Is a Japanese comic doing their act in English with a Japanese accent racist?

Louise Reay Chinese

Image for Louise’s Chinese language show It’s Only Words

Last night, I went to see the final of the Leicester Square Theatre’s New Comedian of The Year competition, rightly won by character act LJ Da Funk (aka Zak Splijt).

One of the acts was the highly esteemed Louise Reay.

In a previous So It Goes blog, about her Edinburgh Fringe show, she explained to me: “I’ve always been interested in communication. People have a real mental barrier about languages and the way we communicate.

“But just one look can mean so much. We communicate all the time. Look at my hands. I can’t stop them moving. There’s so much more than language going on. That’s what my show’s all about. There was a very spurious 1960s experiment which proved that only 7% of communication was verbal. So my whole show is an experiment in the 93%. If I did it in French, it wouldn’t work, because most people maybe understand enough.”

Today, one review of last night’s show said: “Louise Reay was the first oddball of the night, coming on speaking Chinese and then explaining, via placards, that her whole act would be in Chinese. It could easily have been seen as racist, but Reay was more of an absurdist. I didn’t think it was offensive, maybe if I was Chinese – and very sensitive –  I might have felt differently.”

Italian comedian Giacinto Palmieri is currently conducting a three-year PhD research project for the University of Surrey at Guildford. It is on the self-translation of stand-up comedy – comedians who translate and adapt their own material from one language to another.

On Facebook, his response to the review was “I don’t understand why the possibility of considering Louise Reay’s act racist is even entertained (although, fortunately, rejected). She does not even pretend to be Chinese; she just plays on the absurdity of using a language the majority of the audience cannot understand.”

The reviewer (alright, it was the admirable Bruce Dessau) came back to Giacinto with: “As you say, I did consider it before rejecting it. But I still wonder if a Chinese person would be OK with it, though I don’t like the idea of being offended on other people’s behalf so I won’t be offended on behalf of the entire Chinese population!”

Giacinto, responded: “Indeed. But I think we need to go a step further: even if they were offended, they wouldn’t be justified in being so. Offence, even when real and not hypothetical, cannot be its own justification.”

A warm welcome for Louise in Nanjing during the BBC2 TV series The School that turned Chinese

A warm welcome for Louise in Nanjing during filming for her BBC2 documentary series The School That Turned Chinese

At this point, Louise pointed out: “My Edinburgh show was sponsored by the Confucius Institute at the University of Edinburgh, which is funded by the Hanban, the culture department of the Chinese government. This would appear to indicate that my act is generally supported by both the Chinese and the academic community of Chinese speakers. I would add as a general point that it is not remotely racist (for a white English person) to speak real Chinese. A Chinese person speaking English is never questioned on the matter. The Independent wrote an article about it all in case of interest.”

Interestingly, by a quirk of scheduling at last night’s show, Louise Reay’s act (an English woman performing in Chinese) was immediately followed by Japanese comic Yuriko Kotani speaking English with a Japanese accent. She won the BBC Radio New Comedy Award last week.

There has never been any suggestion that her act could, in any way, at any time, be considered racist.

Louise Reay is currently working on her next solo show, titled Que Sera, 些拉 

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick face-to-faeces + the Pope and Obama in Kenya

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Kate Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista at DECIP

Kate Copstick is in Nairobi, Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based. It helps poor people start their own small self-sufficient businesses.

Below is an edited version of her latest missives, available in full on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.

I am about to try to coax my tiny Vaio to let me write another diary – you will, I know, be delighted to hear. Do not hold your breath, the Book of Kells was written faster that my Sony will allow. However, I have taken time out to tell you of the extraordinarily enormous poo I did early this morning.

One of the interesting features of peeing and pooing into a bucket at night is that it brings you face to face with your arse’s doings. Almost literally in this case. I could swear it had jaws. This thing was like nothing I have ever seen. It is the kind of thing normally seen in close up with an awestruck Sir David Attenborough whispering: “The Kenyan Brown Anaconda is a magnificent creature…”


Heading across town is not really possible as everything has been closed off for the Pope. His speeches are – for a world figure like him – gloriously in-yer-face. And he KNOWS so much of the shitty stuff about Kenya. He makes some seriously pointed remarks about land grabbing and stealing school playgrounds for development (which Deputy Wm Ruto attempted only a few months ago) and corruption and materialism in government. Go Popester!

