Tag Archives: bi-polar

Kevin James Moore: Stand-up comedy, books, drugs, creativity, mental health.

Kevin JamesMoore on Skype two days ago

Kevin James Moore talked to me via Skype two days ago

Occasionally, people suggest blogs to me – like today’s.

A couple of weeks ago, Kevin James Moore contacted me from Greenwich, near New York. He used to be a stand-up comic. Then he gave it up due to drug and mental problems. Recently, he has started the comedy again. And he has written a novel.

Comedy, books, drugs, mental health. How could I resist? So we had a Skype chat on Monday.

“I’m on my third stage name,” he told me. “I started off as ‘Alien Brain’. It was a really secretive thing. I never got into comedy to become famous. I was a 20-year-old college student and I was writing jokes and I didn’t know what to do with them and it was a way to get those thoughts out of my mind.

“When I got more confidence, I performed as Kevin Moore and, when I re-started stand-up comedy last year, I had already published the book under my full name, so now I perform as Kevin James Moore.

Kevin James Moore - Go-Go Girl cover

Great Gatsby and Big Sleep meet Nadja

“Your novel,” I said, “is The Go-Go Girl.”

“Yes, it’s basically about heroin,” he told me, “but I made it a type of crime/adventure novel. It’s about a guy who goes to help an ex-girlfriend who’s a go-go dancer in a club in Rome and she’s stolen a bunch of money and a bunch of heroin and they go on the run across Europe to a few cities.”

“It’s your first novel,” I said. “So it’s bound to be autobiographical?”

“The emotions are real in the book,” explained Kevin, “but the plot I made up. To me, it’s a mix of The Great Gatsby, The Big Sleep and Nadja (by the French surrealist André Breton). I think of it as a kind of surrealist crime novel. I wrote it when I was in rehab and mental hospitals. It was the only outlet I had other than staring out a window.”

“And,” I asked, “your second book is Blue Snow?

Kevin James Moore - Blue Snow cover

A book for kids with learning disabilities

“Well,” said Kevin, “that’s for kids with reading problems and learning disabilities. I did it for a contest. I don’t count that as a novel.”

“But you are writing a second book?”

“Yes. It’s basically about the mental illness, being bi-polar. Again, the emotions and the thoughts will be real, but the plot will be constructed and fiction.”

“When you quit comedy,” I asked, “what did you do?”

“I was in and out of hospitals and was really determined on having a ‘normal’ life. I was going to get a regular job and get on with what you’re supposed to do: wife, kids, job. I was a substitute teacher – you guys call them supply teachers. And I worked at the UN for about a year as a reporter. It’s been like a 4-year process to recover from my low-point and now, every time I get more comfortable, I feel more of an urge to be creative. I really didn’t let myself be creative when I was trying to get better.”


“I dunno. I just didn’t see how the creativity would pay off. I felt it was intertwined with my problems – the bi-polar and the drug problems. I did art therapy when I was in the hospital, but not outside.

“I used to think I had to keep everything separate, like writing and comedy couldn’t mix. Now I try to not dismiss thoughts. A lot of the ideas I have won’t translate to stand-up comedy, but they will translate to small sketches. The stuff on my Funny Or Die pages are things which don’t really fit as stand-up jokes. I used to dismiss a lot of ideas before. Now I don’t stop the idea coming through.

Kevin James Moore's Funny Or Die page

Kevin’s Funny Or Die page

“I guess to be creative you have to have some edge to you whereas, when I was getting better, I was really focussed on being polite and patient and positive and I think that doesn’t translate at all to being a stand-up comic. You CAN go on stage and be positive and polite, but you also need to have that edge to say Fuck off! You have to have that little bit of darkness in you and I think I was afraid to let that back in. Now I kinda have and it feels good.”

“Why did you go back to doing comedy?” I asked.

“My best friend was still in comedy and doing a lot, but she moved to L.A. Then she came back to produce a show in New York early last year and asked me to be on it. And it was like a brand new experience for me that I’d never had before on stage. It felt like I was doing it for a totally different reason.

“My first stretch of comedy – which was for about seven or eight years – was almost selfish. I was doing it for me. But this time, every time I go on stage, I perform for the audience to get laughs. It doesn’t matter how many people are in the audience: I do my best instead of phoning it in.”

“Do you do anything before you go on stage?” I asked.

“Yeah,” laughed Kevin, “I smoke about half a pack of cigarettes.”

