Whether before, during or after a performance, booze is always nigh in comedy 

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There’s a long tradition of alcohol and performing arts that dates back thousands of years. Outside of concerts, nowhere is the consumption of intoxicating beverages by audiences and performers alike more prevalent nowadays than in live comedy.

While substance abuse among stand-ups does happen, BradChad Porter, co-founder of OKC Comedy with over eight years of performing experience, said that most comedians do a pretty good job of self-policing.

“I think it’s fair to say that the comics I work with almost all drink before, during and after performances, but it is rare that one of them would be considered intoxicated onstage. After is another story,” Porter said. “Drinking made me more comfortable when I started doing comedy, and the more comedy I did the more I found myself drinking.”

Others are loath to set hard and fast rules and rely on instinct.

“I trust my mood, for better or worse,” said James Nghiem, stand-up comic, musician and owner of comedy record label Robot Saves City. “I’ve had a lot of bad sets drunk but I’ve also had good ones, too,”

Nghiem slowed his intake after he realized that he’s better when he leans closer toward sobriety.

“For the sake of the audience, I’m trying to chill out,” he said. “But if they want to see a train wreck, and someone wants to give me a ride home afterward, I’ll show them a disaster.”

Local performer Cristela Carrizales avoided drinking before performances during her two decades in theater, but that changed about six years ago after she started improvising.

“I thought it lessened my inhibitions,” Carrizales said. “I mean, I needed to be loose if I was making everything up, right? I thought I was opening myself for the improv gods to flow through.”

However, after she performed sober at a festival, she was surprised that it turned out to be one of her best shows.

“I found myself hearing everything being said. My thoughts were clear, my retorts quick and my laughs received were plentiful,” Carrizales said.

Under the influence

While plenty of improvisers and stand- ups partake in pre-show drinks, booze is rarely seen onstage.

Christopher Curtis and Curt Coy broke that boundary when they created C-4, their comedy duo. The longtime friends and frequent collaborators have performed together with Red Dirt Improv and Fortune’s Fools. For C-4, they created a concept that combined their favorite things: fast-paced dialogue, mixology and three-piece suits. They launch each performance with a ritual mixing of cocktails on stage followed by a series of verbal jousting matches interspersed between scenes that can be silly or serious.

Over the last five years, Coy and Curtis have found ways to play with their own premise. First they varied the cocktail, then they moved on to making punch, taking pulls from flasks or sipping tiki cocktails.

“We generally relegate those things to the opening 90 seconds of the show. After that it’s about the improv,” Curtis said. “Although we definitely continue to drink whatever it is we’ve made.”

There was no consensus among the performers as to whether or not alcohol makes one funnier.

Coy emphatically said that, yes, drinking makes him funnier.

“Otherwise I’m lying to myself,” he said. “Or it’s psychosomatic.”

Porter said that when he has been drunk on stage, he was no good at all.

“Same goes for the bedroom,” Porter said. “Doing a show for an audience who isn’t drinking is, nine times out of 10, an awful experience. The energy is saggy and weird. Comedy should be done at night, for drinking people.”

Booze is the best medicine

Nghiem said it’s one thing for a crowd to be loosened up, but he doesn’t think there are benefits to performing for drunks.

“Hammered crowds have no attention span and can’t even really process the words that are coming out of your mouth,” he said.

Dealing with drunken, belligerent or unresponsive audiences are harrowing experiences for all stand- ups. In Stillwater, Porter once got some unexpected help dealing with an unruly crowd from an inebriated coed who stumbled onto the stage and grabbed the microphone.

“She loudly and drunkenly said into the microphone, ‘If y’all will shut up so I can hear him, I’ll show you my boobs!’” he said. “I quickly took the microphone. After admonishing the audience — practically begging them to shut up because I needed this — I started counting down from 10,” Porter said. “When I got to one, I saw two of the six college-age boobs I ever beheld in person.”

Smith said that it’s normal for comics and audiences to want to drink.

“I think the comic is nervous about making people laugh and possibly the audience is nervous about being made to laugh,” he said.

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