Dutch Courage

Performing on stage, for most people is a terrifying prospect. People are more afraid of public speaking than of death. These days, the rise of fascism probably ranks higher, but most folk still don’t want to get up in front of a group and speak, to say nothing about being funny.

Some say that if you’re feeling anxious, a drink will calm your nerves. This technique is also called Dutch courage. This is not a slur against the Dutch. It was coined by English soldiers who drank Dutch gin to calm their nerves before fighting in the Anglo-Dutch Wars. So simmer down Netherlands and maybe England needs to slow down.

My friend and fellow improviser, Matt Higgins, was recently asked if he ever had a drink before performing. His reply, and I’m paraphrasing, was that he didn’t because he felt that it dulled his mind and it’s important to be focused while on stage. Matt is perhaps the best improviser I’ve ever seen. He lives his life in an improv way, seeing the gift in the every day. He is also doing a Kickstarter for an improv video project, the link is at the bottom and I suggest you support him.

Even after many years of improvising, I still get a little nervous before a show. I don’t even like to eat before a show, being full makes me logy but hunger sharpens my mind. To play devil’s advocate, booze does break down inhibitions, a quality that is not only to be admired but is necessary for good improv.

I’ve only done one show under the influence, and here’s how it went. On the evening of a show I was in, I was invited to have an early dinner with a woman who I was happy to dine with. We cooked together and she opened a bottle of wine.

Now I’m a gentleman and if a lovely woman opens a bottle of wine, only an utter bounder would refuse to share it with her. Even if you prefer beer or whisky, clink those glasses and drink deep.

All too quickly, show time is approaching. I say goodnight and dash off to the theater, which was fortunately quite close, and arrive just before the curtain went up. Full disclosure, it was only a metaphorical curtain, but it’s a better image than a bunch of improvisers sitting on the side of a black box theater.

You might be asking, so how did the show go in your inebriated state? Did you forget what was going on mid-scene? Was there stumbling and falling. We’re you obstreperous? Did it come to blows?

The sad fact is this. None of those things happened. When I said “sad” I mean “delightful.” Fortunately I struck the right balance of wine and dinner. Forgot I also had dinner? Well I did.

Honestly, it was a great show, I felt completely uninhibited in the best possible way. I yes anded the hell out of that show. It felt effortless.
And I’ll never do it again. It could’ve gone the other way so very easily. I’ve done a few shows with improvisers who have indulged and it doesn’t always go that well. It’s all too easy to become a burden to your fellow performers while under the influence.

With the benefit of hindsight, my experience was a lucky accident. I’m not always that fortunate. For example, I never had dinner at that woman’s place again. But that might have been for the best. Lets just leave it at that.

Please remember, the time to get hammered and make a fool of yourself is after the show.

If you want to support Matt Higgins Kickstarter, and you should, he’s the best, here’s the link!

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