It’s now well past the end of March. So what happened? And why has it taken me so long to write about it?
Well this is the first time in weeks that I’ve been sober enough to put together a coherent sentence. That’s not true, I’ve been busy. Mostly drinking.
Anyway, towards the end of February I got extremely jittery. Every time there was an opportunity to drink, I kept thinking about the very near future when I could take it, and I saw them everywhere.
A morning beer in the shower, sips from a hipflask on the bus into town, a longneck in a brown paper bag for the walk across town, filling my water bottle with white wine, a shot of whiskey in my coffee, and a piece of rum infused cake to go with that coffee. Then it was 8am, and I had a short radio interview.
I couldn’t decide if I was thinking so much about alcohol because it’d been so long since I’d had a drink, or because the moment when I could have one was so near. Whenever I saw or smelled a beer, I could taste it. A few times I even poked out my tongue and licked the air in front of beer billboards, and just thinking beer rendered me incapable of any other thoughts – I’d become a zombie for beer.
At the start of February I was contemplating giving up alcohol forever, but only a few days in I knew there was no chance of that. For a few reasons. I wanted to see if I could resist falling back into bad habits, and I really wanted one, and I had some drink cards I needed to use before I left Adelaide, and having a drink on March 1st was going to be way more interesting to write about than not having one.
So, when did I restart with the drink? Well I was out after midnight on Thursday February 28th, but I managed to resist. To prove to myself that I could, outside of the whole FebFast thing.
There was even a ‘onsie’ party – a party for those dressed in one-piece anything. While flyering people in my penguin suit, I was told about it repeatedly. Sometimes by the same already drunk person. Every other night when the party wasn’t on, I stood out while dressed in a penguin suit and handing out flyers. However with so many other people dressed up, people didn’t even realise I had a show.
On Thursday I did a total of seven gigs, so after midnight I was exhausted, and most importantly of all, everyone going to the party seemed young and over-excited and as I got closer, their high-pitched voices gave me a headache. So I went home.
Is this what it feels like to be an adult? To have opportunity to wipe yourself out while talking to hot girls dressed up as animals and cartoon characters, all in one easy to remove single piece of clothing, and then not take it? It’s either being an adult, or an idiot.
So I like to pretend that I was able to resist drinking on that Thursday night because over February I’d developed my mental fortitude and abilities to abstain, but really it was because I was tired and the young-uns were shitting me.
From the moment I awoke on Friday the first of March, I knew I could drink at any moment, and that I was going to start at some stage that day. It was a peculiar feeling, and like that first dance or first kiss, I tried to choose my moment carefully. At 3pm there was some networking drinks, only one half of that interested me, but the drinks were free and there’s no alcohol more delicious than free alcohol.
At 3.01pm I had a Coopers Pale Ale in my hand. Probably my favourite beer. Chatting to one person and then another, I hesitated then wasn’t sure I wanted to. Someone took a photo. Someone else took a video.
At 3.01pm and twenty seconds, I decided yes and attempted to down the whole thing at once. Halfway through I started to feel light-headed, then I got an ice-cream headache so stopped. The alcohol had already wrapped me in a blanket of gently buzzing warmth, apart from my head which was throbbing.
Still, it felt. Amazing.
Three beers and twenty minutes later I had the confidence to network with anyone, but resisted. I’d already tripped over the penguin suit three times and was pretty sure that while I thought I was standing still, I was actually swaying.
Over the final few days of February, the conscientious team at Febfast had sent out several emails warning people to take it easy on March 1st. To drink plenty of water, take breaks, eat plenty and to be aware that your tolerance for alcohol would be lower.
But where’s the fun in that?
I’ve heard countless stories of junkies who spend years hooked on a drug, go through rehab and then that first hit back on it kills them, because they don’t ease back into it.
After a few drinks though, all you want are more drinks. At the networking event I managed eight free ones and was well on the way to drunken bliss, as I headed off to my three afternoon guest spots. Following those and with a beer in hand, I hosted a comedy gallery tour. All went well, thanks for asking.
