Tag Archives: marihuana

Which makes you a better stand-up comedian? Alcohol, cocaine or heroin?

Andy Zapp - the current man in my bed at Edinburgh Fringe

Andy Zapp stayed in my flat at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, musician/comedian Andy Zapp performed in a show with comedian Ivor Dembina.

Currently, he performs on Saturdays at Ivor’s Hampstead Comedy Club in London.

He is billed as The Orchestra of Andy Zapp.

“A lot of jazz musicians liked heroin,” I said to him over tea in Soho.

“Yes,” agreed Andy. “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, all those ones.”

“One comedian told me,” I said, “that he might take Red Bull, but he never took cocaine before going on stage because he wouldn’t be able to control his act. I’m not sure I believed him, though.”

“Well,” said Andy, “Lenny Bruce managed to do it quite successfully for a time. I think you can do it if you have that creative spurt. I might be quite good doing that for five or six months, then I’d just be fucked. You’ve got that sort of creative burst because you’ve got the energy and you’re not worried about how you feel when they don’t laugh. Subjectively, you’re cut off. You’re not really connecting with the audience and it doesn’t bother you.”

“I suppose though,” I suggested, “it could make the paranoia even worse.”

“Well, yeah,” said Andy, “you’ve gotta get paranoid first, though. When you take cocaine, you don’t automatically get paranoid; that’s further down the line. The initial part of it’s really nice, but then you start getting paranoid. Heroin would be better. Nice and relaxed.”

“You don’t want to be too relaxed performing comedy, though,” I suggested.

“You wouldn’t have the anxiety, though,” Andy argued. “I don’t know how it would work for comedians. They’re more piss-heads. Drink.”

“I wonder why?” I mused.

“Well,” said Andy, “it’s a different type of buzz. More outward. Music’s a little bit more inward: you don’t really have to ‘perform’.”

“I suppose drink makes people go off more at tangents,” I said.

“Garrolous,” agreed Andy. “Drink dis-inhibits. Heroin stops you feeling. You don’t feel physical pain, you don’t feel emotional pain. Me, I couldn’t use anything, really. I’m never tempted that much.”

“Why are you tempted at all?” I asked.

A ‘selfie’ taken by Andy Zapp in London last week

A ‘selfie’ taken by Andy in London last week

“I think: Oh yeah, I’ll just take a bit of speed and I can just really fly about or some cocaine and it’ll really turn off the internal sensor. But doing comedy clean the way I’ve been doing it – I’ve been doing it two-and-a-half years now – being with Ivor helps. He’s really useful.”

“Why? Because he’s analytical?” I asked. “I saw Ivor put his Palestine show together over a few months and it was like seeing a watchmaker paying attention to every little detail.”

“He’s maybe a bit too careful,” replied Andy, “but I’m all over the place, so he’s very good at getting me back on track. I’m still trying to sort this composure stuff out before I go on stage. If I forget my composure, I forget what I’m doing and get scared when I get up on stage.”

“Where did you and Ivor meet?” I asked.

“At the Red Rose Club about 27 or 30 years ago,” said Andy. “I used to like going to comedy shows. I was a junkie then.”

“How many years?” I asked.

“I’ve been in recovery for 27. I’m 15 years clean now.”

“How does that add up?” I asked.

“I was clean for 7; got a tumour on my spinal cord; the doctors prescribed me pain-killing medication and I sort of lost the plot on that; then I relapsed for 4 years; and I’ve been clean for 15. That’s 26-and-a-bit years. It’s been a great journey. I love being clean; I really do.”

“You recommend it as a career path?”

“I would. What’s your bag?”

“Chocolate,” I explained. “I have a stomach to support.”

“Other people do gambling or sex,” said Andy. “I just do drugs. It’s all addiction.”

“But if you’re clean of drugs now,” I asked, “what’s your addiction?”

“It’s kind of low-grade now,” said Andy. “I kind of understand how I roll. I can do chocolate now. I’ve got a high metabolic rate. I exercise quite a lot.”

“Marihuana is fairly harmless,” I said.

“That’s not true,” said Andy. “It isn’t harmless. It mimics mental health problems. Schizophrenia, paranoia, low self-esteem.”

“Sounds like the basic requirements for becoming a stand-up comedian,” I said.

“Well, it’s a good starting point,” said Andy, “but you can’t tell which way it’s going to go. It’s the way you smoke it, really. Physical damage; throat cancer; stuff like that. Heroin is the most benign of all the drugs.”

“Pure heroin,” I said.

