Last weekend. I was at one of comedian Martin Soan’s many 60th birthday parties.
Yesterday, I spent all day in bed, very sweaty and slightly feverish, which might explain why I remember last weekend:
“I was performing at this show the other week,” Jewish American comedian Lewis Schaffer was saying. “It was more chaotic than my show and there were all these old Jews there, coming to see their sons perform for the third time and they sat through an interminable night of comedy and there was one guy there – he didn’t smile at all. He looked just like the old actor George Raft.
“He was scowling the entire time. I was the last act up and my job there was to make the audience feel they’d seen something and to make them forget about the shit they saw before.
“So he hasn’t smiled the entire night. These were mostly new comedians. They hadn’t said anything to the guy. They didn’t say: Why the fuck are you sitting in the front row and not smiling? This is a comedy club!
“So I said to the audience: I know this guy. This guy, at the end of the show, is going to say how much he enjoyed the show and how I was the best comedian.
“And the guy starts to laugh.
“My point is this. I was doing Martin Soan’s club – Pull The Other One – and there’s this big black guy – very Glastonbury – holding a stick and wearing beads and he had a scar on his forehead. I was scared of him and nobody said anything to him. I saw him and he smiled at me and I thought to myself He’s had a prefrontal lobotomy via a bullet in his forehead.”
“And that,” I said to Lewis Schaffer, “is a bit like sex, because…?”
“Why’s it like sex?” someone asked.
“Because,” I explained, “after Lewis Schaffer says anything, “he always adds It’s a bit like sex… and then figures out why.”
“Having a prefrontal lobotomy via a bullet,” said Lewis Schaffer, “is a bit like sex because, after you do it, you think That wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be and, afterwards, you’re never the same.”
“Keep working on it,” someone said.
“He’ll make it funnier,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He edits out the bad shit. John Fleming is like Andy Warhol with Interview magazine.”
“I used to read it,” I said. “But I don’t think they ever edited the interviews in Interview, did they?”
“Originally, when they set up Interview magazine,” said Lewis Schaffer, “there was an editor who went out and did real reviews of movies and real criticism of the people he was interviewing. And word got back that the people he interviewed didn’t like it. And Andy Warhol made his living by doing portraits of beautiful famous people. So he insisted – I hope this is true – that only nice things be said in his magazine. How is that related to what I was saying?”
“It’s a bit like sex,” I suggested.
“It’s a bit like sex,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You should only say nice things between the covers.”
“The man with the bullet in his head…” someone prompted.
“The man with the bullet,” said Lewis Schaffer, “was sitting at the front in the Pull the Other One gig and the whole audience was scared of him. He was a big, angry-looking black guy and none of the other acts were talking to him. But I knew he was OK because I’d spoken to him beforehand for a second and what had happened was he’d had a prefrontal lobotomy via a bullet which changed his mood. You know prefrontal lobotomies? When they remove the prefrontal cortex or something and it makes people happier.
“So the bullet did that for him: it changed his life. Maybe it made him a better person.”
“And that’s a bit like sex…” I suggested.
“It’s a bit like sex,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It changes your mood and makes you a better person…. No, I wouldn’t go that far. It doesn’t make you a better person. Not having sex doesn’t make you a worse person. I think I’d be better off without it. What else do you want to know?”
I pointed to some chips on a nearby plate: “Why are they like sex?” I asked.
“Because,” said Lewis Schaffer, “after you eat them, your fingers are all greasy.”
“That’s a bit like Malcolm Hardee’s old line,” I said. “I’m gonna go home and have a wank. My duvet – It’s like a packet of crisps.”
“I thought my joke was better,” said Lewis Schaffer.