I watched a documentary about Victoria Wood yesterday, the legendary comedienne and write who recently passed away.
As is the case with most (auto)biographical documentaries, it was quite fascinating. I must admit, I wasn’t so familiar with the various works she had done, being of a slightly later generation and so having been quite young when much of her work was featuring on TV.
What I learnt, though, was really interesting. Despite her having carried out dozens of live performances, both acting and stand-up comedy performances, she described how she used to be quite terrified – and particularly in her early days of performing. So much so, that initially she used to stand in the crook of her piano, and so with the safety of that as well as the mic stand in front of her, and holding onto the mic. Eventually, as she became more confident, she used to stand completely out in the open, with a clipped-on mic as opposed to a stand / holding it in the hand.
I really admired Victoria Wood’s courage and authenticity when talking about her nerves. Many of her colleagues also commented on how she was a rather different person on stage to the one away from it (for me, this conjured up images of the likes of legendary singer Michael Jackson and legendary children’s writer Dr. Seuss; both quite shy and reserved in real-life, and the latter of which was said to have been so worried upon meeting his fans, that they would expect him to be a big, outlandish character just like the ones he wrote about – and not, in fact, the sort of reserved chap that he really was). (In the documentary, she spoke about the “high” that came from making the audience laugh whilst on stage, to the “low” that would come immediately after the performance – this, she said, is why comedians would often surround themselves with an entourage after the show; to diminish this “low” and avoid the feeling of loneliness when the show had finished.
We also heard about her perfectionism and worry when it came to her work; it was fairly common for her to, on the day of filming itself, spend her lunch break changing a particular scene’s dialogue – and so the performers would have to re-learn their lines there and then.
We only see the performances. The tip of the iceberg.
We don’t see the work that goes in. The rest of the iceberg.
We often don’t experience the true emotions and true personalities of the performer.
They are human too.
They get worried, nervous, perfectionist, etcetera – and especially so when it comes to their work.
All of this is, in a way, quite reassuring.
Talented performers, like Victoria Wood, are human too.