A few months ago, London-based American comic Will Franken decided that he would wear women’s clothes on stage and off stage and would be called Sarah Franken.
I met Will/Sarah last night for a chat with fellow American comedian Lewis Schaffer. Will/Sarah was wearing men’s clothes, so I shall call him Will in what follows.
We met at a branch of McDonald’s in Holborn. Lewis Schaffer ordered apple pie and brought his own water. Will Franken ordered three double cheeseburgers and a small Coke. They are Americans. What can I say?
“So,” I asked Will, “are you going to revert to being Will again?”
“Well,” he replied, “I was making a pros and cons list…”
“So Sarah might be a pro and Will a con?” I asked.
“I look on this as a prolonged break,” he said.
“Dressing as a man?”
“Yes. When I became Sarah, there was a feeling of being accepted, but there were a lot of comments and abuse in East London – I’m 6’5”; I stick out like a sore thumb. A lot of people were nasty. They shouted out: Gay boy! Trans-sexual!”
“This was in Bethnal Green,” I said, “and I’ve heard you say there were particular problems from Moslems.”
“…and sometimes,” said Will, “you would get the tourists who just wanted a photo like you were the Ronald McDonald clown.”
“You could charge them,” I told him.
“I’m a whore,” he replied, “but I never sell out when the opportunity presents itself.”
“Because you don’t want to be a success,” suggested Lewis Schaffer.
“Well, that’s not being a success,” argued Will. “Being a tranny and getting your photo taken.”
“That’s why you did it,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Because you knew it would annoy people.”
“That’s not why I did it,” countered Will.
“That’s why I would do it,” said Lewis Schaffer.
“But the other problem,” said Will, “is I fancy women and I think I was like kinda swept up in this idea: Oh! Women love confidence! It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. As long as you’re confident. That’s what women are attracted to. But I found it was just utterly confusing. I didn’t know when to make the move. I mean, I never knew when to make a move when I was Will either, but Sarah confused the hell out of me.”
“A female friend,” I said, “once told me the biggest turn-on line for any woman was a man saying: I think I MIGHT be gay. Then it’s a challenge… So, surely, if you dress in women’s clothing but say you’re still heterosexual that might surely be even more of a turn-on?”
“Women want to hunt,” suggested Lewis Schaffer. “Like men. It’s human nature to want to hunt. But women, unfortunately, are not really allowed to hunt so, if you give them an opportunity, I think they really enjoy that.”
“I need people,” said Will, “but I’m very afraid of them too. I think I’m really shy and withdrawn in a lot of ways.”
“That’s all comedians,” said Lewis Schaffer.
“Comedians,” I suggested, “are often extroverts who want to hide in a cave.”
“Absolutely,” agreed Will.
“I am like a refrigerator light bulb,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You open the door and I’m on… If I’m at home or with someone I know, I’m miserable but – out and about, if I meet strangers…”
“That’s where you and I differ,” Will told him, then turned to me: “Lewis Schaffer will be a really good friend and he will stand with you in Leicester Square and say: Look, you DON’T wanna get the razor blades. There’s no reason to put your wrist in the way. And then he sees someone passing and it’s: Tommy! How are ya? and he’ll go right off. When somebody passes by that he knows – he could hate their guts – but he will…”
“Because,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “I’m happy to see them.”
“But why,” asked Will, “would you be happy to see someone you don’t like?”
“Because,” Lewis Schaffer explained, “I know the guy, so I think I must like him, else why would I know him?”
“And then,” said Will, “I have to remind you that you don’t like them.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” said Lewis Schaffer.
“But,” I said to Will, “to get back on the Sarah track, you found there were drawbacks…”
“Yes,” said Will. “The stares, the comments, the wanting to get laid by women. And then there was feeling like I was a poster child for trans-genderism. The first interview you do about trans-genderism feels really cool but, by the time you get to the 15th or 20th, you’re like… I mean, you know I do other things apart from being trans-gender? I developed sympathy for what black comedians must go through in interviews – black, black, black, black, clack, black, black.
“I think one of the most interesting things in the show I’m doing right now at the Museum of Comedy – Who Keeps Making All These People? – is that it’s completely blasphemous towards radical Islam… I think that is more newsworthy, given recent events.”
“I think,” said Lewis Schaffer, “the reason you’re not a huge success is you get bored. In order to be a success in comedy – a success in anything – you gotta do the same shit all the time, over and over and over again.”
“I love,” said Will, “how you don’t consider yourself a success, yet you sit here and hold court on how to be a success.”
“That’s right,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t think I’m a success – I think, objectively speaking, a guy who lives in his living room, who has to buy a phone in Tesco’s, is not a success.”
“Back on the Sarah and Will track,” I said. “Will, your current show…”
“It’s the one I did in Edinburgh,” Will told me. “Who Keeps Making All These People?”
“You know what your show is about?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “It’s about How can I annoy people?”
“That’s not true,” said Will.
“Yes it is,” insisted Lewis Schaffer.
“What are you talking about?” asked Will.
“That’s what your show is about.”
“No it’s not.”
“You,” I told Lewis Schaffer, “are just trying to be annoying.”
“Your thing,” Lewis Schaffer said to Will, “is similar to mine, except I have a filter on what I say… I’m trying to make it funny. You will say it whether it’s funny or not…”
“But,” said Will, “my show IS funny!”
“…and then it becomes funny,” continued Lewis Schaffer, “You will say things even if you haven’t figured out how to make them funny.”
“Excuse me,” I said to Lewis Schaffer. “Pot kettle black.”
“My show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – in 2014,” said Will, “was like a Pink Floyd album. Weird sound cues and everything. It just felt like a psychedelic experience. I liked it. This year’s show – when I came out as Sarah – it felt more like Johnny Rotten. Like the style was the same but I began riffing. I’m starting to do some stuff off the top of my head. I feel more vulnerable doing that.”
“Because you’re being you?” I asked.
“Yeah. Cos, if I’m putting on an accent, it could be that guy’s beliefs. If I’m speaking as myself, it’s really scary.”
“What,” I asked, “was your act like five years ago? Were you not you?”
“Never was,” said Will. “The first Edinburgh show I did, I started off as a British butler and I think I ended as a disabled teenage American girl.”
“In 2014” said Lewis Schaffer, “you were BBC Radio and you were drinking and you were talking to somebody on the phone.”
“So coming out as Sarah,” I said, “is just another way of not being you – another mask.”
“No,” said Will, “I don’t think so. I felt Sarah was me.”
“But,” I said, “you were wearing clothes you were not wearing before, therefore that’s a costume, in a sense.”
“Well, I think that’s why the riffing this year. I felt I just had to go out there and just explain: I’m a character comedian, but this is not a character and here’s some of the shit I deal with. This show is so heavy. There is about ten minutes of peripherally related trans-gender related stuff and then it reaches a point where it just flips and I go after over-diagnosis and the psychiatric industry and ISIS and that was my reaction to what I thought would be people expecting me to write a nice little show about coming out – which I didn’t want to write. I got even angrier and less-PC as a result.”
(TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW)