Tag Archives: burlesque

Heavens! It’s the 86-year-old stripping granny in her blue chemise in Japan!

American comedian and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, has been on her travels again…

Here she tells all…


I finally got to Japan after two days worth of flights.

It was HOT: about 30 C and humid.

“This was a girly-girly revue with a difference”

My first gig was burlesque in an after-hours club. This was a girly-girly revue with a difference; there were four acts altogether and the finale was a trio of contortionist dancers that were absolutely amazing, synchronized and graceful. After each performance, the performer greeted each member of the tiny audience personally (I would guess there were 15 people there, mostly men) and each person tucked money in their clothing. Since the women were not wearing much, it was easy to tuck in a 10,000 bill and get a little extra.

The audience tucked nine of those bills in my little chemise and told me I was amazing. I said no, I was not – I was just old.

A city filled with flashing lights…

On the way home, I was struck with how bright the streets are in Tokyo no matter how late the hour. The city is filled with flashing lights and tall buildings that create the same aura as Times Square in New York without the noise, the honking horns, the crowded streets or the smoke. No-one is allowed to smoke on the street in Japan.

The Japanese are very security-conscious and I needed a code to get into the building itself and another to get into the room. When you are my age with no memory whatsoever there is a real danger of spending the night on the streets. The consolation is that the streets are very safe.

The next night was the reason I took the trip to Japan: Alex Camp had booked me to headline at his venue The Good Heavens Comedy Club. The event is held in an English Bar and the menu is very British featuring fish and chips, pork pies and a lovely chicken curry. The audience is just about all English-speaking.

The first half of the show was a standard comedy line-up with four comedians doing five to ten minute sets. There was an interval and then I took the stage to do my hour-long comedy show, I Never Said I Was Nice. I got a standing ovation (actually, it was one person… but still) and, to my surprise, the following was posted on Facebook the next day:


“What happened today on the stage of Good Heavens…?”

What happened today on the stage of Good Heavens? The world’s oldest comedian, 86 years old Jewish lady, flew over to Tokyo, wore her blue chiffon dress, silver bracelet, stepped on the stage, held that microphone and broke our chests – first with that laughter we couldn’t resist and then with those tears we had to breathe really deep to hold down.

Her story took one hour to tell and the whole life to build.

We sat there, sat still, all equally amazed – learning each his own lesson, smiling each at his own angle.

But then she sang. A 86 years old Jewish lady, in her blue chiffon dress and silver bracelet who crossed the ocean to tell us her story, was choking with happiness on that stage singing to us and to the Universe.

“I don’t know if I make it to the end of the year,” she sang… “I don’t know if I make to the end of the show,” she ended. “But all I need is time. Please give me time, as I’ve got plans.”

What I was lucky to witness today is a great storytelling talent. Great comedy talent. But, most importantly, a talent of praising the gift of life.

When I grow up, I want to be like her.

ELENA DAVYDOVA FROM THE UKRAINE


I almost literally floated home to my hotel I was so happy.

“In 1945 over 42% of it was reduced to rubble”

The next day, Alex Camp and I were both in a show in Yokohama. It was run by a young Southern American named Taylor at a place called Antenna America.

The audience was mostly American, many from the military bases there. The show felt more like the ones I did in San Francisco, probably because almost all of the comics had American accents. After the show, we walked the streets of Yokohama to find a restaurant and I was struck with how modern Yokohama was.

Alex explained that was because it had to be totally rebuilt after World War II.

In 1945, over 42% of it was reduced to rubble in a little over an hour after one disastrous bombing. Now it is clean and modern with wide streets and pedestrian walkways.

“My standard Stripping Granny routine – everyone went wild”

On the Friday, Taylor Wanstall created a show just for me, called the Tokyo Closet Ball. This was burlesque variety and it reminded me very much of the old fashioned British Music Hall shows. Casual, outlandish and camp, it was another highlight of this trip. I finished the show with my standard Stripping Granny routine and everyone went wild.  Taylor bought drinks for the cast afterwards and promised to have me back in April.

The next morning, Alex took me to the train station to go to Fukuoka for my final show. This was to be my big finale since Fukuoka Comedy is very well known and features major English speaking comedians. The train was immaculate and very spacious. Everyone is very quiet on the trains in Japan: no music; no conversation. Fukuoka was also torn apart during World War II and had been rebuilt extensively. It is a beautiful, clean port city and, in 2006, it was voted one of Newsweek’s 10 most dynamic cities.

