I’ve often been asked to share the most surprising thing I’ve learned about Woody Allen after spending two years making “Woody Allen: A Documentary.” My stock answer can be distilled to this: “He’s a fake.”
What I mean is that the public persona we’ve come to know as the “Woody Allen character” is just that — a character. The three N’s so often used to describe the public Allen are nebbishy, nervous and neurotic. But the contrast between the Woody character and the “real” Allen is never more in focus than when he’s on the set, directing.
Because any director must have the confidence to think on his or her feet and answer about 20 questions every minute, it’s hard to imagine that anyone as anxious as “classic” Allen would survive in the midst of all that chaos. But the “real” Allen does more than survive. He displays a remarkable sense of calm when at work, a confidence and security that are the antithesis of his public image, and both the crew and the actors take their cues from him.
Being cool, calm, and collected onstage isn't as funny as being nebbishy, nervous and neurotic though.
Figuring out how "real" to be onstage is a challenge. Being a cartoon is funnier and helps give you a more distinct point of view. But constantly pretending to be something you're not seems like it could get old real fast. And maybe that's why Woody (or Steve Martin or Bobcat Goldthwait) eventually soured on standup and moved on to movies.