Yesterday morning’s blog included a comment by American comedian Lewis Schaffer about the importance for a performer of repeating your own name to people, to ensure they know who you are.
Lewis Schaffer is having a Christmas break but, each week, he has been doing his radio show Nunhead American Radio for Resonance FM on Monday, free 90-minute comedy shows at the Source below in Soho on Tuesday & Wednesday, guesting on a Monkey Business comedy show in Kentish Town on Thursday and performing an ever-changing 60-minute pay-to-enter comedy show at the Leicester Square Theatre on Sunday.
Lewis Schaffer has, I suspect, around 4-6 hours of basic comedy material which he personalises to each audience, shifts round according to the circumstances and which he adds to as he goes along.
Yesterday evening, I went to a Christmas party at the home of comedian Charmian Hughes and magician David Don’t (they are married) and who should turn up?
Yup. Lewis Schaffer plus one third of his entourage – diminutive, seemingly eternal student at Oxford University, Heather Stevens.
While Lewis Schaffer flirted with comics Karen O Novak and Harriet Bowden, I asked Heather about Lewis Schaffer. She has been part of his entourage for two years.
Comedian Ivor Dembina was passing by at the time.
“Lewis Schaffer,” Ivor joked (well, OK, maybe he only half-joked), “has never been heard to utter a sentence that did not include the word ‘I’ although I did once hear – and it’s only a rumour – that he once did say a phrase that neglected to use the word ‘I’ but did include the word ‘me’.”
“What on earth,” I asked Heather, “is it like being with Lewis Schaffer for prolonged lengths of time?”
“Harrowing,” she replied. “He talks about his shows being a harrowing mid-life crisis, but constant contact is just harrowing on its own. Oh dear, that sounds horrible, doesn’t it? It’s sometimes alright.”
“Does he talk about anything that doesn’t involve Lewis Schaffer and his comedy?” I asked.
“He does sometime talk about his ex-wife and his kids,” she told me, then paused, thought and added. “But I suppose that’s part of his comedy as well. He never talks about anything that isn’t connected to Lewis Schaffer. He will always have the words ‘Lewis Schaffer’ somewhere within the sentence or it will be an ‘I’ or a ‘me’, as Ivor pointed out.”
“Has he ever asked you what your name is?” I asked.
“I don’t think he knows my name,” said Heather.
“And you’ve been with him for two years?” I asked.
“Yes. He doesn’t need to know my name. He will never need to use it in a sentence.”
“And you are actually helping him,” I said.
“Yeah,” agreed Heather. “I write jokes for his radio show. I write a proper script, but the punchlines get moved around. He doesn’t learn them, so any joke I write will be maimed. Nothing I write is as-written when he says it.”
“That’s fair enough for his sort of comedy,” I said.
“You weren’t writing for him originally,” I said.
“No,” explained Heather. “On the radio show, he started out asking me to research news items, so I set up a Twitter search to monitor the word ‘Nunhead’ and I’d give him news items, but he’d ask Why haven’t you made this into a joke? So then I’d write one or two jokes and I’ve done two or three shows where I just properly scripted the whole thing.”
An edition of Lewis Schaffer’s radio show (with guest comedian Richard Herring) is on SoundCloud.
“You and Rose,” I said to Heather (Rose Ives is another member of Lewis Schaffer’s entourage) “take notes during his stage shows, so he can re-use any ad-libs he makes. But you don’t actually write for his stage shows.”
“No. Only things that I’ve put in the radio show and he’s decided to use. Or when I’ve written down things from his live show, I’ll sometimes suggest he moves a punchline or re-word something. There’s only been one or two bits over two years that I’ve written from scratch.”
“In fact, though,” I suggested, “no-one really writes for him. It’s little decorations that he may pick up and use or not or play around with.”
“Yes,” agreed Heather. “Part of my role and all of Alex Mason’s role (Alex Mason is yet another of Lewis Schaffer’s entourage) is helping him with his jokes.
“So we’ve both written set lists for him – which he never uses. When he did the Bloomsbury Theatre show, Alex and I were with him for about four hours writing a set list until he was happy with it, but then we went to the show and we were sitting in the audience and he didn’t use it.”
“Well Rose and I were in the wings backstage,” I said, “and, when he went on for an encore, we told him to do his big 9/11 joke because the show actually was on 11th September and, of course, he didn’t do it – the one joke he should have done that night!”
There is a clip of the Bloomsbury Theatre show on YouTube, with Lewis Schaffer introduced by Stewart Lee.
“Perverse,” I said. “That should be the title of his next Edinburgh Fringe show: Lewis Schaffer is Perverse.”
As I left, Charmian Hughes kissed me on the cheek and said: “I’m looking forward to your blog tomorrow about Lewis Schaffer’s party.”