We go to my third meeting with the Mums of Disabled Kids group. The group has thinned considerably now they know I am

  1. not stupid and
  2. not limitlessly minted.

So we set up a hardware business (with veggies sharing the space outside), a hair salon (with more veggies outside). Working out the finances of running of a hair salon for African women has the complication factor of trying to build a Rubik’s Cube out of a kit made from Higgs’ Bosons. The permutations of pieces and weaves and oils and chemicals and treatments and the rest is staggering. However we sort it out. And I leave muttering dire warnings of the horrors that will befall them if they misuse Mama Biashara’s money…

I have also brought ten umbrellas for the albino kids and a load of E45. I will also be setting up a drop-off point for bottles and tubes of sunscreen in the Emporium. These kids need Factor 60 and it costs a FORTUNE here.

For the first time in a long time I go to Njenga’s place for soup at lunchtime. This soup is the Kenyan equivalent of Jewish Chicken Soup. A cow’s head and feet bob about in the massive pot of broth and men walk up and down the dirt floor pouring mugs of it from huge plastic jugs. That and some boiled tongue and a bit of kachumbari. Excellent.

Now we head to Felista’s Cyber Cafe and pick up her and some big cardboard cartons. At DECIP, I talk to the two newcomers to the place – Esther who wants to dump her one week old baby here and Obama (she is adamant that is her name) who was found running out of the Ngong Forest in the berr nakid scuddy (as we say in Scotland). A week with Felista and a capsule of cod liver oil each day has worked wonders with them both and both are communicating.

Esther, it turns out, was raped out on the Maasai Mara at a camp where she was working. The child is the result of that rape. And she doesn’t want anything to do with it. She says the baby makes her think about the gang rape. Fair enough. “Why not have an abortion?” I ask. She looks horrified. She is a Christian.

Obama has also started speaking. She comes from Mumias. Ran away from home because (I think … her story was a little bit jumbled) her brother and his friends were raping her. On pretty much a regular basis. And she was discovered to have syphilis. Which they said they would treat with ten injections. She ran away to Nairobi.

Where I think some fairly ghastly stuff went on because she had no money and says she was living at ‘Ambassadors’ which is a bus stage in the heart of the ‘up-to-no-good’ area of Nairobi. From there she went to Kibera (never a good move) and then ran away to the Ngong Forest to find someone to pray for her pain. She gets blinding headaches and suffers from what she calls the falling down disease which usually translates as epilepsy. She also has open sores on her legs. But she is sweet and stunningly beautiful. So she is going to the hospital on Monday for a full check up (I hope) and they will kick off some serious antibiotic treatment.

So that was a shortened version of an average day for Copstick in Kenya…

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Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography: “An essential read for all trainee teachers”

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

In the interests of surrealism, I print below three current customer reviews on of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, the autobiography of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

It is, tragically now out of print.

The customer reviews are followed by Amazon’s current ‘product description’ of the book.

I think Amazon may have some computer issues.

I am doing nothing about it, because I think Malcolm would have approved

Public reviews

Public reviews on the site


By SilentSinger

I’ve read loads of comedy books which reference the life and career of Malcolm Hardee so I wanted to read his story in the first person (well, first person and ghostwriter anyway… so although it’s now sadly out of print I purchased this from one of Amazon’s excellent sellers. Hardee pulls no punches, he fully admits that he’s a bad ‘un and hailing from roughly the same area in South London suburbs (as did fellow comic Simon Day, someone with whom he shares a lot of common ground with) I can picture many of the scenes he describes. I also saw Hardee MCing at his ‘Up The Creek’ club in the 90s, arriving on stage to the strains of ‘Mr Big Stuff’ by Jean Knight.