Sadly for me and happily for the country, Japan had won the rugby games the night before. So my audience was six people, two of whom were the comedians in the show.

I did the same performance I did for Alex at the Good Heavens Comedy Club and, small though the audience was, it was very appreciative. After the show, we all went out for dinner at a place that served every part of the chicken on skewers. Yes, even the part that goes over the fence last (my favorite part…which says something very negative about my personality). It was a delicious meal and a memorable evening.

Whenever I do these long jaunts across a couple of oceans and several time zones I am so jet lagged when I get back to London that it takes me days to figure out where I am and what time to eat dinner. This time, however, I did not have the luxury of lolling around trying to figure out when it was night and when it was day.

I had a rehearsal for two shows coming up and a dinner date.

Thank goodness for Melatonin.

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Comic Lynn Ruth Miller on Amsterdam, Harrogate, Utrecht and cross-dressing

“Monroe would have been just a few years older…”

Yesterday in this blog, London-based American comic and occasional 85-year-old burlesque stripper Lynn Ruth Miller wrote about her trip to Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Bangkok.

This is what she did when she got back to the UK…


Last August, when I performed in North Berwick, I met a lovely woman, Paula Stott, who told me that she was absolutely sure Harrogate would love my work. She ran events for the film society there and said she was going to find a way to get me to perform before one of their events. Did I know Marilyn Monroe would have been just a few years older than I, had she lived?

I did not know that.

Several months passed before I got a note from Paula asking if I would do a comedy performance before a screening of Marilyn Monroe’s comedy Some Like It Hot. I said of course and so the trip to Harrogate became a reality.  

The timing was a bit tight, because I came home from Bangkok two days before and Paula wanted me to go to Harrogate one day early to have a reunion of all the women who had seen me that evening in North Berwick.

So I got home to London, unpacked, did laundry, ran to see Funny Turns, a play the wonderful David Forest was in and, the next morning, packed a smaller case for Harrogate – and Holland – and off I went to see one of the most charming towns in the North of England.  

Harrogate is a lovely place: a far cry from the land of ornate temples, beautiful men dressed as women, loose cotton clothing and face masks to keep out pollution.

One of its highlights is Betty’s, a 100 year old café that features lovely afternoon teas and beautiful pastries. Everyone in Harrogate loves Betty’s but no one knows who Betty actually was.

In Some Like It Hot, Marilyn Monroe typifies the kind of sexiness that all we girls tried to emulate: sweet, kind and innocent but hot as a firecracker, out to marry money for our security and hope that love comes along with it.  

Joe E Brown (left) and Jack Lemmon – together at last – both perfectly legendary in the final scene of Some Like It Hot

For me, the interesting part of the movie is that Joe E Brown, the secondary lead, is from Toledo, Ohio, where I was born.

His favorite restaurant was my family’s favorite one as well: Naftalin’s 

Joe E Brown is a local hero in Toledo and they even have a park named after him there. I remember him in person on stage when he played the lead in Harvey, a play about a man with an imaginary 6 foot tall rabbit.

In Some Like It Hot, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis cross-dress and, at the time the film was made, it was very common for men to dress as women for comic effect. My own uncle danced in a show called The Matzo Ball Revue in a flimsy skirt with a bangle glittering in his belly button and no-one thought twice about his sexuality. Nor did either of his wives or any of his children doubt his testosterone levels. They thought he was very funny. 

Times change and now cross-dressing can often be a statement of gender identity. In those days it was a comic gesture.

At the Harrogate screening, I was preceded by The Ukulele Ladies, a group of women of a certain age singing ukulele favorites of yesteryear.  

Then I performed my comedy about what it feels like to be 85… to a lot of people who were 85 and all I could think was: Why don’t THEY tell ME how THEY feel.

Then I flew from Manchester Airport to Amsterdam and was driven to my gig in Utrecht at Comedyhuis.

“…a lovely city filled with bright lights and no parking…”

Utrecht is a lovely city filled with bright lights and no parking.

The comedy gig was run by comedians and they present very low cost shows for students to enjoy since Utrecht is a university town. The set-up reminds me very much of Angel Comedy in Islington, London. The audience was similar as well: young, eager to laugh and very welcoming.  