“Nicotine?” I asked.

Kevin James Moore - face painted

Kevin bought some paints last year and started with his face

“Yeah. It’s about the only time I smoke any more. It’s not anxiety. For some reason, whenever I’ve gone on stage I’ve always felt comfortable there, even though I was always a shy person – kinda anti-social but somehow, up there… People used to ask me: How come you can look so uncomfortable at a party with eight people, yet you can go up on stage in front of a crowd of 100 or 200 people?

“And your answer was?”

“It’s a totally different experience. At a party, you don’t know what people are thinking about you. On stage, you know right away if they don’t like you: they don’t laugh. I think it’s the honesty of being judged on stage whereas, in a social situation, people are being polite so you never know what they think.

“On stage, you can kinda change their opinion of you but, in a party, you don’t know if there is a problem so, if there is, you can’t correct it… I think… I dunno… I’d have to work this stuff through with a psychologist.”

“You have one?”

“I have an appointment in a couple of hours with my psychiatrist.”

One of Kevin James Moore’s paintings

One of Kevin James Moore’s recent paintings

“A psychiatrist or a psychologist?” I asked.

“The psychiatrist gives you the medicine,” said Kevin. “The psychologist just talks to you.”

“Which one are you seeing?” I asked.

“The psychiatrist, to get the medicine… The worst thing about having a mental illness is you never want to admit to yourself your brain doesn’t work and it’s tough because there’s no tangible, visible evidence of anything, so you deny it a lot.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s not that your brain doesn’t work. It just works in  different way, which is not necessarily a bad thing.”

“Yes,” said Kevin, “but the way they diagnose it is as an illness and every time I’ve gone to the hospital, I’m in there for the same reason everyone else has – because they’ve stopped taking their medication.”

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Filed under Art, Books, Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Writing

Comedian Lewis Schaffer gets serious about madness, his mother and himself

Lewis Schaffer briefly went all Jewish in the show last night

Lewis Schaffer briefly went all Jewish in a Leicester Square  show last night

“Honestly!” I said to Lewis Schaffer’s official stalker Blanche Cameron at the end of last night’s show, “It’s so frustrating! The things I can’t blog about!”

Lewis Schaffer’s apparently limitless ongoing weekly shows at the Leicester Square Theatre (sometimes on a Thursday, sometimes on a Sunday) are always, each in their own, unique events but – Ye Gods! – last night was quite a show. People say Lewis Schaffer lacks self-confidence but, to do what he did last night, takes extreme self-confidence.

Now you can be as frustrated as I am. I can’t write about it. You won’t know what happened.

Lewis Schaffer thinks I should write about it. I think it would intrude too far on at least two other people’s private lives. Remember that when you read the rest of this blog.

Suffice to say, it involved a very amiably drunken member of the audience, three – count ‘em – three people showing draw-dropping insights into their very, very personal lives and the line “Stop talking it’s my turn to speak!” not spoken by Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer talked to me in Starbucks last night

Lewis Schaffer reads his publicity last night

Before the show, I had talked to Lewis Schaffer. It was supposed to be about his upcoming tour. Then he decided NOT to talk about it because he was not sure he should publicise it. Then he wanted to. Then not. Welcome to Lewis Schaffer’s world.

“The reason my shows work,” Lewis Schaffer told me, “is that, in today’s day and age, audiences have very little in common. They don’t watch the same TV programmes; they don’t work together; they don’t share the same political or religious ideology. Usually, they have nothing in common.

“With me, my personality is so strong that, by the end of an hour, the audience has a shared friend. It’s like being at the funeral of someone they loved. The difference is the friend is Lewis Schaffer and he’s dying in front of them. People are rarely bored after my shows. They may want to commit suicide, but they’re rarely bored.”

“What did your father do for a living in New York?” I asked.

“He was a truant officer. He used to find kids who were playing hookey and bring them back to school. But he wasn’t a truant officer for very long. He became a lawyer – a patent and trademark attorney.”

“Lots of money it that,” I suggested.

“For everybody else,” Lewis Schaffer bemoaned, “but not my father. It was one of the highest-paying legal professions but my father barely scraped by. He became the patent attorney for intellectual property which came from communist Czechoslovakia and wanted to be trademarked in America. He originally worked for AMF, the people who made bowling alleys – one of the first conglomerates. I should have been a lawyer.