But I digress, the book is a rollocking read and tells how he swapped the horrors of borstal and prison for a life of comedy and performance. I’d recommend anyone to look up the balloon dance on the internet to witness how amusing it was, ditto the ‘banger up the rear’ routine. It takes the reader on a journey of how he became a stand-up performer within the ‘greatest show on legs’ troupe, his touring, drinking, womanising, electioneering and generally being a bit of a dodgy promotor/agent to other acts. There’s also fond memories expressed of other acts such as Jo Brand (a former lover), Jerry Sadowicz, Arthur Smith and countless others. Some of the anecdotes, including the titular theft of Mr Mercury’s Birthday Cake were pithy and well told.

In conclusion: a great book written a decade before Hardee’s sad demise in his beloved Thames – he drowned whilst intoxicated on his ‘Wibbly Wobbly Pub’ barge, allegedly still holding on tight to the beer bottle. A tragic end for such a local character.

By Sam

My father (a bit of a comedy buff) throughly enjoyed this book! A little piece of comedy history and an amazing insight into the Malcolm Hardie’s incredible life and journey. Shame that since it is out of print that I was second hand, but well worth it regardless.

By Mitzi

An enjoyable read. Full of cheeky chappies and crazy anecdotes guaranteed to generate random fits of laughter. Malcolm was a lovable rogue who liked to show his knob a lot!

The product description product description – some mishtake shurely?



‘I enjoyed this book, and got a lot of good ideas from it’

– Chris Kilby, PGCE student

‘An essential read for all trainee teachers… covers the literature and puts a strong emphasis on the how’

– Sarah Davies, Senior Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University

‘This book guides you through a process of looking at your own teaching and properly building in some of the many new techniques it outlines. This book does not provide a magic wand, it instead provides a mirror onto one’s own practice and allows you to make real, lasting improvements in the classroom’


‘This book will provide ideas that motivate that most difficult of audiences, the teenager. It works well because it is broken down into quick ideas that can easily be built on to existing plans’

The Teacher

‘This book’s authors are both experienced classroom teachers with impressive CVs, immediately instilling faith that they will know what they are talking about and that they are giving advice and ideas about things they have actually done’

– Debbie Redshaw

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Humor, Humour

Arthur Smith says Jimmy Carr is “working on a comedy algorithm”

Arthur Smith in a Soho alleyway

Arthur Smith at the Grouchy Club in a Soho alleyway

As Kate Copstick is still in Kenya, I was joined for this week’s Grouchy Club Podcast – in a Soho alleyway – by comedian Arthur Smith.

This short exchange cropped up:

More and more, there are people creeping into the world who aren’t real. they’ve been fabricated by programmers.

For example?

Well, Jimmy Carr. I don’t think he’s a human being. He’s…

Poor Jimmy Carr!

No, he’s a synthesised creature working on a comedy algorithm that just creates jokes. But, obviously, there’s no feeling or soul or anything. And this is happening more and more. everyone’s job, soon, will be done by a synthesised creature and we’ll just be sort-of vegetables sat at home watching afternoon TV.

But surely Jimmy Carr is a traditional old-style comedian, in fact. He tells jokes, which people don’t do now. There’s Jimmy Carr, there’s Tim Vine, there’s about three other people doing jokes and everyone else is telling stories.

Yes. Because that’s all synthesised creatures can do, because they’re working on a series of algorithms, like I say. So they regurgitate the form of a joke.

You’re not a joke man yourself?

A man goes to a doctor. The doctor says: “I’m afraid you’re going to have to stop masturbating.”

“Oh no!” says the man. “Why?”

“Well,” says the doctor, “I’m trying to im…examine you.”

I nearly fluffed the punchline… I’ll do another one.

A man goes to the doctor with a bit of lettuce sticking out of his bottom.

The doctor says: “It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Oh, no, I like an ancient joke.

But does this mean you’re an algorithm?

Yeah, but I’m a Barry Cryer algorithm and that’s a different kind of creature altogether.

Well, Barry Cryer is a sort of a gag merchant and Jimmy Carr’s a gag merchant. I have to say I quite like the gypsy moth joke myself.

Hang on, whose gypsy moth joke is this one?

Jimmy Carr.

