On Substances & Inspiration

Over the weekend, I watched the stellar film, Top Five. I had heard and read good things about the movie, and I have been a fan of Chris Rock for many years, so I decided to finally check out his latest project. Top Five is an incredibly simple but entertaining movie. There’s no big elements, action, or traditional deep dramatic moments. In fact, the whole movie basically revolves around a conversation between Andre Allen (Chris Rock’s character) and Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson’s character).


As you can see, their conversation is the movie. No big fuss or effects or forced narrative. The premise of the film is that Brown is interviewing Allen about his new upcoming serious movie. She continues to ask about his comedic past and why he no longer does “funny.” He tactfully avoids the question until in a moment of utter truth and desperation he finally reveals… (SPOILER!)

…that he no longer does comedy because he is afraid. Allen admits that whenever he performed in his past, he was under the influence of something. Alcohol, cocaine, weed, whatever his dealer and friends would provide he took. Because of this, Allen does not want to try be funny. Simply put, he believes that the drugs and alcohol and excess fueled his humor, and he is unsure of what he will be without them.

It is not a new premise. After all, history is riddled with the tales of excess and debauchery that some of the greatest artists ever known went through, and at times reveled in, to find their muse and talent. As someone who enjoys a bit of drink and recreational substance use, I am not really one to judge or make aspersions against anyone (without good reason).

That being said, I have never known anyone who was a better talent under the influence over performing sober. In reality, we just feel like we are better, funnier, wittier, more charming, more inspired, etc. when under the influence of our preferred drug. At best, it is a “safety blanket” of sorts to hold onto to give us a sense of courage and means of overcoming our insecurities and fears. Of course, this is a vastly different experience when addiction comes into play, but that is a whole another conversation.

To be fair, drugs are not the only method of inspiration or safety artist use, but it is among the more common ones; usually with dire eventual consequences. So, knowing their potential for harm, why do artists use them? What is it about substances that seem to call to creative types? Why do we feel that sense of inspiration and creative burst under the influence? Why do we fear that we will not be as good without our buffer and safety blankets? Better yet, how do we get over this soul crushing anxiety?

In the film, Allen eventually overcomes his fear by finally jumping up on stage again and biting the bullet. The thrill of being in front of the crowd and just doing and saying what comes naturally is his cure, his salvation, his life. I suppose that is the key. We just have to forget about whatever chains we place on ourselves and just do the thing that we are driven to do. Without the aid of drugs, if possible.

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