“I sat and watched the second hand on the wall clock as it steadily ticked off the final moments”, feeling “TOTAL DREAD”
This is John Cleese's description of the paralysing stage fright he felt before his first live TV performance, on The Frost Report.
Cleese describes looking at himself in the mirror and thinking "If I was a matador going into the ring with a bull. I don't see how I could be any more scared than I am."
Probably not that surprising for someone appearing on TV for the first time. But he has been performing for more than 40 years now, and as surprising as it sounds, Cleese admits he is still haunted by stage fright
Try as he might, he’s never quite shaken off his fear of big audiences.
“Being stared at by lots of people makes you anxious. When you’ve got a thousand people staring at you, that’s what stage fright can be. You don’t want to let people down.”
Cleese, adds: “I think anyone who does anything really well is slightly anxious it won’t be good enough. It’s obsessional, the creative process, because you want it to be as perfect as possible.”
Cleese has also talked of workshops he has run for drama students, who apparently are never taught how to address their nerves.
"I surprised the students because the first thing I started talking about was fear. Anxiety. Nerves. Stage fright. Call it what you will. And it's funny it simply isn't addressed in those drama courses. And yet of course nerves, stage fright, is absolutely essentially to the business of being up in front of an audience.
SO, IS THERE ANY CURE TO THE FEAR OF PUBLIC SPEAKING?
The best cure Cleese can offer is to learn your material so well you can do it with your eyes shut. And with each performance you will get a little more assurance.
Talking to Jemima Khan in the New Statesman Cleese said:
“TO KNOW THE THING SO F***ING WELL THAT YOU WOULDN’T STOP IF A BOMB WENT OFF”.