The most interesting thing about the gig was that the line up was all women except for one man. 

One of the girls was from Detroit, Michigan, which is 30 miles from my hometown of Toledo.

Detroit is the only place I can think of that is worse to live in than Toleldo.

She, like I, had got the hell out.

The next night was Mezrab comedy in Amsterdam. It is always well attended. The last two months it has been sold out.

When I do another comedy club in Amsterdam. I have trouble getting laughs because English is the second language of most of the audience. At Mezrab, there is no problem and although the audience is hugely diverse – Romanians, Russians, Bulgarians, many Dutch people – they are eager to laugh and very supportive.  

The evening was a huge success.

Once again I headlined because one of the other comedians backed out.

And, once again, I was up at 7.30am, dashed to the airport and the plane was an hour late.  

As soon as I got home to London, my body rebelled and I now have the cold to end all colds.  

However, the show must go on.

At least I think it must.

There is a video on YouTube of Lynn Ruth Miller in her other creative hat, performing at Burlesque Baubles in Cardiff in 2017

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The joys of Glasgow when you are an 85-year-old burlesque performer

Ever-seductive Lynn Ruth Miller

Recently back from performing comedy in the Far East (as per various recent blogs here) 85 year-old American comic and late-starting burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller was stripping in Glasgow last week; she lives in London; she used to live in Brighton. Here she tells you what happened.


Glasgow is a unique city; much like Brighton but, in Brighton, they speak English.

People in Glasgow are positively avuncular when they see an old lady.

It started when the train pulled into Central Station. Instantly, one man took my case from the luggage rack and another hauled it off the train. As soon as I got into the station I asked a cleaner (no-one at the Information Desk) how to get to my hotel and he had a great deal to say. Sadly I could not understand one word, although I made him repeat it three times.  

I walked over to three girls in blonde wigs and asked them if they knew where Virginia Street was and they knew but insisted I take a cab because the weather was horrid. It was windy and raining. It was, after all Glasgow.

The three informed me that they were Swedish tonight because they were going to an Abba party. Did I want to go with them? I explained that I am Jewish and needed a toilet and they understood.  

They took me to the cab-stand and put me in a cab. The driver took me to the hotel, took my bag into the lobby and asked me to tell him a joke.

I did.

He laughed.

The hotel was charming. All thick, grey stone walls, dim lighting and forbidding paintings of knights on horses with spears on the walls. There was no lift and my room was on the third floor up an endless circular staircase. I felt a bit like Rapunzel and had I let my hair grow, I would have dropped it out the window and climbed down to the street. It would have been far less arduous than climbing those stairs.

One look at the size of my room and I immediately understood how it would feel to live in Japan. The good thing was I could reach EVERYTHING standing at the foot of the bed. I am 58 inches tall and the room was exactly 60 inches square.

I went out of the hotel in search of dinner and discovered that, in Glasgow, everything is open until midnight and beyond TO DRINK. Eating must be finished by ten.  

Glasgow – It is not all windy and raining

Back in the hotel, I practised my songs for the Burlesque Festival in my tiny little room at the top of the stairs. I was up so high that several birds peered in the glass to check out the caterwauling sounds coming from my open window.

The next afternoon, I lunched at Breakfast at Tiffany’s (really) and was taken by how many old couples (seventy or older) go out for lunch there. They sit at the table and never say one word to one another, eating careful and slowly lest they drop a bit of egg on their jumpers.   

I always thought I had missed so much because I don’t have a partner… no-one to share ideas with; no-one to tell my troubles to; no-one to cuddle. But, when I look at these couples who have been together for umpteen years and don’t even register the other’s presence, I wonder if I missed anything at all.  

I held my comedy class at The Riding Room for three wonderful women and talked about what makes funny.

There was one accomplished woman from New Zealand who had just come from London where she had played the Royal Vauxhall Theatre and it occurred to me that I could learn from HER not the other way around; a single mother from Glasgow who said that people consider single mothers the result of a broken relationship but the truth is they are just broke; and a wonderful young lady from Aberdeen who wants to start a burlesque venue there.

I said to them all: “Why not?”

Aberdeen could use some twirling tits to take their minds off the horny sheep; New Zealand must be thrilled to have a stripper who tells them that menopause means men are paused… and single parents really do have a lot more fun when they manage to find a baby sitter.

