Well, for one thing, they are not really shows. They are chats. Free to enter. Free to leave. No bucket collection at the end.
They aim to be what The Scotsman described them as last year: “a talking shop for comics riding the emotional rollercoaster of the Edinburgh Fringe” – except that the target audience is wider… performers, media and industry.
The audience are the show. Co-host Kate Copstick and I talk with whoever turns up about whatever crops up. Inevitably, today, one of the subjects was (again) comedian Lewis Schaffer and his show Unopened Letters From My Mother – Each day, he opens one of 23 letters his mother sent from New York (some from a mental hospital) to him in London between 2000 and her death alone in New York in 2011. And he never opened them.
In yesterday’s blog, I wrote: “I have a terrible feeling that he is doing these shows as a way of daring the audiences – and daring himself – to dislike him.”
This afternoon, at the Grouchy Club, I said: “In his show last night, it was seriously voyeuristic. We were watching a real person on the stage… not quite having a breakdown, but showing real emotions. You don’t normally see real, genuine emotions on the stage.”
“I think,” said Copstick, “that he is genuinely a kind of misery junkie. Some people go into physical SM because, when someone takes a whip across your back, you get a rush of endorphins. That’s just scientific fact. Whatever you think of the psychology, getting beaten-up creatively releases endorphins into the brain and they are the most powerful feelgood chemicals on the planet. It stimulates all kinds of things. The messages that the nerve endings send release into your brain adrenaline and all the -enalines and they are ‘fight or flight’ and they give you a kind of a rush, a head rush.
“And, of course, you are not using that to trigger flight – frequently because you’re bound up – or because you are paying to be beaten-up, so why would you run away? The bondage thing – the psychological thing – helps but, physiologically, you get an endorphin rush.
“Things like morphine are less powerful versions of the drugs that your brain makes anyway. It’s an amazing feeling. I don’t really do it now, I think, because I am on severe anti-depressants. But, before I was on anti-depressants, I was a real SM junkie. There were a couple of guys – I was their favourite sub because they couldn’t hit me too much for my taste. There were a couple of guys, I was their ‘show sub’ if they were doing a demonstration and I would come out feeling great, feeling relaxed, feeling happy.
“Some people self-harm and they cut themselves. I had a kebab skewer – I’ve still got it for old times’ sake – which I used to stick in my arm and swizzle around. It didn’t make a big mark. I would just go, stick it in, swizzle it around and you get this burst of pain and then (BIG SIGH OF RELIEF).
“I think Lewis Schaffer has that same kind of need, but it’s an emotional not a physiological thing. He needs to traumatise himself emotionally every so often. He has his divorce, this, that, everything but, now he has a relationship, people love him in Edinburgh, nobody really ‘has a go’ at him any more.
“So I think in the same way that I needed physical pain, he needs emotional pain. Maybe it reinforces his ideas about himself or whatever and he gets from a very specific pointed burst of emotional pain like that the same thrill and the same release that someone who is into physical SM gets from a whip across their back.
“What you need is something very specific… For example, it’s no fun for somebody who is really into SM to break a leg and be in pain all the time. It IS pain, but what you need is a burst of pain and it needs to be deliberate. I have lupus. I’m in pain all the time, so I should be happy like a pig in shit. But there is no intent.
“For Lewis, just having a shit day or a shit week or Oh! My life’s going all wrong! – That’s not the kind of misery he is addicted to. If he opens a letter from his mum and she is saying: You are a shit! You are dead to me! – that is a specific burst of pain and there is the added misery that he can’t do anything about it now because she is dead… That’s a real bombshell of misery and… I am not saying he wallows in it, but I think it’s a need he has to reinforce a… well, self-loathing is a cliché now but… I think it’s like a lash on his back.”