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Drink and Me: 'Booze is a crutch and I thoroughly enjoy leaning on it'

Joanne McNally


In a new series, five of our top writers speak candidly about their relationship with drink

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Joanne McNally. Photo: Kip Carroll

Joanne McNally. Photo: Kip Carroll

Joanne McNally. Photo: Kip Carroll

At a time where many of us may be feeling the effects of over-indulgence, comedian Joanne McNally laments about the demise of the lush.

Joanne McNally:

Poor booze, whatever good-time shine it once had is rapidly waning - it's basically the new fags. Once considered a cool and fun distraction from the monotony and stresses of everyday life, it's now close to being your embarrassing aunt, slumped over, locked, at a family occasion, her pashmina covered in stains she picked up from rolling across the top of the buffet on her way to the toilet.

Being a lush is no longer the cool rock-and-roll move it once was. Fine, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let's remember the benefits to the baby, the social and personal perks of the lovely, drunk, blurry baby.

Now, before anyone comes for me with their tales of alcohol-induced horror, loss of jobs, marriage, homes, eyes, etc, I get that. I've friends who gave up alcohol because they are/were alcoholics and could no longer face the hell of it; they hated themselves and they got help, and now live significantly better lives. This is not about them.

I've other mates who gave it up because they didn't like how it impacted their lives: they don't like being hung-over; they've got kids now, etc. I've other friends who gave it up for no real reason at all, they just made a conscious decision to be way less crack. (Jokes! Don't @ me.) For the record, I thoroughly enjoy hanging out with my sober mates and the fact that they can ferry us around town in their vehicles is an absolute joy.

Me? I abuse alcohol; let's face it, anyone who drinks, abuses it. I use it to amplify my feelings, dilute my feelings, mask my feelings, feel my feelings. It's one of the most addictive drugs on the planet, and it's legal! You can go to the pub and shoot up with your mates all day! You can take your mother to a restaurant and they'll show you a menu of food options, followed by a list of their finest bottles of drug, and you'll choose a bottle of drug that claims it goes really well with fish, then you taste-test the drug to see if it's corked, even though you've no real understanding of why you're doing that, because it's a screw-top bottled drug, but you say, "Yes, yes, very lemony", but really, you don't care - it could be Toilet Duck, you just want the magic juice in the glass so you can relax into chewing some decent social fat with your mother.

We can shoot up all evening if we like, chatting, confiding, bonding like gum on a rug, and then we will go home and eat 12 Penguin bars. A perfect evening, because say what you want about booze, but there is no greater social lubricant, nothing brings people together like alcohol (and trauma).

I grew up in a fairly standard Irish home. It was the 1980s, so naturally my dad was busy brewing his own beer in the hot press, and my mom kept a box of wine on top of the fridge that she'd pump wine out of with a similar gusto that I'd seen them do with the water pumps in the Trocaire ads.

My mother would like you, the reader, to know that this wine pumping was not an everyday occurrence, and she's right, I would never have classed my parents as big boozers; it was occasion juice. Drink meant happiness; new babies; Communions; sport; Christmas.

I've no bad memories of alcohol - there were no big fights, no slamming doors; all they did was laugh, sing and spill things. I'm lucky in that sense, I know that.

My first drink was, of course, a dolly mixture: a cocktail of whatever the hell spirits and alcoholic syrupy gloop you could sneak out of your parents' drinks cabinet before they get back from the big shop in Roches. Topping up the bottles with water, just in case it was that very night they'd decide to take a long, slow, tour of their drinks cabinet and realise that you were not, in fact, on your way to Sinead's house to watch Dirty Dancing, but you now spent your weekends getting pissed in fields and circling the plug hole of a teenage pregnancy.

One time I couldn't find a bottle to pour the booze into, so I arrived into my local field with a holy water bottle full of social clout and sexual mystique. When the whole of South Dublin's water supply got cut off and my mother was in a panic that we'd all die of dehydration, I was faced with a serious moral conundrum: should I tell her that her drinks cabinet is actually a mini oasis? That she's actually sitting on about nine litres of perfectly good, uncontaminated H2O? Nah, she's not cool enough to understand my double life as a Southside field gangster, and I ain't no grass.

I know the benefits to a booze-free life. I hear the chat, especially from writers - their mind is razor-sharp; their eyes shine like torches; they can see into the future; they get up at 2am,and they've written a novel by 5am. All wonderful perks, of course, but I have other priorities. Steroid-level productivity is admirable, but drinking wine with my friends is one of my favourite things to do. Comics spend so much time on our own, so I live for those face-to-face conversations; they water my soul.

I love swapping stories and listening and pouring and connecting and drinking it all in. The wine emoji is the universal symbol for 'Buckle up pal, we're about to go deep'. We bring all the info we've collected that week and dump it out on the kitchen table and sift through it and dissect it, and I love it; it fuels my stand-up, I make a living off it. I make no apologies for it; the incessant swapping of social intelligence is what has kept humans alive up until now; back in ye ol' yore times, how the hell were you supposed to know that Lord Biscuit of Naas was actually riddled with syphilis, if people like me were not passing that information on to each other over ale in the local tavern? We're saving lives.

Yes, alcohol affects productivity, but it also aids it. I'm under no illusions, I know its dangers, but I appreciate its powers. Our minds jump around constantly. Most of our day is spent time travelling, we're remembering things that have happened in the past, imagining things that could happen in the future; it's like a constant, painless, cerebral electrocution.

Alcohol slows all that down for me, and while I appreciate the mind when it's busy, I also appreciate the lulls. Booze is a crutch, and I thoroughly enjoy leaning on it. I don't drink to the point where I'm ruining lives, streaking through christenings and dissolving my innards. Not yet, anyway; if that happens, I'll re-assess. I drink because I thoroughly enjoy it and the connection it brings with it, the social ease; I know I can up my game with a coffee, or I can skew my mind with a Pinot. I like skewing my mind - it has resulted in some of the best nights I've ever had, and the best friends I've ever made, and also some of the funniest stuff I've ever written (although to be fair, that's subjective, so that should not be included).

Alcohol is falling out of favour for lots of reasons, but a big one is because when you drink, you're not completely in control of yourself, and we fetishise self-control. I get it, but personally, I like losing control. Life is stressful. We're wound up so tight, the pressure of it all takes its toll; we're taking in more information in one day than our ancestors took in in a lifetime. Half the time, I think I'm on the brink of short-circuiting. Alcohol is a release, and I'm all about releases.

Performing shoots your adrenaline through the roof. I love knowing I can head home that night and loosen the knot in my brain with a huge wine - it's like mental lubricant. I can feel my mind and my soul exhale.

Sometimes shame is really helpful. Shame stopped me smoking - that, and the images on the box telling me my mouth would eventually look like an anus; so vanity, but mostly shame. I wonder will alcohol be the same? Will we be shamed into sobriety? Maybe if my fag prediction is correct, our children will be completely amazed at the fact that you could once have booze indoors at a wedding or on an aeroplane. I really hope not - being alive can be hard, and a vice is a wonderful thing!

Maybe my own opinion will change, or maybe I'm deluded and in 10 years' time, I will be writing to you from a rehabilitation centre in California. Who knows, but for now, I drink.


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