My big one was that night: The Saturday Evening Spectacular at The Glasgow Burlesque Festival and I was the headliner.  

Audiences in Glasgow are particularly supportive and they go wild just because you are performing. I did my song and got a huge standing ovation, which thrilled me.  

I do not think I will ever take audience appreciation for granted. It is a gift that means far more to a true performer than the money we earn. It validates us. But the sweetest thing is how very many people came up to me afterwards and THANKED ME for doing my performance.

There is a joy and a sense that humans are important and to be cherished in Glasgow. It is the underlying quality I love about all of the UK but in Glasgow (and in Brighton) it is far more apparent.  

Age, sex, sexuality, income… no-one cares. They only get upset if you are cruel to someone else or kick a puppy (and in Brighton, of course, if you forget to recycle).

Viv Gee and Lynn Ruth are kind to puppies

My Sunday in Glasgow was spectacular. I went to lunch with Viv Gee, a superb comedian and a teacher of comedy. She met me at Singl-end, a New Age restaurant so up-to-the-minute that there were no deep-fried Mars Bars on the menu. Not even fish and chips. Just blood pudding and things like seared Kale and Spirulina fritters.  

I left to meet Frodo McDaniel and spoiled the entire nutritional effect of my lunch with Costa’s hot chocolate covered with mountains of whipped cream. We discussed the problem of achieving fame and fortune when you do cabaret… evidently no-one loves a cabaret artist.  

The burlesque scene is burgeoning however and the range of talent that we see on stage goes from mediocre and expected to wild and original. It is becoming very like comedy in that more and more people are doing it and you can actually choose how sophisticated and polished a show you prefer.

Roxy Stardust created the Glasgow Burlesque Festival. This is her fourth year of bringing artists from all over the world to Glasgow to rip off their clothes, swallow swords and climb ropes. She does not discriminate between men and women, colour or genre and it is Roxy’s patter that holds each show together. She sings, she jokes, she chats to an audience who cannot help but get her… and she fills the house every night. She has figured the whole thing out just right.

At the early show, I recreated my prize-winning cabaret AGEING IS AMAZING (the one where I throw diapers at the audience, give them condoms and put wigs on their heads). I got my second standing ovation for that one.

In the late show, we had our finale for the four-day festival and I gave them ZIP, where I zip up and zip down but never strip. The audience response was gorgeous.

The next day I dragged my case down three flights of narrow stairs and walked to the station (not ten minutes away).

As always in Glasgow, someone walked me to the entrance, someone else helped me haul my case onto the train and someone ELSE stored it in the luggage rack and promised to retrieve it when we got to Euston.

And he did.

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Lynn Ruth Miller on why “Everyone hates the San Francisco police…”

Lynn Ruth – Hubba Hubba – I’ve Got Balls

Stand-up comedian and late-flowering burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller concludes her series of blogs about her return to play three weeks of gigs in the San Francisco area after four years based in the UK…


Last Friday, I performed at the Hubba Hubba Revue’s anniversary event. I sang I’ve Got Balls and Music, Music, Music and was carried off the stage by a gorilla. AND I got my fourth standing ovation.  All this praise and adulation just might go to my head.

After the show, I went out to dinner with Kari Jones who is an accomplished hula hoop-er and now she dances on roller skates while she hula-hoops. I can barely clap my hands without falling over; she is a physically coordinated genius.  

But I am beginning to realize that my very existence and persistence is the key to all this admiration I have been getting from audiences. The one thing I want to remind myself over and over is that I am a hustler and I work for every gig I get, but I am not an exceptional talent.  

I do not want to suddenly think I am hot stuff when I am only an old lady having more fun with life than I ever dreamed possible after my anxiety-fraught, miserably unhappy, first half of life.

On Saturday afternoon I had another date with Alan Kahn which was really lovely because he has been very kind and attentive to me since I have been here.  

He drove me into San Francisco where I hunted around for a Starbucks or Peets to sit in until it was time for my gig at The Setup comedy club in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.  

Alan dropped me off at a Starbucks that had no place to sit so I asked a policeman if he knew of a café nearby.

“In the next block,” he said smiling happily at his partner and nodding to me.  

So off I went trudging down Market Street looking for a Peets that was not there.

So much for believing the San Francisco police.  

Finally, a young man in a cell phone shop drew me a diagram and sent me four blocks away to a lovely Peets where I could sit and ruminate about my set and take a bit of time to write some new material.