In the 1950s, heroin was a popular medicine prescribed by family doctors

In the 1950s, heroin was still a popular medicine prescribed by family doctors

“Yeah pure heroin,” agreed Andy. “I used to get jacks – 10mg tablets – like little saccharine pills. You got them off doctors. As a drug, heroin progresses through the body really easily. Within seven hours, it’s flushed through your system. It doesn’t damage any of the major organs. The only thing is it’s very addictive and, if you take a wrong amount, you can overdose. The stuff people get now… it depends what it’s cut with.

“It used to be only the middle and upper classes that took it and they were injecting heroin. But, once it became a smokable commodity, then it filtered into the working classes and the criminal classes and then it really took off.”

“It was the fall of the Shah of Iran that made heroin big here, wasn’t it?” I asked. “People couldn’t take their cash out of Iran, so they converted it into heroin and took that out.”

“Yeah,” said Andy. “But it was the marketing, really. People were putting it in joints, smoking it and thinking it was quite benign and, two weeks later, they’d got a heroin habit, a running nose, coughing.”

“What IS the Orchestra of Andy Zapp?” I asked.

“It’s me and a loop machine. Makes it sound like an orchestra of harmonicas.”

“That’s nice,” I said.

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My encounters with Jesus Christ… and the reason I could say Yes to heroin

In yesterday’s blog – drink.

Today – drugs.

Tomorrow, who knows?

If you are lucky, maybe even sex.

I was 13 when the Beatles hit big; I was 17 in the Summer of Love. Prime druggie material.

I once spent a long time in a kitchen in Clapham with a close friend of mine and the boyfriend of one of her friends who, let’s say, was called Susan. We were trying to persuade him that Susan did not really want to see him and that he should get the train back to his home town in the north of England. The problem was that he knew he was Jesus Christ and this kept getting in the way of the discussion. He kept telling us how he could change anything by deciding it was changed. We eventually persuaded him to go with us to St Pancras station and we did put him on a train north, but he was of the opinion he did not really need to travel on trains as he was the Messiah.

The second time I encountered Jesus Christ was a couple of weeks after a plane had crashed on a crowded rural area in (I think it was) Holland. The person who had done this was prepared to make a plane similarly crash onto the Thames TV building in Euston Road, London. He told me (the person who said he made the plane crash) that he would do this unless Thames TV issued an on-air apology because one of their programmes had offended him and I should pay attention to what he said because his father just happened to be God and he himself, as you will have guessed, was Jesus Christ.

I have never taken any non-medical, so-called ‘recreational’ drugs though, at one time, I would have done.

The only drugs which ever attracted me were heroin and LSD.

Marijuana in any of its forms never attracted me. It just seemed to be an alternative to drink, though less self-destructive than alcohol and spirits.

I lost count of the number of times I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s while other people smoked joints and talked utter drivel.

The next day, they would go on and on about what a great, deep and meaningful philosophical discussion they had had the night before and I would think:

“Nope. I was there. You were talking utter drivel, like five year-olds after eight pints of beer.”

Hellfire – forget “I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s” – I have sat in rooms throughout my life listening to stoned people talking drivel.

Amiable drivel. But drivel nonetheless.

It is rubbish to say weed has no effect on anyone in the long term. Not if you take it regularly in significant quantities over a long period.

Neil in The Young Ones TV series was not a fantasy character.

That was social realism.

I have worked with real Neils.

I remember a very amiable and well-meaning but totally brain-groggy and decision-incapable head of department at a regional ITV company in the 1990s. His entire brain had been turned into semolina by twenty years or more of weed and pseudo-philosophical befuddlement. If he had been an alcoholic, he would have been dribbling saliva out the sides of his mouth; as it was, his few remaining brain cells were almost visibly dribbling out of his ears.

I might well have tried hash in the 1960s or 1970s but it just seemed to be a milder version of alcohol with less aggressive effects and there was also a seemingly tiny but actually rather large practical problem: I had never smoked nicotine cigarettes, so the whole technique of smoking and inhaling was alien to me. If anyone had offered me hash cakes, I would have eaten them; but no-one ever did.

To me, marijuana in whatever form was and is a mild and uninteresting drug. If you want to be relaxed, then I recommend you just eat a marshmallow, don’t stuff one inside your brain cavity.

A friend of mine told me in the 1970s: “You just don’t understand what weed is like because you have never taken it.”

But, in the 1980s, I vividly remember standing in Soho with a long-term alcoholic I knew as he looked lovingly into the crowded window display of Gerry’s booze shop in Old Compton Street.

You could see the tenderness and nostalgic thoughts in his eyes as they moved from bottle to bottle and from label to label.

I was not an alcoholic, but I could see objectively what the drink had done and was doing to him.

In a sense, to see the real effect of a drug, you have to not take it.

I was always very strongly attracted to LSD.

It held the very major attraction to me of mind-alteration and making surrealism real. But the attraction and alarm bells over-lapped and, in any case, LSD was not available in my circles in my middle class area in Ilford, East London/Essex in the late 1960s.