“I think my father wanted to be in the entertainment business and never was. I think maybe that’s why he went to Law: because maybe he thought he could be some type of performer in that. But patent law is zero performance.

“He told me he had had an offer to go to California and be in the Pasadena Playhouse, which was one of these great workshops for comedians after the Second World War and he didn’t go.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. I think he was a scared man. I think I lived his dream by leaving my ex-wife. That was my father’s dream: to divorce my mother.”

“But he didn’t?” I asked.

“Eventually he did, when he was 70 years old.”

“Seems rather pointless,” I observed.

“Well,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “not when she’s driving you crazy. She was like off-the-wall. Instead of calming down, she got crazier and crazier and I think my father lost the energy to cope with it.”

“Should I mention your mother going into mental homes in my blog?” I asked. “I’ve always avoided it.”

“She’s dead,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Back in the day, they institutionalised everybody and this was a very fancy place. Charles Schulz, the Peanuts guy, was there. It was an expensive place in the country: The Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. Very prestigious.”

“So,” I said, “it wasn’t Arkham Asylum.”

“Oh no,” said Lewis Schaffer. “My mother had a big health insurance, because my father was working for this conglomerate as an in-house patent attorney. My mother was always under a lot of stress. She was a perfectionist. She had a mental illness. I would just call it an extreme personality. I don’t believe in mental illness. I think this Stephen Fry business is just shit.”

“Being bi-polar?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer. “My mother was described as bi-polar.”

“What year was this?” I asked. “Bi-polar is one of those new terminologies, isn’t it?”

“They called my mother manic-depressive,” said Lewis Schaffer. “By calling it bi-polar, I think they’re trying to make it sound more scientific.”

“Has ‘manic-depressive’ become non-PC without me noticing?” I asked.

“Everything becomes non-PC,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Manic is like wired. And depressive is depression. But they still use the word depression. They haven’t called that uni-polar. Now it’s considered a disease. I think by calling something a mental illness, it’s trying to take away someone’s responsibility for their horrible behaviour by saying it’s a disease or some chemical imbalance. But the truth is, if you show me a mental person – a person who’s acting it out in a bad way – I’ll show you someone who’s been treated really badly. Something horrible happened to my mother to make her act that way.”

“Something happened,” I asked, “rather than she had that personality anyway?”

“Yeah. Something happened when she was a kid.”

“Surely,” I said, “people are a combination of nature and nurture?”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I think it’s always because something horrible happened.”

“You think it’s all nurture not nature?” I asked.

“Yes. I don’t think people are born crazy. When you see people misbehaving, I don’t think that’s ever, ever, ever nature. I think it’s always because something bas happened to them. Or the other side is it could be macro not micro – society has declared what they are doing as unacceptable. Maybe they’re acting in a normal way in an abnormal society.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, “if you’re a totally sane person you can’t be really creative, because creativity is about originality and originality is the opposite of thinking like other people do.”

“The case can be made,” said Lewis Schaffer, “that all excellence comes from passion and all passion comes from insanity. Last night I was thinking what my psychological problem is… I think by the time I was conscious of being a person, my parents had sort-of given up on me. My mother was mental and really wasn’t paying that much attention to me and I wanted to entertain her, so I grew up through life thinking: I have to entertain my mother and get her attention.”

“You were trying to entertain her when you were 14?” I asked.

“And younger,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Now I feel I am responsible for making people happy. Not just entertaining them but making them happy. It’s like I’m responsible for my mother’s happiness. Maybe because I was blamed. When we moved from Brooklyn to Great Neck, Long Island, she went all wonky. Probably a lot had to do with moving away from her home into this very pleasant, prosperous suburban environment and she felt lonely.”

“How old were you when you moved?”

“Almost three. Jerry Seinfeld is like me: a family of Brooklyn Jews who moved to the suburbs, then moved back into Manhattan to make our way. I was born in New York, moved out to a nice suburb and then moved back into Manhattan. I lived in Manhattan for 18 years.

“The reason I am the way I am is I had resentment towards my mother that I had to entertain her and give her happiness. So, with my comedy, I’m standing there trying to make other people happy but, at the same time, I’m thinking: Why the fuck do I have to make them happy?  Most comedians are happy to make other people happy. I am somewhat happy but also feel bitterness and resentment that psychologically I need to be in this role. On stage, I’m thinking about the audience: Why the fuck do you deserve to be made happy? I’m thinking: Why am I sacrificing what I want? Why don’t YOU make ME laugh? Why am I having a bad time doing this?