On the way there, I saw four police people on bicycles and I stopped to ask a young Asian police girl on a bike if this was a new thing since I could not recall seeing the police on bikes when I was here four years ago.  

She was a delightful young lady and assured me that, yes, they do ride their bikes mostly because it is easier for them to get into a troubled area and get out and not seem as threatening or intrusive as when they are in a vehicle with sirens blaring, double parked and blocking traffic.  

This young lady said she prefers a bicycle to being on her feet because, she explained: “They all hate us… You have to learn not to take it seriously… You should come to our station. We all just sit around laughing at the funny and abusive things people say to us. You have to have a sense of humor in this job.”

Well I certainly agree with her.

Everyone hates the San Francisco police because they shoot before they ask questions; they give citations when they are in the mood whether deserved or not; they are belligerent and angry even when you have not done anything wrong; and (like that first guy I met) they enjoy giving a pedestrian wrong information as a private joke.

Many of them are on drugs and alcohol and get off without sentencing because they are one of the boys.  

It is good know they laugh among themselves. I have never seen one smile.

I told this young lady who looked as innocent and sweet as a teenager that the London police do not carry guns and she looked shocked. She could not imagine patrolling a street unarmed.  

“They have Billy clubs in London,” I said to reassure her and off she pedaled to have a laugh-in at the local police station.

That was on Saturday.

On Sunday, it was my big art show.

After I left my home four years ago to fly cross the Atlantic Ocean and start a new life in the UK, Thad Gann salvaged 51 of my paintings. At that time, he said he was going to sell these paintings for me and make us both astronomical fortunes. But promises are only promises and dreams often have no substance at all.  

He had the best of intentions but did not even bother to price the paintings or display them. He did, however, make a lovely Facebook page called The Art of Lynn Ruth Miller.

Part of the reason he did nothing to sell the art was that he was involved in  moving from the East Bay to San Jose. This is a city that lacks the glamour of the Bay area. It is at the south end of Silicon Valley and the homes are small and crowded together in contrast to the sprawling ranch homes further north and in Los Angeles. The city is hot in the summer and cold in the winter without the fog or ocean breezes to keep the temperatures stable.

We planned to have a huge art sale there on Sunday to get rid of these 51 pieces of questionable art but, because the city itself is so far away from the central areas and because no-one there really knows me the way they do further north, I had very few hopes of selling anything at all.

And, indeed, all of two people show up – although each bought a painting.  

The rest of my 51 pictures will be donated to a rest home or children’s hospital to give the rooms a bit of color and to make me feel I have not painted in vain.

I do not paint for money. I paint to paint.

And now – back to London.

Painting by Lynn Ruth Miller … Photographed by Thad Gann

 

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Lynn Ruth Miller in San Francisco on Trump Jokes + the teacups-in-a-bra act

Lynn Ruth Miller last week, at the Punchline in Sacramento

Midway through her three-week series of gigs in and around San Francisco, 84-year-old comic and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller has realised something…


Here in the US, Donald Trump jokes do not work… even in California, where voters are overwhelmingly Democratic.  

There are large clusters of angry people who believe Donald Trump is refreshing (!) and honest (!!!) and they do not think he is being fairly covered by the press (who definitely hate him because he violates everyone’s sense of integrity, honesty and human awareness).

I am also aware of how important it is in this particular comedy scene to do set-up and punchline with little in between.  

Stories do not work as well here as they do in the UK. Americans want their jokes to be fast just like the food they eat. And they do not drink enough to soften the edges and see humor just because they want to see it.

After one show here, I went out to dinner with Bob Johnston who has been a redneck comedian for the past 21 years. His comedy is fast and hard-hitting and he has experienced success in pockets of the country where they like blue-collar humor.  

He lives in Martinez, another bedroom community in the San Francisco Bay area, and he has begun a series of comedy shows in an amphitheatre there that have been hugely successful.  

My friend Brett was with us and we talked comedy and people we knew over a dinner that was a typical American mess of large portions of unidentifiable food. There was a slaw of some kind with mint in it, fried plantains and what was supposed to be cod in so much batter I never did find the fish. It made me miss Bardsley’s Fish and Chips in Brighton, England, where the cod tastes better than a gourmet steak and the batter is to die for.  