Oh, yeah, that one! Well he’s got in trouble again, I noticed. He’s quite clever. It was a classic; he wanted to do a very short joke and the joke was a dwarf shortage. But, of course, he was on The One Show and got in trouble for that.

And, when people complained, he said: “Oh, grow up!” which, I thought, was a double funny.

Yeah, I agree. I agree they’re good gags. I just wish he’d… Yeah, but he’s not a human, is he? There’s no heart; there’s no soul, is there?

David Mills, who you probably don’t know, was saying that he…

Yeah, I know David Mills – the American – he’s brilliant.

He was saying he’s going to try and incorporate himself more into his act, because he’s never really done ‘himself’ before.

The thing is, he was constructed, that’s why. He’s a synthesised comedian; I told you.

David Mills??

No, not David MIlls. Oh! I see! David Mills is going to incorporate…

Yeah, David Mills is going to incorporate personal stuff whereas, before, he’s just been a man sitting on a stool.

Yeah, well I think, in the end, that is a good thing to do.

Sit on a stool? At our age?

Well, you’re better off with a back to it. But I think having something of yourself is what makes you unique as a comedian whereas, if you haven’t, then you’re just a synthesiser.

You can hear the full 25-minute Grouchy Club Podcast HERE, in which Arthur talks about his theory of mindlessness, writing for Frankie Howard, being in a Danish pantomime, why he may go trans-gender, Shakespeare, being pedantic, semi-colons, creative writing courses, Daphne Fairfax and his several half-written novels… plus he performs the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno in the original medieval Italian. Oh yes he does.

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Kate Copstick’s insight into everyday life in Kenya, including the Chinese effect

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Comedy reviewer Kate Copstick is in Kenya.

That is where her Mama Biashara charity is based and does its work.

Below is an edited (by me) insight into life in Kenya at the moment, culled from Copstick’s current diaries.

The sort of stuff that never gets reported in ’the West’.

Copstick’s full diaries are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Doris gets into Nairobi at about 3.00 am. At my insistence, she gets a taxi home to Kenol. Unfortunately her problems do not stop there. She tells me later “there has been an unfortunate occurrence” in Kenol.

Night shift policemen in Kenya are to be feared.

They clock on, take their big guns, do one circuit of their beat and then go to the pub. Where they drink until morning. At about 5.00am, they come out, pick up their guns and do one more circuit (at which point they are dangerous), clock off and go home. Just as Doris was getting home, a drunk policeman shot two completely innocent men on a pikipiki (motorbike taxi).

By the time she woke up later that day, Kenol was a war zone. A thousand pikipiki boys from all over the region descended and attacked the police station demanding the drunk cop be arrested. The police did not seem to think he had done anything wrong.

And so, to deter the pikipiki boys who were barricading themselves in for a fight, the police shot and killed several of them and started throwing tear gas about the place.

Doris, her kids and all of her neighbours fled the area.


I meet up with Joanne – cousin of my late friend Janet – who is working with all manner of needy groups, especially one I met the last time I was here –  mothers of disabled children.

Mental and physical disabilities are not well catered for here. The twelve year old daughter of the group leader was raped and impregnated, giving birth just before my last visit. The four year old a few door along (also mentally challenged) was also raped. By a neighbour. The police did nothing so the women got together and marched him to the police station. Where the police refused to arrest him. So they took him to another police station and refused to leave until they did arrest him.

Joanne tells me about the group of albino children she is working with. They live in fear as there is a roaring trade in albino body parts in Tanzania. Strong magic, apparently. So I say I will meet up with this group and we arrange a meet for Wednesday down in Kibera.

Joanne and I part and I head to Junction to meet Doris.

Doris’ journey back from Mombasa had been horrendous. Apart from the child attacked by the hyena there was also a white man having a heart attack to keep interest up in Doris’ stationary traffic jam.

There are roadworks going on to do with the train line and ‘improving’ the last stretch of the Mombasa Highway and the job has been given (who would have guessed?) to the Chinese.