“I look at the audience when I’m performing and I think: I can’t make you happy all the time. You’re going to have to make yourself fucking happy.

“You should be happy,” I suggested, “that you’re saving lots of money by doing self-therapy.”

“It’s not self-therapy,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s self-analysis.”

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For a change, comic Lewis Schaffer gets neurotic with someone other than me

Liam Lonergan meets a man with answers

Liam Lonergan interviews a Jew with a view

In the last couple of weeks, I have posted some extracts from a chat I had with Liam Lonergan for his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

Yesterday, Liam sent me a transcript of a chat he had with London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer, who often turns up in my blog. Below, with Liam’s permission, are some edited extracts.

Liam chatted to Lewis Schaffer at The Source Below in London’s Soho where, twice-weekly, he performs his show Lewis Schaffer: Free Until Famous. It is free to enter but the audience can, if they want, pay on the way out.


Liam: Have you got a clear business model? If you pushed to go on television would you give…

Lewis Schaffer: If I pushed to go on television?

Liam: Yeah. Would you give up this free show bit up or would you still do it, d’you reckon?

Lewis Schaffer: I dunno. Because I’ve grown to enjoy it in the same way one grows to enjoy a retarded child. Is that horrible to say? You love your children even though they’re deficient. And I’ve grown to love this because I’ve done more of these kind of shows than anybody else. I can’t imagine anyone else doing as many shows as this. I’ve done over four hundred shows here over four years. I started in 2009. The benefit of it is it’s training for chaos.

Liam: In one of your interviews you’ve said that you alternate between panic and bored and you’re used to living in chaos and it bothers you when there’s no chaos.

Lewis Schaffer: I believe in chaos.

(Lewis Schaffer and Liam are standing in the street outside the entrance to The Source Below and two fans of his comedy shows have arrived – Sean and Arnie.)

Lewis Schaffer outside his Soho venue last night

Lewis Schaffer stands outside venue

Lewis Schaffer: I’m being interviewed here. Real comedians let the audience enjoy themselves. And me? I’m just going to stop you from enjoying yourselves. Am I right?

Sean: I like the awkwardness.

Lewis Schaffer: Openness…

Sean: Awkwardness. My two word review for you is “awkwardly hilarious”. Which means I’m laughing awkwardly. I’m laughing at you but I don’t know why some of the time.

Lewis Schaffer: I dunno why you’re laughing at me either.

Sean: I love your gigs. I’ve been here and I’ve come here again. That’s how good you are.

Lewis Schaffer: But besides Lewis Schaffer, who else is there?

Sean: The minute you become famous, Lewis, I wouldn’t come to see you. There’s vulnerability at your gigs because I feel vulnerable.

Lewis Schaffer: Exactly.

Arnie: That’s because you’re vulnerable. Am I right? You expose yourself don’t you?

Lewis Schaffer: Well, I hope I do.

Liam: You need to show the ligaments.

Lewis Schaffer: Is that what that’s called? “Show the ligaments”?

Liam: Yeah. Since you cultivate an environment of full disclosure in your stand-up act, is everything fair game?

Lewis Schaffer: Everything is fair game except for my ex-wife’s husband. Which is me… Are any subjects fair game with the proper audience? Well, everything’s up for discussion. It’s how you discuss it.

Liam: Have you got a central philosophy?

Lewis Schaffer: A core philosophy? If it’s raining in South London by the time you get to North London it’ll be clear.

Liam: Good philosophy.

Sean: I can answer.

Lewis Schaffer: What is my core philosophy on comedy?

Sean: On comedy, your schtick is you’re a failure.

Lewis Schaffer: I am a failure but it’s not a schtick. It would be like saying New York is my schtick. I’m a New Yorker. But it’s not my schtick.

Liam: It’s just what you are.

Lewis Schaffer: My core philosophy is to take what people know and tell them they’re wrong. Most comedians tell people what they already know and then make a joke about it. Or they will tell people what they don’t know and then make a joke about that. My thing is just to say: “You think this. You are wrong”.

Liam: One thing you say is: “I want people to know everything about me and still love me”.

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

Lewis Schaffer says he wants to be loved, anal warts and all

Lewis Schaffer: Yes. I want them to love me, anal warts and all.

Liam: Do you reckon that’s tied in with some sort of mania? Could you call it mania?

