I am driving up to Edinburgh early tomorrow morning.
Over the years, I have learned one really important thing about the Edinburgh Fringe. But, to explain that, I have to give you some background.
Stranger things have happened.
Though not much stranger.
Later in the day, I got this text from Heather Stevens, one of Lewis Schaffer’s comedy entourage. She recently wrote a fascinating blog of her own about working for Lewis Schaffer. She takes notes during Lewis Schaffer’s shows so that they can then analyse what worked, what did not work and any new bits Lewis Schaffer ad-libbed.
“I read your blog post,” said Heather. “Lewis Schaffer also suggested I write a book about him. Or rather, that I take all the material I have written down and turn it into a Wisdom of Lewis Schaffer book. I presume the ultimate aim is a Lewis Schaffer section in every library.”
“Instead of The Wisdom of Lewis Schaffer,” I suggested, “you should maybe title it The Indecisions of Lewis Schaffer, with the pages in a ring binder so readers can put them in a different order every time they pick the book up.”
“Last week,” Heather told me, “I went through every single show I’d written up (around 150) so I could work out what was new for this year and, once I’d done that, put them into categories, then made a mind map with better categories. I was going to try to put some sort of new Lewis Schaffer Edinburgh show together. I was gonna do it like a Choose Your Own Adventure book to help him link different jokes together, given there’s no way Lewis Schaffer would ever use a set show structure. But I ran out of time. Maybe it would work as a real book.
“When he talked about me writing a book, he showed me something someone did with Lenny Bruce’s material as an idea of what he wanted. People read the Lenny Bruce book because it was Lenny Bruce. Maybe they would read Lewis Schaffer’s one for the gratuitous cock references and pleas to see his children.”
When my eternally-un-named-friend read the above texts, she told me:
“There’s some famous Italian book and the story is about a man reading a book and some pages are missing. So he has to go and try to find another copy of the book but he finds a copy of the book which has a different story in it. Each time this happens, you’re told the story from the new book he has picked up. I think it was written in the 1970s.”
“Sounds likely,” I said. “What happens ultimately?”
“I don’t remember,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “It was a bit of a slog reading the bloody thing, but it was interesting – that idea of getting into new stories and wanting to know what happens next in each one of those.”
“The printed book,” I said, “should have finished in mid-sentence.”
“I think there was something along those lines,” said my eternally-un-named friend.
“When I was a teenager,” I told her, “I bought a copy of Agatha Christie’s Murder On he Orient Express from WH Smith’s in Ilford. I was reading all the Hercule Poirot books. When I got to the end, I found someone had torn out the last few pages so no-one would know who the killer was.
“I went to WH Smith’s and said: Look at this! and they said We’ll get you another copy and, sure enough, they got me another copy. But it took them six months.
“By that time, I had forgotten the plot details and thought I can’t be bothered to read all this again. So I never knew Whodunnit until the film came out much later. What was the name of that Italian book you read?”
“What’s The Dice Man?” I asked.
“It’s the one,” she said, “where people, for the fun of it, decide to lead their lives by chance of the dice. You write down a list of six things – Go to Timbuktu – Take up crochet – Go and murder Fred Bloggs – whatever – and you throw the dice and whichever one it is you have to go and do it.
“It’s a fiction book, but I think a lot of people started doing it for real. You do write a list of things when you’re with friends, but I played it safe by writing things like Make tea – Roll a joint – Wash the dishes. It’s hard to write a list of six things you are hesitant to do.”
“Surely someone must bung in Kill Mr Smith at No 53?” I said.
“I think you write your own list.”
“That’s cheating. You have to all write things down then bung all the ideas in together and take one at random.”
“I forget the rules,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “but I think you wrote down things you wanted to do, then chose them randomly.”
“I think,” I said, “we’re back to Lewis Schaffer’s act. But the one really important thing about that – and about the Edinburgh Fringe – is that when you