They are not great on:

  1. the materials they use which, of course, they bring from China (lest there be any hint of aiding the local economy) and which are marginally less than Fit for Purpose
  2. making sure the roads are finished properly so that when the rains come and huge trucks drive along them they don’t just fall apart.

Plus the workers would appear to be following that best-loved of Confucius’ sayings: When your government has their government in its pocket, there is no need to get a wriggle on with the job. And so the roadworks are taking forever and what road is worked seems to fall apart at the drop of a ten ton truck and a bit of rain.

According to Doris, Mombasa is the most horribly racist place imaginable.

In the nineteenth century, the Omani Arabs from Zanzibar took Mombasa from the Portuguese and, even when the whites (that’ll be us, Brits) rolled in and took over declaring all land not under cultivation to be ‘Crown Land’, the people were still under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar.

Mombasa and a 10 mile wide Coastal strip was leased by the Brits from the Sultan. But the people were still his people.

This is the basis of the argument made by the Mombasa Republicans who say Mombasa was never part of Kenya and should be allowed to cecede immediately.

Nowadays, the city and coastal strip still has a huge Arab population. They are the rich and the middle classes and they treat the indigenous people like shit. Doris says if you are black instead of brown you are nothing – a sub-species of humanity.

Among the wider African population, skin lightening is the single biggest ‘thing’ in the cosmetic industry here. Doris says she could feel the looks and the attitude eating away at her self-esteem.

Then she tells me about the Mijikenda widows.

The Mijikenda are an indigenous tribe. The main one.

According to Doris (and she went to this village to see for herself), when the women are widowed, they are ceremonially walked to a village outside the city area where they live for the rest of their lives, forbidden to leave.

On a Friday (and Doris was there on a Friday) the local chief brings a charabanc of businessmen to the village and they have sex with the women, believing that they are ‘clean’, and pay them with a sack of rice and a five litre container of cooking oil.

“It is a cultural thing” says Doris, shrugging.


I have a very worrying conversation with Mwangi – who designs and makes fabulous jewellery.

I am ordering a collar and ask for it in turquoise (which always sells well). “Not possible,” I am told.

Mwangi shows me the last ornate collar he made in turquoise… The colour is rubbing off the beads even before it has been sold. The same with the burnished gold beads. This is because the government of Kenya have opened up the bead market to China, which is flooding the market with their shit beads.

The Czech beads which everyone had been working with for decades are priced out of the market. One of Nairobi’s best and longest standing bead shops has already gone out of business rather than buy the Chinese rubbish and real artists like Mwangi are finding it almost impossible to get the good beads they need. The real beads have the colour all the way through. The Chinese ones are either black or white and are just sprayed with the colour – which does not last long.

This move could devastate one of Kenya’s oldest and most famous traditions.

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Comics Lewis Schaffer & Will Franken. Name-calling and some missing money

Lewis Schaffer videos Will Franken by a Big Mac toilet

Lewis Schaffer videos Will Franken outside a Big Mac toilet

Yesterday’s blog was the first part of a chat I had with UK-based American comics Lewis Schaffer and Will Franken. A few months ago, Will decided that he would wear women’s clothes on stage and off stage and would be called Sarah Franken. Now read on…

“You got mad at me,” Lewis Schaffer said to Will, “because I called you Will all that time.”

“You were the only one,” replied Will, “that did not call me Sarah throughout the whole seven months – not just at the Edinburgh Fringe – all the months leading up to it.”

“I don’t care about other people,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“So,” I said to Will, “you are not going to be appearing as Sarah after you finish with this show?”

“I dunno,” said Will.

“What are the alternatives?” I asked. “Are you going to be the ‘real’ Will Franken?

“I have no idea,” he told me.

“It might be difficult to backtrack,” I suggested.

“Yes,” agreed Will. “Are people going to think I took the piss? There was this outpouring of love when I came out as Sarah. But, at the end of the day, they don’t have to live this life. I do and I’ve personally found it a fucker. I had no interest in taking hormones or having the operation. I wanted to keep my wing-wang.”

“Yes,” I said. “People thought: He’s so brave for doing it. And, if you backtrack, they might say: He was just doing it for publicity.

“Of course I wasn’t!” said Will.