Lewis Schaffer: Well, my mother was diagnosed as a bi-polar manic-depressive and I think that I’ve got all the attributes of bi-polar manic depression without being a bi-polar manic-depressive.

Liam: Do you reckon it’s learnt behaviour?

Lewis Schaffer: Yes. If you’re raised by wolves you’re going to be howling at the moon. You might not be a wolf but you will learn to howl at the moon. Was that a good answer?

Liam: That was really, really interesting.

Lewis Schaffer: Was that very interesting? It’s not funny.

Liam: But it doesn’t have to be rat-a-tat scattergun jokes. Answers are like that good as well.

Lewis Schaffer: I’m rapid cycling. Rapid cycling. I change moods so quickly that people don’t notice. I’m like alternating current. I’m like on sixty cycles.

Sean: I need the toilet. I’ll be honest with you.

Lewis Schaffer: OK. See you down there.

Liam: Is there a toilet down there? Because I’m gonna need one as well soon…Talking in a broader sense about the whole Love me attitude, do you think that applies to comedy as a…

Lewis Schaffer: What attitude?

Liam: The Love me attitude… You wanting people. Needing the acceptance.

Lewis Schaffer: That only applies to comedians. Actors don’t do that. Actors just wanna be noticed. They don’t care how they’re noticed. They can play a villain or they can play a hero. But comedians want people to… It’s like it’s on a continuum. Most people are happy. Somewhere in the middle with people not hating them or people not loving them but comedians, generally… people have to be constantly loving them in order for them to feel safe… I’m not saying my mother is bi-polar.

Liam: No. I won’t print that.

Lewis Schaffer: You can print anything I’m saying. You can put down anything I say here. I’m just saying she was diagnosed that way. I don’t believe in the psychiatric establishment.

Liam: I don’t as well. There’s like a diagnostic spider’s web where they sort of broaden it so everyone fits into that. Everyone fits into a category so they can sell the solution to that.

Lewis Schaffer: They can sell the pills, Or the surgery.

Liam: Do you ever feel threatened by the audience?

Lewis Schaffer: the face of a multiple killer

Lewis Schaffer: threatening audience

Lewis Schaffer: Yeah. I always feel threatened.

Liam: Even after all these years of doing it?

Lewis Schaffer: Sometime I don’t feel threatened by the audience and those are the nights that go pear-shaped from the very beginning. Where I go in and I feel they’re my friends and they turn on me.

Liam: You need that? You need that tension?

Lewis Schaffer: I need to fear my audience. I need to fear people. They may not love me. I think worry produces positive…

Liam: This is why I’ve always wanted to do stand-up but why I can’t do it because I can’t bear to have the rejection.

Lewis Schaffer: To me, the rejection is the normal… If they do hate me it’s very rarely more than what I expected them to. And if they love me it’s always a surprise. That’s why I have failed more than most comedians… Every show that I do has elements of failure. Wouldn’t you consider me a failure?

Liam: Er… No. I dunno. Well…

Lewis Schaffer: Twenty years of doing comedy.

Liam: What’s the zenith?

Lewis Schaffer: I can pay my bills.

Liam: Is there a financial…

Lewis Schaffer: Yeah. It’s not about the money but I’d like to be paid some money. Money is the proof… just one more bit of love.

Liam: Is that why you do these free shows? The bucket at the end… So you can put a monetary value to their love?

Lewis Schaffer: Yes. I can be sure whether the show was good or bad… I can tell when people put money in or people don’t put money in. A lot of times they don’t and it’s horrible. So that is the reason. It’s a measure of whether I’m funny or not. It’s also a measure if people come back to see me repeatedly.

Liam: Is it a neurosis? Is it endemic?

Lewis Schaffer: Endemic. What a big word.

Liam: Is it something that’s derivative of the New York mentality? As a whole?

Lewis Schaffer: No it isn’t. It is among Jews and New York is a very Jewish community and a lot of comedians have taken over the attitude of the Jews.

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The comedy girl who throws breakfast cereal in her face and WANTS to be mad

Candy Gigi at last night’s Pull The Other One

Candy Gigi at Pull The Other One with cereal and lipstick

I have mentioned comedy act Candy Gigi a couple of times in earlier blogs. I saw her stuffing massive amounts of Corn Flakes into her mouth at Pull The Other One comedy club and I saw her attack people – including me – with some sort of green vegetation at Lost Cabaret.

When I talked to her this week, she was rather less manic in Soho.