It was my last night at the Adelaide Fringe, so next I sat down for a farewell drink with some of the stallholders and venue managers that were working in the area that included my venue. We alternated beer and Tequila, and I considered some water, but then remembered that beer is around 90% water so didn’t bother.
Two more gigs which included more free drinks and whenever I felt the stumbles and stammers coming on, I’d simply back off a bit. Onstage I was fine, in general conversation I was funnier, other people were more interesting and I’d already flirted with a few girls. I was sailing, I was coasting, I was freaking airborne.
My final show at the Adelaide Fringe sold out an hour from the starting time, and I was primed to blast through then party hard.
What followed was my worst show of 2013.
From the outset half the audience were with me, but half most definitely were not. They didn’t heckle or talk, but they gave me nothing. Not a laugh, smile or a smirk. I really felt that they didn’t want to be there, and seemed as if they were sitting through a compulsory eight-hour seminar on workplace safety. Not an hour of stand up comedy.
These people were enthusiasm black holes, laughter sinks and fun vacuums, and about twenty minutes in, they’d managed to suck most of the energy from those were having a good time.
I knew these jokes were funny, every other night people laughed at them, but nothing I tried had any success. Crowd interaction, ad-libbing, my best jokes, safe humour, risky humour. None of it.
No longer did I feel drunk, but still I was terrified that the audience could hear me slurring, see me stumbling and suspected I was intoxicated. I thought my voice was fine, but don’t slurring drunks always sound find in their own mind? This was one of many fears racing around my mind, as the gig got increasingly awkward.
It would be easy to blame alcohol, so I did. However it could’ve been that I was just exhausted after a very busy month of performances, maybe something had happened with the quiet group before they even arrived for the show, or perhaps they just weren’t big laughers and I was overreacting.
A week later I sat with my director and watched a video of that performance. I didn’t tell her I’d been drinking, and she instantly pointed out that I lacked the spark and energy of my other February she’d seen.
That afternoon we watched some other February footage, then some clips from late last year. Without alcohol, I had to admit I was a better performer.
So I’ve decided to never again drink before or during a performance. Well, I’m going to try. A big change from someone who prior to February had never done a gig without at least one drink in me. At the start of the month, I certainly didn’t predict this.
Back to my last night in Adelaide, and straight after the show, I quickly downed two beers then off to do a late night spot. It went amazingly well. Big laughs all the way through, and it was the verification I needed after a shitty show. I was drunk, actually I was smashed, and even though I smashed it, I know I could’ve achieved the same result sober.
That night I was out until 5am. Full of alcohol I found people more interesting, they found me more interesting, and I chatted to a few bogans and even found them interesting. I talked to girls, I danced, and I danced and talked to girls at the same time. Without falling over, and I haven’t managed that in years.
At 10am the next morning I was up to catch a flight and didn’t even feel hungover, but I suspect that’s because I was still drunk. Then the taxi was stuck in traffic on the way to the airport. A traffic jam. In Adelaide. On a Saturday. The trip from the city to the airport usually takes 20mins. It took an hour.
This Saturday was by far the busiest on Adelaide’s social calendar. A calendar that’s suspiciously empty outside of February and March. I suspect that outside those months Adelaide actually closes, and everyone moves to the Gold Coast. Which is pretty clever.
Anyway, I have a rule where I refuse to be at the airport any earlier than the duration of my actual flight. So for an hour flight, I never arrive more than an hour before that flight, basically because I’m disorganised and always running late. So if my taxi ride had have taken 20mins, I would have been there an hour before my flight. As a result, when it took an hour, I missed my flight.
I was tempted to swear off alcohol forever, but instead after I was put on the next flight, I had a beer. It was delicious.
So it’s mid-March and what have I learnt? That I don’t need alcohol when I perform, but it’s still essential for a good night out. Maybe that’s something I’ll try and remedy next February.
Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian with upcoming shows in Melbourne (Mar 27-Apr 9), Sydney (May 7-11) and Brisbane (May 12-19). For details and more stupidity: www.xaviertoby.com