“I know,” I said, “but that’s what they might think.”

Lewis Schaffer (left) and will Franken check video shot

Mr Schaffer (left) & Mr Franken watch a video

Lewis Schaffer said: “We always think: What effect will it have on my career?” When I moved to England, I got an offer to appear on the TV series Wife Swap. My wife at the time did not want to do it and I didn’t want to do it either.”

“Did they tell you who you would swap with?” I asked.


“A celebrity?” I asked.

“No. It wasn’t a Celebrity Wife Swap. But the first thing I thought was: How will this help my career? Not the money.”

Will said: “The first thing that goes though my head now is: Is there money? I don’t think about exposure any more.”

“Would you lend him money?” I asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I did,” he said.

“I needed a guest on my radio show,” Lewis Schaffer explained, “because I’m very last minute. I was desperate for a guest. I said to Will: Come down. I’ll loan you £50.

“I thought,” said Will, “that you told me: I’ll give you £50.”

“I’m not gonna GIVE you £50,” said Lewis. “So since then, he’s given me a total of £8 back.”

“Anyway,” I said. “Career advancement…”

“You don’t write funny,” Lewis Schaffer told Will. “You should write funny.”

“What ya talkin’ about?” Will asked.

“You CAN write funny,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You do write funny.”

“I do write funny,” said Will.

“But often,” said Lewis Schaffer, “you write very seriously in the middle of the night.”

“Well, surely that is good,” I said.

“It’s not good,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“What do you mean it’s not good?” asked WIll.

Lewis Schaffer (left and Will Franken sharing fast food

Lewis Schaffer (left) and Will Franken share a love of fast food

“Because,” said Lewis Schaffer, “in real life, you are never not funny. When you talk to people, you are never serious for more than a minute.”

“I played Hate ’n’ Live,” said Will and the subject for me was Islam. I thought it was tailor-made for me. I deal with jihad and radical, y’know… I mean, any type of hypocrisy, I’ve got to go after it. I see something so hypocritical with I personally hate Christians, but…The hypocrisy to me is just astounding. I’ve been obsessed with this for about ten years.

“At a show, this girl said to me: I was just in the Middle East and I found Islam really interesting. So I asked: What was your favourite part? The homophobia? And it turns into this, like, tense… She said nobody questioned her her whole life. She said she went to Cambridge… I said: Mohammed; six-year-old brides… She said: nine-year-old… I said: Oh, nine years old. I do apologise… She got tense and she walked out and I was angry and I said: You fucking Maoist!

“Her boyfriend came back in and said: Why did you call my girlfriend a bitch? I said: I didn’t call her a bitch; I called her a Maoist, which is actually worse. But then I hated myself, because I don’t want to be that person.”

“You mean confrontational?” I asked.

“Yeah but then, at the same time, I feel there’s so much brainwashing…”

“That’s my point,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He’s made my point for me. My point is that, when you’re with people, you are rarely serious to the point of not being funny.”

“I’m getting confused,” I said.

“That’s your default position,” said Lewis Schaffer, still talking to Will. “When you’re with people, that’s your default position. But I’ve seen what you write and sometimes what you write is serious because you’re in the privacy of your own home and you don’t feel the need to be funny as you would when you actually see someone’s face.”

“True,” said Will.

“The reason I notice that,” continued Lewis Schaffer, “is that is like me when I wrote my blog for those three months. I was writing in the privacy of my home and it was just bitterness-bitterness-bitterness-bitterness-bitterness. But, when I’m out with people, it’s bitterness-joke-bitterness-joke-joke-bitterness and they don’t really notice the bitterness.”

One of Will Franken’s blogs

An old Will Franken blog

“I used to write really funny blogs,” said Will. “Back when I smoked a lot of weed, I was constantly on the blog. Some of them were really, really weird. Some of them were long libertarian treatises that were serious and academic. Some would be like fake obituaries for a woman names Dolores Oatmeal.”