Do not tell ME the English do not know how to create good food. Their fish and chips are beyond compare.  

Just do not get me started on haggis. (Sorry Scotland)

Brett is a perfect example of what has happened to the middle class in the Bay area.  

It is very like London in that Brett has a good job with a fine salary that anywhere else would be enough to support him and give him many luxuries – but which, here, he cannot even consider. He thinks of himself middle class as all of us do but he cannot afford an apartment of his own and he certainly cannot consider expensive vacations or nights out on the town.

The sad thing is that he is a marvellous comedian but, by the time he finishes his eight-hour job and two-hour commute to wherever he is living, he is too exhausted to perform in a comedy show that keeps him out until midnight or after. 

That is the plight of would-be comedians here. They cannot support themselves on comedy alone unless they are TV stars and a daytime job saps your energy so that, even if you do not mind operating on 5 hours sleep, you cannot be as sharp as you could be or in tune with your audience.  

I suspect this is a similar plight of comedians in London.

Brett is in contrast to the man I described in yesterday’s blog who has found himself homeless and helpless.  

Brett has never stopped working at anything anywhere to take care of himself. When he was evicted from his first flat in Pacifica, he went door-to-door and followed ad after ad until he found something. He was not bogged down with self-pity or paralyzed with a sense of inadequacy. He fought the system and found a niche he could live in.

The day after our dinner I met Mike Moto, a superb comedian who had a stroke three years ago and is recovering slowly but surely. He is a marvel and very, very funny. His day job is doing taxes and he is still top-notch at his job. The thing I love about him is his perseverance.  

He is recovering slowly from the damage the stroke did to his motor abilities and this is one time when I wanted to transport him to the UK where there are troupes of comedians with disabilities doing very well throughout the country like Abnormally Funny People.   

Nick Leonard came by to take me to lunch. He is a gay comedian, sometimes an adorable Tranny, who lived in London for a time and has turned to acting to support himself, only doing comedy occasionally.  He is a master at set-up and punchline and I was telling him about the famous UK suffragette Alice Hawkins who was arrested several times for being offensive.  

I told Nick I am now paid to be offensive and he said: “That’s progress.”

That night, I sang Zip (the song that got a standing ovation in London) at The Stud in San Francisco and this time, instead of a standing ovation, I got about $80 in tips which buys a lot more dinners than a standing ovation. To put this in perspective, the audience throw folded dollars onto the stage and the average take is about $20.  

The show is a tribute to Red Bone who is the host and is hugely capable not to mention drop-dead gorgeous… and Dottie Lux, the founder of Red Hot Burlesque. She has made it a true variety show, not just bums and tits.  

One young lady secured teacups in her bra and people threw sugar cubes into them. Then she poured water into the cups, poured that into her hat and did a bit of magic to make the water disappear.

After the show, I was waiting for my ride home and a young man came up to me and told me he had filmed me at one of my shows years ago. He remembered my house in Pacifica and a show he filmed at The Shelton Theatre.  

I have always felt that I made no impression at all in my 30 years here, despite having two local TV programs, exhibiting and selling art, writing columns and features for a newspaper and a magazine and of course doing comedy.

But, evidently, there are still a few people who actually remember that I was once part of this scene.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Lynn Ruth Miller on San Francisco filth, hot & cold US comedy and stifling PC

Lynn Ruth back performing in a changed city

London-based American comic and 84-year-old burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller continues her three-week series of gigs in and around San Francisco and finds, after four years away, that the US has changed…


San Francisco was once a beautiful, sophisticated city where no man stepped out his front door unless he was dressed in shirt, tie and jacket.  Women wore hats, gloves and designer clothes always. Now it is not that way at all.  

The city feels overcrowded, noisy and filthy. Today, I walked from one end of the city to the other (you can actually do that here) and I saw homeless people who set up their own colonies cluttered with blankets, torches, heaters, empty cartons of food, pots, pans and the necessities of their lives.  

These people have no sanitation facilities and the odor that surrounds them is not very nice. They are very aggressive and taunt passers-by, insisting on money from them or just making them get out of their way.

I think of myself as a Socialist and I firmly believe we need to help those who cannot help themselves. But I was decidedly uncomfortable as I passed these clusters of filth and debris and my liberal philosophy was severely shaken. Perhaps my charitable concern for humanity is not so generous when I am faced with standards of living I never dreamed human beings lived in.

