Edinburgh festival, I think, is the same problem that students face at University: that incredible learning opportunities are accompanied by opportunities to indulge in a remarkable social life. This wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the latter’s potential to completely wreck the former.

Which is not to say that networking isn’t an invaluable part of the festival; it is just that it can sometimes be hard to know exactly where the line is between networking, and obscenely hedonistic drinking. The fact that everybody is drinking doesn’t really help; it just means that you know you are meeting a lot of people but it’s not always clear to simple folk like me whether the people you’re meeting are the people you intended to meet. But it certainly is possible to drink your way into some terrible performances.

Thus it was that I, after quite a late night the night before last, crunched on my hoop yesterday lunchtime.

There was no excuse; I was tired, I stammered, I ummed and ahhed throughout my set, and at one point I even described Edinburgh as being a rainy city “in the North of England”. I didn’t get any laughs after that.

I made up for it in the afternoon with a good performance at the Comedy Manifesto, in which myself and Eric somehow managed to beat David Mulholland and James Sherwood, who is a proper bona fide topical comedy writer. Ironically, if I hadn’t been out late the night before I wouldn’t have been drinking with Eric and Jools Constant, and wouldn’t have got the gig. So the ‘networking’ ruined one gig for me, but got me another at which I was quite good. And this is how the balance is restored.

Also, yesterday afternoon, I saw a play, called Splinters of Light. I had been given a free ticket by a flyerer and I enjoyed the performance of the ‘clock-fixer’.

The evening show was also pretty good. I didn’t do puns, just a solid set – perhaps one of the best sets I’ve done, albeit still not as slick as it could be…

So, the work continues. And when drinking and being hungover feels like work, then I guess there’s probably some kind of learning going on.

CTD: Audience – full; Performance – dire (2/10)

The Comedy Manifesto: Audience – full; Performance – solid (6/10)

SSS: Audience – full; Performance – Good (7/10)

Other stuff: okay, considering the late night the day before…

Overall: DRAW