American comedian Lewis Schaffer, trapped in London because he has two children here, has let his hair go boldly grey. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea or not. I think I prefer the previous black. People have been telling him it looks distinguished. I think it just makes him look unnecessarily old. Perhaps he should alternate it – one week grey, the next week dyed black – then it would be as varied as his ever-changing show.
Last night I went to see his apparently never-ending and constantly changing Free Until Famous show at The Source Below in Soho and, afterwards, we had a frustrating chat while eating falafels.
The second reason it was frustrating was he kept talking for so long that the ice-cream shop next door had closed by the time we left.
The primary reason for my frustration, though, was because he told me an absolute humdinger of an unpublished true sexual scandal about another comedian… but (given what the story is) I can’t print it.
For you and me both.
But no falafel with Lewis is ever a wasted falafel and there was a moment when I was reminded of writing Malcolm Hardee’s constantly-promoted* autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (* constantly-promoted by me, here)
It is still available at surprisingly outrageous prices on Amazon…
Anyway… Malcolm’s book is full of incredible stories – literally incredible because, although I think only two small details of two stories in the book are untrue (for comic effect), the main stories themselves are so extraordinary that people assume they must have been made up. It’s a bit like comedians’ stage acts: the likely-sounding true stories are usually made up and the more ludicrous unlikely stories are very often true.
The frustrating thing with Malcolm Hardee writing his autobiography was that he could seldom remember in which order the bizarre facts of his life happened and, in some cases, he could not even remember which decade they happened in; I had to work out the timeline by talking to other people or linking the stories to other dated events.
Lewis, it transpired last night, couldn’t remember whether he started performing his Free Until Famous show in London in October 2009 or in 2008.
He has recently taken to saying in his publicity that Free Until Famous is the longest-running solo comedy show ever performed in London. I took this as hyperbole until we started talking. Then I thought about it and I reckon it might actually (almost accidentally) be true.
The show has been running every Tuesday and Wednesday since at least October 2009 (or maybe 2008) with gaps for the Edinburgh Fringe and, in its early days, Lewis was sometimes performing Free Until Famous twice on Tuesday nights and twice on Wednesday nights. From this week, for at least three weeks, he is also performing it on Mondays.
This is quite a run and, as anyone who has ever seen a Lewis Schaffer show knows, it is either:
a) constantly evolving or
b) just never the same twice
…depending on your viewpoint.
I reckon he must have about four or five hours of good material and, with each individual show, he simply plucks out and rearranges the material according to the audience and his whim on the night. So, if you have seen Free Until Famous once and go back, it is the same show but totally different. Few shows are so real-character-based.
He deserves credit for bringing the Free Fringe concept wholesale (he is, after all, Jewish) from Edinburgh to London, with free entry to his shows and a metal bucket at the end for contributions. The bucket is metal, as he points out to audience members, because notes make no sound but he is able to tell if people only put coins in.
With a Wikipedian knowledge of trivial facts retrieved from his brain at the drop of a punter’s birthplace or biographical detail, why Lewis has not been picked up by TV or radio as a comic social commentator on Britain in the Bill Bryson style, I don’t know.
He is Bill Bryson with attitude.