And that is what these upper middle class people I am with these days all insist. They say that many homeless people WANT to live that way. 

My darling dog-sitter Leo tells the story of a pan handler who was featured on Sixty Minutes (a TV news program) who made hundreds of dollars in his ragged clothes then went around the corner, shed his rags for conventional garb and drove to his luxury home not far away.  Could this really be?

I for one cannot believe that.  

When I saw these grey, battered human beings who were actually hard to distinguish from the litter they were sleeping in, huddled together reeking of marijuana and human waste, I could only believe that this American society with its emphasis on the need to be rich as a status symbol as well as a means of comfort and the unquenchable thirst for luxury – huge cars, expensive clothes, food that costs five times what it is worth – has created a huge underbelly of people who are trapped in the system and have no idea of how to get out.

A case in point is a man I knew casually before I left San Francisco four years ago. His is a successful reviewer and has always supported himself comfortably. For some reason he will not disclose, he was evicted from his flat and evidently it happened too quickly for him to locate a place to stay. He is desperate and, because he has never had to cope with this kind of hardship before, he has made a horrid pest of himself, calling people who hardly know him begging for a place to sleep.  

He gives the impression that he has no money at all, though the truth is he can feed himself and he can take care of himself.

BUT, if he wants a private place to live, he will have to pay well over $3,000 a month plus a deposit and, since he is a freelance writer, he is considered a bad risk.  

He is terrified to go to a shelter because, in San Francisco, they are known for their high crime rate and their incidence of robbery, rape and destruction. He is so paralyzed with self-pity that he cannot think clearly and makes himself such a pest that now no-one wants to help him.

When I was with him, I couldn’t wait to get away. He whines; he demands you  call everyone you know immediately; he complains that the place he has secured for the night at a ridiculous cost will be taken away from him.  He tries to shame you into buying him food when he has plenty of money to buy his own.

He is terrified. He reminds me of a squirrel who has plenty to eat but stores up as much food as possible for the lean winter ahead.

Once I was away from him, his obnoxious cloying and insistent behavior, I was able to put the situation into perspective. I realized that here is a typical middle class human being who never had to fight for survival suddenly put into a situation that he has never expected to encounter.   

And he is not alone in this expensive, unsympathetic, cold and demanding city.  

He is one step away from those people I saw huddled in the street defecating in gutters and taking food from dumpsters. His plight is not just heartbreaking. It is maddening that a society as wealthy as this one not only allows this to happen, but has created a perfect climate to reduce the middle class to live according to lower class standards they do not understand.  

They are desperate and cannot understand how they fell into this gutter of need with no way to fight the system.

All it takes is one thing – in his case an eviction, in others a job loss and in others an injury that debilitates them.

I like to think this cannot happen in the UK.

But I know without even asking that it does.

On a brighter note, the next night my friend Alan took me into Sacramento and I had the time of my life (again).   

I featured at The Sacramento Punchline with Turner Sparks.  

I met Turner when I was in Hanoi and he is a kind, outgoing comedian who makes his living not in comedy clubs but in men’s groups, wineries and other organizations looking for a laugh instead of a lecture. He is from Sacramento and, when he goes home to visit his folks, he puts on a comedy show at The Sacramento Punchline.

This comedy club is the poor sister of the San Francisco comedy club with the same name and the two men who were in the line up (no women of course) were polite but not particularly welcoming. After being enveloped like a long lost grandma in the burlesque community here, I was more aware of the comics’ coldness than I would have been if I had not been so spoiled by Jim Sweeny and Dottie Lux and their cast of caring, ego-boosting women.

Here is a description I found of the comedy scene in San Francisco and the United States in general:


It seems safe to say that we are in a second golden age for stand-up comedy – or, as has more often been said, a second comedy boom.

The first boom started in the 1980s when stand-up comedy went mainstream, making TV and movie stars of comedians like Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld. But, as is true that with the economy, that boom was followed by a bust: essentially a stand-up recession as comedy clubs across the country closed during the 1990s and all but the biggest acts went dormant. 

Now, with the rise of the alternative comedy scene and the internet, stand-up comedy is booming and relevant once again, with podcasts, social media, YouTube, Netflix, and dozens of channel/website hybrids hungry for comedians’ original content and relevancy.


What that does not say is how the emphasis on political correctness has stifled content.  