“You studied musical theatre at Mountview Acting School,” I said to her. “So you wanted to be an actress?”

“I could have been doing musical theatre,” she told me. “But I didn’t want to be in a cast.”

“You don’t want to soil yourself with money?” I asked.

“Well, there’s probably more money in comedy than in musicals,” she told me. “A lot of my friends are in musicals and they make virtually nothing. My friend has a secondary part in The Book of Mormon in the West End and he doesn’t get a lot.”

“But odd, surreal acts are a difficult sell,” I said. “If you want to make money, why not just do straight stand-up?”

“My mind doesn’t work that way,” explained Candy Gigi. “I need to be physical. And I don’t actually want to change or tone down the act. I think if people like me, they’ll come to me; my audience will find me. If I just adapt and become like everybody else, then what was the point of doing this in the first place?”

“What WAS the point of doing it in the first place?” I asked.

“Hopefully,” she replied, “I’ll make a lot of money from it and become a huge star.”

“Any showbiz in your family?” I asked.

Candy Gigi in Soho this week

Candy Gigi – the non-meshugenah version

“My third cousin is Ron Moody who was Fagin in Oliver! and my dad was an impersonator. He’s a lawyer now and he really misses the… He would have loved to have done what I’m doing. He’s a lawyer, but he hates it and wishes he could have done comedy.”

“When did he stop?” I asked.

“When he went to university, because his parents wanted him to be a lawyer. My parents are very supportive about what I do. When my mum comes to my shows, she loves them.”

“But why the Corn Flakes in the face?” I asked.

“I really don’t know; they just work.”


“I do have a script for everything I do.”

“When I saw you at Lost Cabaret,” I said, “in the interval you went on stage while people were off getting drinks, turned your back to the room and you were rehearsing.”

“Yeah. People think I just come on and go mental, but there’s thought behind it.”

“What’s the thought?”

“I can’t explain it. You can’t just act mad, though sometimes I’m aware most of the time it’s just crazy. What I’m trying to find is the up-and-down, the light-and-shade. I think, once I find that, I’ll be more suitable for mainstream audiences because there will be more colour and it won’t be just crazy. I’ve only been doing comedy for a year-and-a-half.

“I think what people tend to find shocking about my act is that I’m quite… not feminine, not girly… but maybe I seem like a stereotypical girl, into fashion and so on and then I go on stage and I’m quite grotesque. I really ugly it up.”

“When you were a kid,” I asked, “did you like grotesques?”

Candy Gigi likes grotesquery and discomfort

Grotesquery and discomfort in Soho this week

“I always liked Jim Carrey and Mr Bean.”

“Jim Carrey because he is….”

“Facially grotesque and visual,” replied Candy Gigi.

“You like to be grotesque on stage,” I said. “Is that some sort of defence mechanism?”

“Probably,” said Candy Gigi. “I like looking ugly. I like the part where it’s a bit unsettling. I like that.”

“You like controlling the audience?”

“Yeah. I like giving them that sort of feeling of discomfort. Also, most people have got that level of insanity within them – that twisted, warped darkness.”

“Maybe only performers?” I suggested.

“I know a lot of people who are mentally… Well, maybe…” admitted Candy Gigi. “Predominantly performers, possibly… I think my personality is bizarre. I’m just being me and that just so happens to be bizarre.”

“How are you bizarre?” I asked.

“I’ve probably got a bit of a personality disorder. “


“No, but I’ve probably got something. I’m very up-and-down.”


“I don’t think I’ve actually got it, but I’ve possibly got a few elements of that.”

“Like being Stephen Fry but without the buggery?” I suggested.

“I love him,” said Candy Gigi. “How could anyone not?”

“Your dad is a frustrated performer?” I asked.

“My dad is…” said Candy Gigi, “He’s… Imagine Basil Fawlty… He is just like Basil Fawlty, but possibly more irate and frustrated and hysterical – like the episode where he’s beating up a car with a tree. He’s the shouty Basil Fawlty where he gets irate and crazy over nothing; on the brink of a heart attack. He’s good at his job, he works really hard, he’s a really good dad, but he’s crazy. My elder brother’s quite straight but me and my little brother are just completely gone with the eccentricity.”

“Is your mother eccentric?”

“She’s a little Jewish crazy lady.”

“Anarchy and chicken soup?” I asked.

“She’s wonderful and lovely and kind,” said Candy Gigi.

