Tag Archives: John Cleese

Emotional sound barrier (quote from John Cleese’s memoir, ‘So, Anyway…’)

One night I did, as near as dammit, a perfect show. I got every laugh, never missed a beat, my timing was exquisite; I was relaxed, disciplined and hilarious. There had been nights when I’d got most of the sketches dead right, but never before had I done the whole show impeccably. I was superb. (Please remember we did about 180 performances and this happened just once.)
The result: exhilaration. And then, the next day, depression. Because I realised I’d never do it so well again. Every night from now on I would go on stage and do it less well than I was capable of — it was going to be downhill all the way. And for a week or so after that, doing the show became a struggle: I was having to push myself through an emotional sound barrier, going on stage to do an imperfect performance that was going to dissatsify me. It was a ridiculous expression of perfectionism but it made me belatedly realise that that’s why I always called myself a writer-performer: I wanted to write something, perform it perfectly just once and then move on. Of course, I eventually found the right professional attitude: to keep it as fresh as possible every night, and take pride in your discipline, but now it always felt like work.