In the San Francisco area, the biggest inhibitor is the need to tread carefully when making any remark at all about sexual identity. I hear stories of people being ostracized and ignored because they referred to a Tranny (and we have beautiful ones in the Bay area – eat your heart out Brighton) as ‘she’ instead of ‘they’.

I notice this hesitancy to touch controversial topics in every show I see here and the one in Sacramento was no different. The topics were all safe and, because they didn’t touch a nerve, they weren’t that funny either.  

The heart of comedy is the shock value of the punchline. I personally would hate to see that squelched in a misguided effort of trying to spare feelings.

The next day I returned to Burlingame and met my wonderful friend Brett to go to Oakland for Samson Koletar’s comedy show at the Spice Monkey.

Samson is an Indian-born comedian from Mumbai who is amazingly enterprising and has established the Spice Monkey as a comedy club with one show on Thursday and two each night on Fridays and Saturdays. He is also Jewish and tours the country in a show called You Are Funny, But You Don’t Look Jewish featuring three other comedians from various origins: Italian, Vietnamese, African. His humor is gorgeous, intelligent and wry.  

This Thursday night I was booked in an all-male line up (as was the Sacramento show). No-one but Samson and I seemed to have any jokes. The audience was very small, no more than 20 people, but they wanted to laugh and that made it a lot easier on the performers.  

What surprised me as I sifted though my set to find jokes that would amuse them is how much my comedy has become British.

To people in the UK it seems very American, but to Americans it smacks of a foreign flavor they cannot quite identify. For example, the word ‘knickers’ here means trousers that are cut off at the knee. ‘Trainers’ are people not shoes. And ‘cunt’ is such a filthy word no-one dares use it any more than they would call a black person a… a… an ’N word’.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Comedy, political correctness, Politics, Poverty

Lynn Ruth Miller on the warmth of burlesque and off-putting US comics

Lynn Ruth Miller doing burlesque in San Francisco

After a brief pause for the last two days of my blogs on the late actress Jacqueline Pearce, London-based American comedian and late-blossoming burlesque performer 84-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller continues tales of her experience returning to the US for three weeks of gigs in and around San Francisco…


This afternoon I met with Beth Lemke, an enterprising woman who started a wine bar in Pacifica where the majority of the establishments are blue-collar, junk food and cheap.  

The odds were against her in every way and yet, seven years into it, she has a profitable business that supports her in the Bay Area where the cost of living is over the moon and out.  

I always love being with her because she confirms my idea that you make the life you get. 

No-one needs to be a victim. 

No-one needs to shut up and take it. 

And Beth does not in any way. 

Her new thing is travel and she is planning several trips in 2019. Hopefully a return to London is one of them.    

Tonight I returned to Jim Sweeney’s Hubba, Hubba. Jim is the one who really established me in the burlesque scene here in San Francisco. Dottie Lux picked me up later and has been a wonderful loyal supporter but it was Jim who booked me over and over again. 

Tonight I did our old classic – Johnny Mercer’s Strip Polka – with the two songs I composed to go after it and then I tried Zip out on a San Francisco audience.

I was a bit uncertain about Zip because it gets standing ovations in London – but it has several British references.

I need not have worried. It was a triumph!!! 

Several of the girls remembered me and the audience went mad for me, which is a very feel-good situation.  

I stumbled around on the stage singing my classic Strip Polka number although I certainly did not polka. I did not want to risk ending up in an emergency ward. And I followed this with Zip.  

Most of the audience was standing by now. You would have thought that watching an old lady play with her zipper would have put them all to sleep. It did not. I will never understand why the burlesque community does not care that I cannot dance, cannot sing and I have a body that should have been trashed years ago. 

Nothing in this vast world of ours is predictable, is it?

Burlesque communities worldwide are not only more accepting of every age and body type but are actively welcoming. I have found this so in London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Bridgwater, Bristol and here in the San Francisco area. I think women who do burlesque are far less judgmental and far more anxious to give everyone the latitude to prosper being themselves.  

Even more interesting, the women in comedy over here are very off-putting and determined to assert their own excellence and demean anyone else’s. 

In London, women support and love one another and it is a pleasure to share a stage with them. Here in the US, it seems that we are in a competition which is a definite lose/lose situation.

Everyone’s comedy is unique to them and is as it should be.  

A performance is not a contest.  

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Burlesque, Comedy