Yes, I went to events at the Arts Lab in Drury Lane; yes I read International Times and went to Blackhill Enterprises’ free rock concerts in Hyde Park before the sheer scale of the Rolling Stones’ appearance in 1969 ruined them. But life in Ilford at that point was not druggy.

By the time LSD was available to me, I had read enough about people freaking out on it, read of Syd Barrett self-destructing in Pink Floyd, seen other people’s minds gone wrong. And then there were the Manson Murders in 1969. Not acid-induced as such, but not totally unrelated to druggy people’s minds going haywire.

The logic of LSD, as I saw it, was that you could alter the chemical balance inside your mind and, as it were, temporarily re-arrange the inter-connections. But if you felt, as I rightly or wrongly did, that perhaps your mind was potentially ‘near the edge’ to begin with, then there was the obvious danger that LSD would tip you permanently over the edge.

So I would have taken acid during a short window of opportunity but it was not available to me until after that window of acceptance had closed. I never took it. And reading about Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s mind being sent spinning over the edge by one drink spiked with acid did not change my opinion. He spiralled out of control after that first acid trip of course but, the way Rolling Stone told it, the whole spiral began with that one tab of acid.

With heroin: the same thing. When I would have taken it, the stuff was not available to me. When it was available I no longer wanted to take it.

When I was in my late teens, a close friend of mine married someone who was ‘an ex–heroin addict’. But, even then I knew that being an ex-heroin addict is a bit like being an ex-member of the SAS. You can never be too sure.

Years later, when the first anti-heroin ads appeared on TV, a close friend of mine said to me, “They make smack look bloody attractive, don’t they?” and I had to agree with her. If I had been an impressionable young teenager and it had been available, I would almost certainly have taken heroin. The first anti-heroin TV commercials were almost, but not quite, as good a commercial for smack as Trainspotting which felt to me like a positive Jerusalem of an anthemic hymn to the attractions of smack.

That first injection of heroin may, as I have been told, give you the biggest high – the most gigantic orgasmic leap – you have ever had. But it is also a drug for nihilists.

So that’s the one for me.

I think, with heroin, the potential lows can be as attractive as the highs – something the anti-heroin ads never seem to have realised.

Whereas cocaine seems to me to be the drug of self-doubting egotists who want to prove to themselves that they are as special as they hope they might be.

But that is another blog.

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My inability to read books, the dyslexic ex-gangster and the recent arrest of one of the Cheeky Girls

Since the morning of 9th March 1991, I have not been able to read a book.

I have written books since then, but I am physically unable to read them.

Last night, at Elstree Studios, I had a chat with author and would-be film producer Jason Cook, a very interesting man who has written three novels despite being severely dyslexic.

I am not dyslexic.

Jason Cook is an ex-criminal… some might say he’s an ex-gangster, but defining the word ‘gangster’ is a matter of semantics. By anyone’s definition, though, he is a very amiable, charismatic, creative dynamo of a man.

He was smoking and selling hash from his bedroom at the age of 12. By the time he was 16, he had moved on to ecstasy and had become involved with – by any definition – local gangsters. He took steroids, worked out at the local gym to build himself up and also had a tendency to carry knives AND guns; he was always thorough. By the time he was 17, he was helping the same local gangsters collect drug-related debts.

He was also addicted to cocaine.

Eventually, he was arrested and given a seven and a half year prison sentence, though he only served two years and nine months of it. While he was inside, he joined the education programme, volunteered for the drug-free wing (interesting that the prison authorities only labelled one wing as being drug-free) and was given support to kick his drug habit.

As part of this rehabilitation programme, he was encouraged to start writing about his experiences. The result is three novels – There’s No Room for Jugglers in My Circus, The Gangster’s Runner and the soon-to-be published A Nice Little Earner. This, remember, is from a man who is severely dyslexic.

All three novels have now been scripted as movies and ballpark budgeted. A few months ago, I advised Jason against joining the glut of cheap Brit movies and go for the big-time, big-screen legit movie area. Now he has offices at Elstree Studios. And now, I suspect, the fun and painful games will really start…

Well, in a sense the fun has already started.

At the beginning of last month, shortly after meeting Jason to discuss a role in the first of his planned trilogy of films, ‘Cheeky Girl’ Gabriela Irimia was arrested by police in Wilmslow, Cheshire, for shoplifting £40 worth of groceries from a local Sainsbury store. Her formidable mother Margareta told the Daily Mail that Gabriela “was getting into character” for her forthcoming role in the film version of Jason’s first book.

The Cheeky Girls are still in line to appear on-screen.

Jason is still trying to get full finance for his three movies and he is so energetic anything is possible.

As for my inability to read any book since the morning of 9th March 1991, more about that tomorrow…

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