“Does she work?” I asked.

“She looks after old people with Alzheimer’s. They come round our house. We were brought up around a lot of odd people and a lot of my family are… a few mental illnesses.

“I once had something written about me saying my act was taking the mickey out of people with mental health problems, totally tearing into me… And it’s just not true.

“I really am very familiar with mental health problems and I don’t know anyone who’s got a mental health condition who throws Crunchy Nuts in their face and scrawls red lipstick all over their face and behaves like I do on stage. How is that taking the mickey out of people who are mentally ill? That’s actually very offensive to people who do have bad mental health. They don’t behave like that.

“Even if that were the case – that I was taking the mickey – and it isn’t – I would still stand by it, because why do you have to tip-toe round Society and people’s problems? Why not laugh? Why NOT laugh?”

“To be a comedian,” I suggested, “you have to perform or view things abnormally, don’t you?”

“I’m very familiar with mental health problems,” replied Candy Gigi. “I’ve got it within my family and I think I’ve got it within me, otherwise how would I have thought of my act? Where does it come from? Your act comes from you. It’s just an extension of myself.”

“There is a showbiz tradition,” I said, “of grotesques and people doing mad, surreal things.”

Candy Gigi last, spitting out vegitative matter

Candy Gigi, last seen spitting out vegetative matter at Lost Cabnaret

“Yes,” said Candy Gigi. “Basil Fawlty – mad. Mr Bean – autistic. There’s loads of characters throughout the years who have been incredibly successful but have definitely got some form of mental ill-health. David Brent in The Office. There is something not right about THAT man.”

“So, you’re 24 now,” I said. “Where will you be when you’re 29?”

“Fucking successful,” said Candy Gigi. “I really want to be big in comedy. But, even if I become famous, I’ll still be a bloody mentalist. If anything, I’ll probably be even worse, because I think the fame will make me go meshugenah – I’ll turn to alcohol and food and I really will be throwing Crunchy Nut at my own face.”

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Filed under Acting, Comedy, Mental health, Surreal, Theatre

The manic-depressive comedy act and the fantastic female astronaut phenomenon

Tonight I’m off to see the last of American comic Lewis Schaffer‘s twice-weekly shows Free Until Famous at the Source Below in Soho. The shows should resume in January. As far as my extensive experience goes, “a rollercoaster ride of emotions” is pretty much what Lewis guarantees.

He tells me a psychiatrist friend told him his shows are an exact recreation of a bi-polar, manic-depressive incident. Bloody right. Rollercoasters. Comedy rollercoasters. That’s what they are. He has an extraordinary and mesmerising talent for plucking defeat from the jaws of victory just as often as vice versa. He has perhaps four or five hours of good, solid, funny material and you can never be certain which parts and which configuration will surface in any particular one-hour show… and then you throw into this volatile mix his occasional sudden bouts of self-doubt (which he then analyses as part of the act) and his low boredom threshold… plus he will career off-course if there is any distraction or any good audience interaction. He is a Wikipedia of knowledge. Throw him an audience member from some obscure village in Guatemala and the odds are he will know some bizarre and fascinating fact about it.

“Unpredictable” does not quite do him justice. And then there are the audiences he attracts.

A few weeks ago, he asked an American girl in the audience what she did for a living and it turned out she was USAF Sargent Katie Sparks, a former astronaut on the Mir Space Station. She had spent twelve days up there in space in 2006. Lewis got her up on stage and he and the audience asked her questions about what she’d done and how she’d felt and she answered with fascinating details.

Except that, after the show, Lewis checked out her 2006 trip to Mir and discovered that not only did the Mir space station burn up in 2001 – five years before she claimed to have been in it – but he could find no reference to any female astronaut called Katie Sparks. She had made the whole thing up – whether as an intentional con trick for unknown reasons or as a fantasist’s dream, he could not figure out. There is a photo of “Katie Sparks” on Lewis’ Facebook page.

Lewis won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe for pulling a publicity stunt so outrageous that the Edinburgh Comedy Awards (showing a remarkable lack of any sense of humour) threatened to take him to court. Could he have been out-stunted and out-witted this time?

He (and I) would be interested to know who “Katie Sparks” is and how and why she managed to persuade Lewis and an entire audience that she was a female astronaut. Born-and-bred New Yorker Lewis is even beginning to doubt that she was American.


Filed under Comedy, Science, Strange phenomena