“What about the serious blogs?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Some,” replied Will, “I just went through and deleted. Sometimes I get serious. I think I have that kind of…”

“Yes,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I know you do. But, when you are actually with people, if you see somebody not being happy with what you’re saying, it’s not that you backtrack, but you know, deep down inside, you want to make a joke about everything when you look at their face. You see somebody’s face and you say to yourself: I’m going to make them laugh.

“Or sometimes I wanna run away,” said Will. “I wanna be like Christopher Hitchens. I would love to be that detached emotionally,”

“You can’t do that,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I can’t do that,” Will agreed, “because I’m too passionate.”

After our chat finished, Lewis Schaffer recorded a 2-minute chat with Will/Sarah Franken and me inside a Big Mac toilet… It is on YouTube.

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Will Franken revert from being Sarah?

Lewis Schaffer (left) with Will/Sarah Franken and apple pie/cheeseburger

Lewis Schaffer (left) + Will and/or Sarah Franken in London last night plus an apple pie and one of three cheeseburgers

A few months ago, London-based American comic Will Franken decided that he would wear women’s clothes on stage and off stage and would be called Sarah Franken.

I met Will/Sarah last night for a chat with fellow American comedian Lewis Schaffer. Will/Sarah was wearing men’s clothes, so I shall call him Will in what follows.

We met at a branch of McDonald’s in Holborn. Lewis Schaffer ordered apple pie and brought his own water. Will Franken ordered three double cheeseburgers and a small Coke. They are Americans. What can I say?

Sarah Franken’s current stage show

“When I became Sarah… a feeling of being accepted.”

“So,” I asked Will, “are you going to revert to being Will again?”

“Well,” he replied, “I was making a pros and cons list…”

“So Sarah might be a pro and Will a con?” I asked.

“I look on this as a prolonged break,” he said.

“Dressing as a man?”

“Yes. When I became Sarah, there was a feeling of being accepted, but there were a lot of comments and abuse in East London – I’m 6’5”; I stick out like a sore thumb. A lot of people were nasty. They shouted out: Gay boy! Trans-sexual!”

“This was in Bethnal Green,” I said, “and I’ve heard you say there were particular problems from Moslems.”

“…and sometimes,” said Will, “you would get the tourists who just wanted a photo like you were the Ronald McDonald clown.”

“You could charge them,” I told him.

“I’m a whore,” he replied, “but I never sell out when the opportunity presents itself.”

“Because you don’t want to be a success,” suggested Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, that’s not being a success,” argued Will. “Being a tranny and getting your photo taken.”

“That’s why you did it,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Because you knew it would annoy people.”

“That’s not why I did it,” countered Will.

“That’s why I would do it,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“But the other problem,” said Will, “is I fancy women and I think I was like kinda swept up in this idea: Oh! Women love confidence! It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. As long as you’re confident. That’s what women are attracted to. But I found it was just utterly confusing. I didn’t know when to make the move. I mean, I never knew when to make a move when I was Will either, but Sarah confused the hell out of me.”

Will/Sarah Franken - "I didn’t know when to make the move"

Will/Sarah Franken – “I didn’t know when to make the move”

“A female friend,” I said, “once told me the biggest turn-on line for any woman was a man saying: I think I MIGHT be gay. Then it’s a challenge… So, surely, if you dress in women’s clothing but say you’re still heterosexual that might surely be even more of a turn-on?”

“Women want to hunt,” suggested Lewis Schaffer. “Like men. It’s human nature to want to hunt. But women, unfortunately, are not really allowed to hunt so, if you give them an opportunity, I think they really enjoy that.”

“I need people,” said Will, “but I’m very afraid of them too. I think I’m really shy and withdrawn in a lot of ways.”

“That’s all comedians,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Comedians,” I suggested, “are often extroverts who want to hide in a cave.”

“Absolutely,” agreed Will.

“I am like a refrigerator light bulb,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You open the door and I’m on… If I’m at home or with someone I know, I’m miserable but – out and about, if I meet strangers…”

“That’s where you and I differ,” Will told him, then turned to me: “Lewis Schaffer will be a really good friend and he will stand with you in Leicester Square and say: Look, you DON’T wanna get the razor blades. There’s no reason to put your wrist in the way. And then he sees someone passing and it’s: Tommy! How are ya? and he’ll go right off. When somebody passes by that he knows – he could hate their guts – but he will…”

“Because,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “I’m happy to see them.”

