'A man walks into a bar': Comedian Seann Walsh on the dangers of mixing alcohol and stand-up
Comedy and booze go together, says stand-up Seann Walsh. Good gig? Celebrate with a drink. Bad gig? Consolation tipple. The trouble is stopping at just the one – he once drank so much he collapsed on stage. So when do the hangovers stop being funny?
Sunday 04 August 2013
I'm 27, and I've realised I have to become an adult. The turning point came with a knock at my door. There was nobody there. Someone had done knock-down-ginger on me. I was always the one who did knock-down-ginger.
I've always liked to drink and talk about it on stage, but I moved to London from Brighton last year to try to get away from the person I was.
I was in a bubble. Brighton is the sort of place where everyone is aspiring but nobody is doing. My friends would call themselves film-makers, but all they were doing was getting drunk.
I decided to try to join the real world. I've been failing miserably. I thought if I was living on my own I'd have fewer nights out – but there's always someone calling to say, "Let's have a drink."
The first time I got drunk, I was about 15. I was on holiday in Spain and had too much vodka; I had to have my stomach pumped. I didn't drink for ages after that, and I still can't go near vodka. Guinness and red wine are my favourites now.
Comedy and alcohol go together. If you have a great gig, you drink to celebrate. If you have a stinker, you drink to get over it. But I think the reason anyone drinks is that it gives you the unexpected. Every night is an adventure; you get good stories out of it. For instance, when I was up in Edinburgh five years ago, I appeared on Mock the Week for the first time. That night, I couldn't get into my flat and had to sleep in the street using bin bags as pillows. In the morning, people were having to step over me to get to work and going, "Isn't that the bloke from Mock the Week?"
The first time I did a solo show in Edinburgh, four years ago, I had a panic attack on stage. I'd always wanted to do comedy, but there was too much stress. If you had a bad gig, there was no time to recover from it, and the next night you'd have another bad gig. I'd been smoking and drinking coffee all day, and it was drink, drink, drink after each show, and that was bound to have repercussions. For some reason I walked on stage and started at the wrong point in my act. I skipped the first 10 minutes and I couldn't get back. I couldn't breathe and I had a strange feeling in my teeth and I thought I was going to die. Then I just collapsed, I fell to the floor; the show had to stop and people had to leave.
I still get nerves. I can't tell you the number of times I've thought of jumping on a plane to Dublin and hiding in a pub and not going to Edinburgh. Or just hiding in bed.
Last year I tried to stay a bit healthier to get through the Festival, but in Edinburgh, there are so many bars to go to, so many people to bump into.
I don't end up slurring, I don't fall over. I sing and dance. I'm one of those people you hear singing Oasis outside your window when you're trying to sleep. I don't lose things, just friends. In the morning, my phone is full of texts saying, "Where are you?"
I still have big sessions in the evening when I know I've got the next day off, but I don't drink before a show because I know I could never stop at one. Some comedians think they're funnier when they've had a drink, but I don't think I am.
There are comedians whose careers have been ruined by drink, but I think the real problem is when it is a combination of drink and drugs. Everyone in the business knows about talented people who looked like they were going to be big, then blew it.
I've always had terrible hangovers. The worst was when I fell asleep with my head on a hot radiator. One night I had a really bad hangover and every time I tried to eat, I threw up. I ended up doing my show with only half a banana in my system, but actually it was a great gig. Maybe I should do that more often.
I don't know what I'd be doing if I wasn't doing comedy. I didn't pay attention in school, I got kicked out of college. I went through a phase when I could have got into more trouble. I don't think I'd have been a dealer, I don't think that would've happened – but I definitely would have had six kids! I can't say if I'll still be doing it in 10 or 20 years' time. I love comedy, but I'd like maybe to direct. And I think I'll be drinking less. When you're doing TV, you often work office hours and I can't do it with a hangover, so the drinking can't go on forever.
In fact, lately I've started exercising to sort myself out. It's not like Rocky, but you can't just turn up and do a gig. I noticed the bags under my eyes weren't going so quickly, and I was getting knackered after eating a baguette. Playing football used to wear me out. Now it's baguettes.
When I was a kid, Jim Carrey inspired me to get into comedy. At one point, I could do everything he could, like move my eyebrows independently. I practised in front of the mirror for ages. But you get older and it's not cool to do Jim Carrey impressions; it's cooler to drink and smoke. I wish I'd stuck with the eyebrows.
As told to Bruce Dessau
Seann Walsh's new show, 'The Lie-In King', about trying to turn his life around, is at the Pleasance Courtyard at 9.20pm until 25 August. He will record his debut DVD in a double-header with Josh Widdicombe at the Hammersmith Apollo on 26 September
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