I’m back from my summer holidays, it was beautiful but too expensive and I’m not keen on the direction Dubrovnik is heading, lots of laminated menus and people badgering you to come in for lunch at 11 am – just fuck off, I’ve only just eaten my stunningly overpriced breakfast.
On the plus side, its still the cleanest city I have ever visited, and they’ve got a new cable car and I do love a cable car and you can still get a cheap ferry over to Lopud, where they take you to the sandy beach on a golf cart. There you go, three of my favourite methods of transport in one week! Plus our hotel transported you to the main town by speedboat, only they went really slowly – tut.
I am not brown, all my holiday photos show that the palms of my hands are dark orange, but that’s the Clarins fake tan for you, it’s still coming off, and do you know? I’ve grown quite fond of orange sheets.
Summer is horribly slow – work wise (good job I’ve got a book to write) and I keep my eye on all the Ed fest reviews and wish I was up there doing something exciting, but if I was, I’d only be as mental and complaining as many of my comedy mates, most of whom are pretty transparent about what kind of festival they’re having on twitter. In fact I’ve unfollowed a couple for being so moany – pot calling, I know!
My Dad was 90 a few weeks ago, we all went up and his nursing home were incredibly kind and let us all pile into his room and provided glasses and cake plates and my mum took us all out for dinner and I think she was glad to see us come but relieved when we’d all buggered off, my brother is louder than I am and he’s 6 foot 4 and there were dogs, so it was a bit mad. My dad wore his parachute regiment tie.
My radio series LISTEN AGAIN HERE ‘Little Lifetimes’ a series of fifteen minute monologues set in real time, has been ticking over at 11.15 on radio 4 every Wednesday night for the past three weeks. Still three to go, I’m enormously proud of them, all the actresses are completely brilliant and I’m v chuffed with the reviews and reaction. See what you think if you have access to an iplayer they’re stashed for a week after every broadcast.
Back in blighty, the week was rocked by the news of Robin William’s death, depression and comics, is perceived to be ‘thing’ by many- Im not sure we can lay claim to bagsying any illness, I don’t think depression chooses its victims by career choice, but some statistics do suggest there is a link between comedy and mental chaos, anyway I wrote this.
ROBIN WILLIAMS DEPRESSION AND COMEDY
Despite being in comedy for over thirty years, I’m not a comedy nut, I can’t quote great chunks of sketch shows, I don’t watch other stand up’s D.V.D’s for pleasure, (they make me feel feel panicky) and I cant say that I’m familiar with every bit of Robin William’s oeuvre, but like most people with a heart beat I was shocked by his suicide. In amongst the outpourings of 140 character twitter eulogies (oh listen, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t), the one thing that struck me was that people nowadays seem to have a much better handle on the realities of mental illness. No-one on my time line is saying ‘Why, how could a rich man with a fancy lifestyle and a glittering career, do this to himself and his family?’ I think we’ve all moved away from the idea that suicide is selfish, it’s not selfish, its sad.
Sad is a very small world but it wields a lot of power and for some people depression makes them too sad to live. With the death of a comic, the ‘tears of a clown’ thing will inevitably rear its head, now I’m not convinced that comedians are more neurologically predisposed to depression than say lawyers or teachers but in my own experience, a lot of my colleagues are a bit ‘messed up’. And I say that as a compliment, there is a degree of heroic abnormality about going into stand up, it might be a lot more homogenized and degree orientated these days, but certainly when I started out, it was a haven for the odd ball and the theatrically eccentric, for people who didn’t fit neatly into the more conventional strata of show business. Here, at last was a home for people who wanted to knock nails into their noses, insert fireworks up their bums and put a pair of glasses on their penis to imitate General De Gaul, (Malcolm Hardee by the way, not me).
And everyone drank and everyone smoked and everyone generally behaved badly, but I’m going back to the 80’s when you could afford to be alternative without a trust fund and there just didn’t seem to be any limits, it was all very exciting. That said, I was scared stiff for the first fifteen years of my career, stand up felt like walking a tightrope, I lived in fear of falling, which I did many times and I still do and I still suffer from appalling anxiety, anxiety that has occasionally slipped out of hand.
Ten years ago performing at the Edinburgh festival, the entire stage seemed to slide, I felt like I was on a boat, sweating and swallowing back nausea for the rest of the show, I was diagnosed as having a panic attack and given valium in case it happened again. And it has happened since, I always know when an attack is on its way, I get a metallic taste in my mouth and I have to hold onto furniture, it’s a bore but its infrequent and at least I know I’m not having a heart attack.
The one thing all comics know is that sometimes the only thing you have to hold your hand on stage is adrenalin and adrenalin or epinephrine is a very strong hormone that acts like a drug. Basically adrenaline gives you a high, it can make you unable to sleep until you’ve drunk a bottle of red wine, it can make your heart palpitate, it can make you think you’re going to pass out, it can make you easy pickings for the other stuff, the booze and the coke, the upper and the downers.
There was a time in the late 80’s when the London comedy scene was awash with coke, I was fortunate enough to get pregnant in 1989 and in a wave of maternal righteousness was able to flush my very last stash down the toilet. I‘m incredibly grateful for the timing of my pregnancy, a few more years and I’m sure I’d have had as big a problem as others who can’t be named, some of whom are still in the business, some of whom are dead and some who just fell by the wayside, because they lost their work ethic, cocaine gives a false sense of comedy confidence and eventually it trips you up. But I remember how omnipotent it made me feel, I know why people miss it and I also think many of us can sympathize with the dangers of drinking, there are thousands of us who are borderline problem drinkers, reaching for that massive glass of chardonnay at the end of a shitty day. Addiction comes in all shapes and sizes and a lot of comics don’t have to get up in the morning. For many there’s plenty of time to sleep it off, before repeating the process over and over again, creating a groove for yourself that its hard to get out of, the daily mental dance of, ‘I love myself, I hate myself, I love myself, I hate myself.’
Of course Robin Williams demons went way beyond all this and only he and his family can possibly know how badly he struggled and I have no idea if there is a chicken and egg thing with comedy and mental chaos, although there is a recent report from the Institute of Psychiatry suggesting that comedians possess higher levels of psychotic characteristics than those not in the business, (but my old man could have told you that). What I do know, is that around around thirty five years ago I sat bolt upright on the sofa when Mork and Mindy first hit our screens, I remember thinking, now this is something properly funny, this is something new, this is resetting the bar, so how very sad that it should all end like this.
Finally, THIS MONTH I HAVE READ
‘The Shock of The Fall’ good, slightly self conscious, but I can see why it’s popular, easy short chapters, good for tube journeys.
‘All Change’ the last of The Cazalets series by Elizabeth Jane Howard, a great big nursery book for grown ups, comforting as toast.
‘The Paying Guests’ by Sara Waters – this was a preview copy and was everything we expect from Waters, lesbians, intrigue and some real nail biting suspense, fans will love it. Her period detail is really fabulous.
Ok, back to writing my book… laters