Edinburgh Fringe: The unavoidable Lewis Schaffer & the African President

Priscilla Adade, Tom Stade and Lewis Schaffer of Giant Leap(Photo by Trudy Brambrough)

Priscilla Adade, Tom Stade and Lewis Schaffer of Giant Leap (Photograph by Trudy Brambrough)

Yesterday, I was talking to critic Kate Copstick and I think we came to the conclusion that, this year at the Edinburgh Fringe, there is no one ‘hot’ act whom everyone is talking about. Although Phil Nichol seems to be everywhere either as a performer or as a producer – the ten shows to promote the tenth anniversary of his Comedians’ Theatre Company is only the tip of an iceberg.

I saw one of his shows yesterday – Giant Leap, about the alleged writing of Neil Armstrong’s first words during the allegedly faked Moon landing in 1969.

This is the one which has Lewis Schaffer in his first on-stage acting role since his schooldays. And he is very good. But, talking to him afterwards, it was all about the review he got for his stand-up comedy show from critic Bruce Dessau. It was only a 3-star review and Lewis Schaffer seems to think Bruce told him it could have been a 4-star review but he (Lewis Schaffer) was not bad enough. If you build an entire career on being a failure as a comic, you rather screw yourself if you are rather too good. Sure enough, when I looked up the review, it ends with the words: “Go along and you won’t be disappointed. It’s a good gig. But if you are lucky maybe you will catch him have a bad gig”

Mr Twonkey and friend yesterday

Mr Twonkey and his close friend yesterday

Also in the audience at Giant Leap was Mr Twonkey who, the previous day, had supplied cheese at the surprisingly busy Grouchy Club show. He told me he had run out of cheese and was not coming to our second show.

And no-one else did either. The allotted time – 3.45pm at The Counting House Lounge – arrived and no-one turned up to participate, something that hadn’t happened in the two Fringes we have been doing it.

But then, three minutes later, Italian Luca Cupani turned up. So the three of us – Kate Copstick, Luca and I talked about his forthcoming appearance in the final of So You Think You’re Funny, comedy in general, Italy and toilets. I have posted a 26 minute extract online in what I presume will be a daily podcast extract from the show.

Today’s Grouchy Club will be interesting as Copstick is off at some dodgy venue doing a panel discussion with Janey Godley and others for online magazine Spiked on the subject of That’s Not Funny! Are Offence-Seekers Killing Comedy?

So, tomorrow, there may be a podcast posted of an extract from me talking to myself.

Anyway, after today’s threesome, I went off to see Nathan Cassidy pulling another publicity stunt in the Cowgate for his Back To The Future shows featuring the DeLorean car he has managed to half-inch from someone (possibly in the past).

Jo Burke, mildly amused by Nathan Cassidy yesterday

Jo Burke was mildly amused by Nathan Cassidy yesterday

I seem to spend most of my days figuratively bumping into people in the street but yesterday, by the DeLorean, I was literally bumped-into by Jo Burke.

She appeared to be having a fit of the giggles and, on leaving (she was rushing to Waverley station to put a friend on a train) got stopped by a fan who wanted her to sign a copy of her iScream book for him.

Thought to self afterwards: Was that impromptu book-signing a set-up?

Decision by self: No, I don’t think it was. I think it was actually real. It was bizarre. This is Edinburgh. Bizarre things happen all the time.

When I too left the DeLorean, 30 seconds later, I bumped into Alexander Bennett, but only figuratively.

Alexander Bennett in Edinburgh street scene

Alexander Bennett in Edinburgh street scene

“All hail Alexander Bennett!” I shouted out. “Have you any hilarious anecdotes for my blog?”

“John,” he replied, “you are the bottom-feeder of comedy. You are scraping around. Have you got any anecdotes? Have you got any anecdotes so I can sort-of write down what you’ve said.

“That’s a bit harsh,” I said. “I hailed you – and this is what I get.”

“The trouble is,” said Alexander, “my catchphrase (All hail Alexander Bennett!) is only working with you. Maybe it will take off and…”

At this point, I saw John Robertson walking fast on the other side of the road holding a placard advertising his Dark Room show.

I shouted loudly across the street: “Have you any hilarious anecdotes for my increasingly prestigious blog?”

He half raised his hand in what looked like a slightly tired acknowledgement and hurried on his way.

When I too hurried on my way, I got a message from Malcolm Hardee Awards judge Claire Smith: Lewis Schaffer was ASTONISHING yesterday.

Matt Price looking for a bargain yesterday

Matt Price looking for a bargain in Edinburgh yesterday

I turned a corner and bumped into Matt Price. He and his partner Martha McBrier are turning into Lewis Schaffer.

Ever since Martha got a 5-star review in The Scotsman, their venue has been swamped by ‘star-chasers’ – people who only go to shows because they have stars in The Scotsman and elsewhere, not because they are interested in the show as such.

“You are turning into Lewis Schaffer,” I said. “If good things happen, you get worried.”

“He has re-defined failure and it’s amazing,” said Matt. “We saw him yesterday and Martha had never seen him perform before. It was just unbelievable. Amazing. Martha said: Oh. Is this what he does, then?”

Then my evening was spent watching three superb comedy shows.

Lynn Ruth Miller: Get a Grip
Arguably the warmest and cuddliest autobiographical storyteller on the Fringe. Well, I got a cuddle, so I’m happy.

Janey Godley: Honest To Godley
I think I have said in this blog before that she is he most all-round creative person I have ever met and these two quotes from elsewhere still remain true:

“The most outspoken female stand-up in Britain” (Daily Telegraph)

 “Some of the sharpest-elbowed comedy in the world” (New York Times)

President Obonjo: dictator to Benjamin Bello

President Obonjo: dictator to Benjamin Bello

President Obonjo: The Man Who Stole My Identity
President Obonjo, African dictator, is actually comedian Benjamin Bello and he lives in St Albans – on the same railway line as me. So I have had about three rail journey chats with him – one of which I think involved the basic idea of this show – but only seen him perform one 10-minute spot in London. This hour-long show was a revelation.

He has great audience control. The character was immediately taken-to-heart by a mostly male audience. And then he takes the uniform off, becomes Benjamin Bello and analyses the nature of character comedy, wonders why the character he writes and performs is funnier than he himself is on stage… and then puts the uniform back on and becomes the character again.

Loud, loud laughter in the first and third sections; total silence in the middle broken by occasional laughter when he bungs in a joke. But it is not silence because they don’t like the performance. It is the silence of wrapt attention and – I think – fascination.

Nothing at all like what I expected.

The downside of the Edinburgh Fringe is that, although he got in a good audience last night, he is unlikely to get reviewed because he is unknown, hidden away in the labyrinth of the impenetrably badly-signed Cowgatehead venue and does not have a big-bucks promoter behind him.

So it goes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s