“When performing improvisational comedy, it is important to remain clear-headed.”
It was this thought that rose to the forefront of my mind when I stepped into my apartment and saw butter and pancakes on the table. The butter, I knew, was deadly. But in hindsight I really think the pancakes were to blame. I’d been at work all day, you see, and I’d neglected to feed myself. The pancakes beckoned. They taunted.
My roommate had made the pancakes as a medium with which to consume the butter which was heavily laced with marijuana. She’d never made weed butter before, and this was her first foray into the culinary art of narcotics.
There were several things my roommate could do well: Mix a drink, clean an apartment, and make pancakes. The trick to an attractive pancake, she explained, was in the way you poured the batter into the pan. You had to tip the mixture out from a fair distance above the stove, creating a strong but consistent stream until the batter fell thick and confident across the entire heated area. The result was a thick fluffy disk of uniform density. Once cooked, it melted on the tongue very much like I imagined Elvish lembas bread would. It wasn’t easy to turn down such a pancake, and once you’d tasted your first one, it was not difficult to find yourself reaching for a second.
And so I did. I pulled a second pancake onto my plate and coated it with a second generous helping of the deadly butter. I had never tried weed butter before and I was curious. Besides, I still had several hours to go before my improv class started. I figured the experience would be akin to getting drunk: I’d get a high, it would peak after an hour or so, and then by the time I got to my class I’d be fine. So I didn’t panic when I first started to feel a spongy talon reach into my head and squeeze my brain, but as the time for me to leave the apartment drew closer, the fuzziness showed no signs of abating.
In an attempt to flush the cannabis out of my system more quickly, I got up and poured some water into a glass. I experienced a cascade of crisp refreshment; condensation forming around the outside of the glass, my fingers setting icy drops streaking towards the base. Water in the mouth – smooth, refreshing, like skiing down the Andes – and then draining down the gullet like someone pulled the plug out from under the Antarctic. I consumed. I took water into myself in a futile attempt at slaking an unquenchable thirst. The inside of my mouth felt like cotton. Cotton mouth. It made me think of snakes. From the moment my lips touched the rim of the glass until the instant I placed it, empty, into the kitchen sink (glass pinging off steel like a tuning fork to an ice cap) it seemed that time had made its escape. None remained. Where had it gone? I had to leave for class.
On the day that I’d gotten so terribly stoned, I was in the middle of a twelve-week improvisation course for English speakers, and I was learning a lot. We would meet in the back room of a popular sports bar in the centre of the city. We could close ourselves into the tiny, dark room with its low-level florescent lights bouncing off the colourful walls, but we’d still usually have to perform over the ubiquitous chatter, the thrum of music, and the bursts of laughter coming from the next room.
There are several important things to always keep in mind when performing improv: Accept everything, avoid questions, endow your fellow actors with as much information as you can. At the core of all of this, is trust. We were learning to trust each other; trust the other actors to accept what you gave them, to take over when you drew a blank, to endow you with information with which to empower you in a scene.
It is unfortunate, then, that being stoned seems to make you so entirely mistrustful. I walked into the bar that evening trying very hard to look un-stoned. I was early, and I found Daryl sitting at a table eating dinner.
Daryl was one of the organisers, and the one who’d advised us to remain clear-headed during practice. He was a part-time standup comic with a knack for improv, and his tattooed skin and thick forearms gave him an easy authority. He was easy to get along with, but people also listened to him when he spoke.
I climbed downward towards the chair, reaching limb over limb in a complex choreography of performance art. All the while, I held on to the idea that I had to remain normal. I didn’t want Daryl to know I’d broken his rule.
Daryl shot me a conspiratorial look and said, “I’ll thank you not to tell the others about this little infringement of the rules, okay?”
In that moment I was the Mikhail Baryshnikov of sitting still. My lack of movement possessed a grace that ballet dancers spent years trying to achieve. I was the master of my form, and at my performance Olympic judges would have raised cards displaying the number 10 had I not lost my precision by raising a single eyebrow.
“Hm?” I queried. I had no idea how he knew I wasn’t sober, but the deadly butter had taught me that I couldn’t trust anyone.
“The beer,” said Daryl, nodding to the drink next to his plate.
I was in the clear. My negligence had gone unnoticed. And, what was more, I was no longer alone in my malfeasance. My mind was sluggish, and my mouth felt dryer than ever. Perhaps minutes passed as I considered my response. At first, I thought of saying, That’s alright. I’m stoned, so we’ve both broken the rules.
That would have been the most diplomatic course of action. It would have bonded Daryl and I. We would have become partners in crime; brothers in secrecy. But then I began to fear that if I told one person the truth, my tongue would be loosened and I’d start telling everyone. It was a risk not worth taking, so instead I said “That’s alright. I’ll just use this information later as blackmail.”
It was a heavy-handed attempt at a joke, and I don’t quite think it hit the mark. Fortunately for me, I was failing to observe the passage of time at a normal rate, so the next thing I knew was that everyone had arrived and we were getting ready to start. I made idle conversation with some of the others, and I quickly became convinced that they were all stoned as well. I couldn’t understand why, but it took everything I had not to say, “Are you stoned as well?”
I have very little recollection of that evening. Normally, the improv classes were the highlight of my week. They were explorations into quick thinking, team building, and creativity. It was a space to grow, and to push the limits of the mind. The exercises were varied. Some relied on word play, some relied on innovating thinking. We were getting better at coming up with brilliant ideas on the spot. But that night I don’t believe I was much of a quick thinker at all. I had lost all sense of timing because I’d lost all sense of time. I remember people laughing, but I wasn’t sure if they were laughing at something I’d said or at the astonishing length of time it had taken me to say anything at all. It was a lost class to me, and I’m sad about that. I’d learned what it was like to get high off weed butter, but in the process I’d missed out on another valuable learning opportunity. I also missed out on an entire Friday, because the high didn’t start to disappear until much later the following day.
The other thing that I learned is that I don’t like to be high. It’s not enjoyable for me and it renders me unable to connect to the world around me. I lose time and cannot follow a thought to its conclusion. I’m determined to turn down all future offers of anything spiked with weed, but if those pancakes make a reappearance, I don’t know how strong I’ll be.