“You haven’t been to that Scientology place on South Bridge, have you?” I asked Lewis Schaffer. “They call it the Hubbard Academy of Personal Independence, presumably so people don’t know it’s Scientology.”
“No,” he replied.
Well something strange has happened to him.
American stand-up comic Lewis Schaffer is a former Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner and no wonder – he just can’t stop attracting publicity.
This last week, he did a double whammy.
On Thursday, the genuinely very amiable and charming comedy agent Brett Vincent used Twitter to accuse Lewis Schaffer of stealing a joke.
“Hey @LewisSchaffer – I have heard from 3 sources that the first joke in your show is 15 minutes in and its a Ben Hurley gag from 2006? True?”
New Zealand comedian Ben Hurley is one of Brett’s acts.
The gag was: ‘’I lost a good friend in the World Trade Center. I remember telling my friend: Mohammed, stay in flight school! Practice the landings!’
Lewis says he had actually come up with the gag himself straight after the 9/11 terror attacks:
“I have fond memories,” he said in a press release, “of telling the joke in early 2002. It’s the joke that got me banned from Jongleurs. I brought the joke back this year because of the ten year anniversary of 9/11 to remind me of all the good times… A comedian is judged by how soon he or she makes a joke about a tough subject. For instance, I made the very first joke about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance - the day before I kidnapped her. Maybe that was too soon.”
I had tea with Lewis Schaffer at Fringe Central in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon and it was not the spat with ever-affable Brett Vincent which was obsessing him. No, it was the fact that he was living in the Now.
“I am living in the Now,” he told me. “It’s all good.”
“You’re saying meaningless things again,” I told him. “You’re being very American.”
“No I’m not, John. I’m living in the Now.”
That’s when I asked him: “You haven’t been to that Scientology place on South Bridge, have you?”
“No,” he replied.
“So why,” I asked, “have you suddenly decided to live in the Now?
“Because I realised I’m 54 years old. I have too much shit going on in my life. I have more past than I have future. When you’re 20, you can live in the past because you don’t have much of a past. Now I’m gridlocked. My Now is that I have a show to do but I’m sitting here with you. I’m not even worried about my show in half an hour.
“It’s going good because I’m living in the Now. I’m not going to remember the bad things that have happened to me. I only know that right now is good.”
“And Now is good?” I asked.
“Yes. I got a review today which said my show was over in a flash. Well, it must have been good if it seemed to be over in a flash. Only good shit is over in a flash. Bad shit goes on and on and on. Name anything bad that’s over in a flash besides premature ejaculation.”
“So it’s all good now?” I asked again.
“I had my bag stolen yesterday.”
“Is that good?”
“That’s bad. It had all my jokes in it. I had all the jokes for my show stolen. I was flyering yesterday and I left my joke book in my bag outside and someone stole it. Well, it wasn’t a book, it was a sheet… sheets.. And it had the money from my show. It’s the second year in a row this has happened, though I don’t know how I remember that, because I am living in the Now.
“Every year I make a list. You remember my lists, John? In 2009 it was
“I am not shambolic.
“I don’t hate the audience.
“I don’t think this country is completely shit.
“Discussions confuse people.
“I know Madeleine McCann is not as important to others as she is to me.
“I lost all those lists, all of them; they were in my bag; four years worth of lists. I lost them. Maybe that’s good. They were in the past. Maybe I have to do a new list because now I’m living in the Now.”
“Have you reported it?” I asked.
‘You can’t report it.”
“Of course you can. Someone might find it. It’s the sort of crime where they steal the bag, take the cash and then they throw the bag aw…”
“But,” Lewis interrupted, “They would read the notes and the jokes inside the bag and say to themselves This is Lewis Schaffer’s bag – and they might have given all my jokes to Ben Hurley.”
But you don’t need a list of jokes,” I said, trying to be positive. “You don’t tell jokes; you tell stories with jokes in them.”
“I tell jokes!” Lewis complained.
“But if you can remember the stories,” I persisted, “you’ll remember the jokes. You have been doing your show twice weekly in London for the last year. You’ll remember the jokes because you know the stories.”
“I live in the Now,” Lewis told me. “Those stories were yesterday’s stories. How can I remember them in the Now? You know how critical the reviewers are: they only want to see new jokes. They don’t want to hear my Award-winning Holocaust joke again.”
“It’s the best Holocaust joke I’ve ever heard,” I told him.
“You said that already,” Lewis mumbled. “I have to do a show in half an hour and I have lost my book of jokes. Well, my sheets of jokes; and notes; and my lists.”
He became very serious. He looked me in the eyes:
“What would you – John Fleming – do if someone said to you You have to be on stage in half an hour and do an hour-long comedy show?… Would you think to yourself: I’m shit because I didn’t prepare?… No you wouldn’t, because you didn’t know you had to prepare.
“That’s what I feel about my life. I didn’t know I had to prepare.
“No-one told me. When I was crawling out of my mother’s vagina, no-one told me I had to prepare for an Edinburgh Fringe show. Did you know it was coming? I didn’t know. It’s not as if it’s an annual event. They just spring it on you!”
I looked at Lewis.
“I don’t remember the past,” Lewis said, looking me in the eye, very seriously. “I am living in the Now.”
I said at the beginning of this blog that something strange has happened to Lewis Schaffer.
I take it all back.
He is the same.