My Comedy Taste. Part 4: There was a Scots woman, a Jew and a dead writer

Here is the final part of my conversation with comedy festival judge and linguist Louisette Stodel which took place in London’s Soho Theatre Bar one afternoon back in 2017.

I think Louisette was impressed by and appreciative of the insights I shared with her…


JOHN: Janey Godley is interesting… You know the story of her NOT being nominated for the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe?

LOUISETTE: No. Tell me.

JOHN: The Perrier Award judges individually went to see her show and it was not until they sat down together to discuss possible nominees that they realised they had all seen her perform totally different shows because she was making it up every night. Stories from her life. Very very funny. But different hour-long shows every night.

There was a big discussion about whether she was eligible for the Award. Some people were keen to nominate her but the rules were that you were nominated for performing ‘a show’ and what she was doing was not the same, single show every night. She was, it could be and was argued, simply chatting to the audience.

She was making up a different hour-long show every night for maybe 28 nights on the trot. Utterly brilliant and much more impressive than doing the same show every night. But, because it was NOT the same basic show every night, eventually, it was decided she was ineligible and she was not nominated for the Perrier.

LOUISETTE:  That’s exactly what you were talking about earlier, in a sense.

Janey Godley in Glasgow at Children In Need Rocks Scotland

JOHN: Yes. And, as far as I know, to this day, years later, Janey has never scripted a Fringe comedy show in her life. You get roughly the same show each year now – a different show every year – but she plays it by ear.

I remember once in London walking up Dean Street with her to the Soho Theatre for a supposed ‘preview’ of her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show and she told me not only did she not know exactly which stories would be in the show; she did not know what her opening line would be.

She maybe had twelve or fifteen or eighteen basic unscripted stories and could fit maybe five or six into an hour-long show, but there was no script and no pre-decided running order. And the show was brilliantly funny. Now THAT is talent. THAT I admire.

LOUISETTE: How does she end her shows on time?

JOHN: Well, I know one year she did have one climactic prepared story and it lasted exactly nine minutes. It wasn’t scripted, but it was structured tightly. So she had the sound technician at the back of the audience flash a torch exactly ten minutes from the end of her scheduled time and, whatever she was saying at that point, she would get seamlessly into the start of the final story and, every night, she would finish to within about 30 seconds of her scheduled end-time – every night. Brilliant.

LOUISETTE: So what excites you is seeing unique shows.

JOHN: Well yes. I like Lewis Schaffer shows, of course. The ultimate in unpredictable rollercoaster shows.

LOUISETTE: You prefer the uneven acts.

JOHN: Yes. Well, sort of. Janey’s shows are not uneven – they are uniformly funny and smooth, but they are not tightly pre-planned. She’s just a great, great storyteller.

LOUISETTE: Slick?

JOHN: Smooth. She has great audience control. But, in general – Janey is an exception – I prefer rollercoaster acts. And maybe, for that reason, I prefer newer acts. 

LOUISETTE: Lewis Schaffer is not a new act.

JOHN: OK. I prefer newer acts OR wildly unpredictable acts.

LOUISETTE: And Lewis Schaffer is dependably unpredictable.

“He doesn’t fit the mould. But he could… become a TV success” (Photograph by Garry Platt)

JOHN: To say the least. Sometimes he will, from nowhere, just go off on a complete tangent and come up with wonderful original stuff.

I like seeing unexpected, brilliant stuff coming from nowhere.

Lewis Schaffer is never going to get success as a TV comic. Not as a stand-up. He doesn’t fit the mould. But he could, like and unlike Johnny Vegas, become a TV success through personality.

In his case, I think he would be a good presenter of documentaries because he has all these bizarre angles. He has a Wikipedia mind: he knows a little about a lot.

LOUISETTE: He’s also very funny on his Facebook page. But what is it about Lewis Schaffer specifically on stage? OK, he’s unpredictable; he’s up-and-down; he has great ideas…

JOHN: If you see him once, you might think it’s a shambles but, if you see him five times in a row, you get addicted.

LOUISETTE: The first time I saw him, his show was brilliant.

JOHN: Is this the My girlfriend had a penis show?

LOUISETTE: Yes.

JOHN: Now that WAS a show!

LOUISETTE: Friends of mine who recommended him told me: “See this guy. You never know what’s going to happen…”

JOHN: Yeah.

LOUISETTE: …and it wasn’t like that.

JOHN: Not that show. It actually had a structure. I nearly fell off my seat with shock because it was a ‘real’ structured show.

Certainly, with Lewis Schaffer, you see the real person. You can’t bloody avoid it. With him, the attraction is the unpredictability and the flashes of genuine left-field insight. He’s the definitive rollercoaster.

LOUISETTE: …which excites you because you don’t know what’s going to happen?

JOHN: Yes.

Not relevant: L’Ange du Foyer ou le Triomphe du Surréalisme by Max Ernst, 1937;

LOUISETTE: You like amazing stuff coming from nowhere. I had been going to ask you if it is the writing, the performance or the delivery that gets you excited, but it’s actually none of those things.

JOHN: Well, ‘writing’ is maybe not the right word. It can be. But it’s something coming from the laterally-thinking recesses of the brain.

LOUISETTE: So with someone like Ross Noble, where you know it’s going to be a little bit unpredictable but you also know that he’s probably going to make it all come good, does that make it less interesting because it’s less dangerous?

JOHN: No. You can make something become good through talent.

LOUISETTE: So it’s the creation ‘in the moment’. You like seeing things happen ‘in the moment;’.

JOHN: Probably, yes. I like to be surprised by where something goes. It’s like a good twist in a film.

LOUISETTE: The unexpected. We are back to that. Tales of the Unexpected.

JOHN: Yes. The unexpected. Someone said the other day that I look like Roald Dahl. I don’t think this is a compliment. Do I look like Roald Dahl?

I sign some random books for a few of my appreciative blog readers in Amsterdam, in October 1988.
(Photograph by Rob Bogaerts / Anefo)

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