“But why,” asked Will, “would you be happy to see someone you don’t like?”

“Because,” Lewis Schaffer explained, “I know the guy, so I think I must like him, else why would I know him?”

“And then,” said Will, “I have to remind you that you don’t like them.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“But,” I said to Will, “to get back on the Sarah track, you found there were drawbacks…”


By the time you get to the 15th or 20th interview …

“Yes,” said Will. “The stares, the comments, the wanting to get laid by women. And then there was feeling like I was a poster child for trans-genderism. The first interview you do about trans-genderism feels really cool but, by the time you get to the 15th or 20th, you’re like… I mean, you know I do other things apart from being trans-gender? I developed sympathy for what black comedians must go through in interviews – black, black, black, black, clack, black, black.

“I think one of the most interesting things in the show I’m doing right now at the Museum of Comedy – Who Keeps Making All These People? – is that it’s completely blasphemous towards radical Islam… I think that is more newsworthy, given recent events.”

“I think,” said Lewis Schaffer, “the reason you’re not a huge success is you get bored. In order to be a success in comedy – a success in anything – you gotta do the same shit all the time, over and over and over again.”

“I love,” said Will, “how you don’t consider yourself a success, yet you sit here and hold court on how to be a success.”

“That’s right,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t think I’m a success – I think, objectively speaking, a guy who lives in his living room, who has to buy a phone in Tesco’s, is not a success.”

“Back on the Sarah and Will track,” I said. “Will, your current show…”

“It’s the one I did in Edinburgh,” Will told me. “Who Keeps Making All These People?

“You know what your show is about?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “It’s about How can I annoy people?

“That’s not true,” said Will.

“Yes it is,” insisted Lewis Schaffer.

“What are you talking about?” asked Will.

“That’s what your show is about.”

“No it’s not.”

“You,” I told Lewis Schaffer, “are just trying to be annoying.”

“Your thing,” Lewis Schaffer said to Will, “is similar to mine, except I have a filter on what I say… I’m trying to make it funny. You will say it whether it’s funny or not…”

“But,” said Will, “my show IS funny!”

“…and then it becomes funny,” continued Lewis Schaffer, “You will say things even if you haven’t figured out how to make them funny.”

“Excuse me,” I said to Lewis Schaffer. “Pot kettle black.”

The Division Bell started ringing for Will in 2014

Did The Division Bell start ringing for Will back in 2014?

“My show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – in 2014,” said Will, “was like a Pink Floyd album. Weird sound cues and everything. It just felt like a psychedelic experience. I liked it. This year’s show – when I came out as Sarah – it felt more like Johnny Rotten. Like the style was the same but I began riffing. I’m starting to do some stuff off the top of my head. I feel more vulnerable doing that.”

“Because you’re being you?” I asked.

“Yeah. Cos, if I’m putting on an accent, it could be that guy’s beliefs. If I’m speaking as myself, it’s really scary.”

“What,” I asked, “was your act like five years ago? Were you not you?”

“Never was,” said Will. “The first Edinburgh show I did, I started off as a British butler and I think I ended as a disabled teenage American girl.”

“In 2014” said Lewis Schaffer, “you were BBC Radio and you were drinking and you were talking to somebody on the phone.”

“So coming out as Sarah,” I said, “is just another way of not being you – another mask.”

“No,” said Will, “I don’t think so. I felt Sarah was me.”

“But,” I said, “you were wearing clothes you were not wearing before, therefore that’s a costume, in a sense.”

“Well, I think that’s why the riffing this year. I felt I just had to go out there and just explain: I’m a character comedian, but this is not a character and here’s some of the shit I deal with. This show is so heavy. There is about ten minutes of peripherally related trans-gender related stuff and then it reaches a point where it just flips and I go after over-diagnosis and the psychiatric industry and ISIS and that was my reaction to what I thought would be people expecting me to write a nice little show about coming out – which I didn’t want to write. I got even angrier and less-PC as a result.”


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