“I can see why you are not a success,” comedian Lewis Schaffer told me,”but why am I not a success?”
“Why am I not a success?” I asked.
“Because you started too late,” said Lewis Schaffer.
“Maybe I was doing other things before I didn’t become this,” I said.
“Everyone who’s a success,” said Lewis Schaffer, “is a success because they started young.”
“George Eliot,” I countered.
“Him too,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “When you write that in your blog, John, add in as Lewis Schaffer said with a wink.”
It was last night. We were sitting in a branch of the Subway sandwich shop near London Bridge. Comedian Tim Renkow had just been a guest on Lewis Schaffer’s weekly Resonance FM radio show Nunhead American Radio, allegedly aimed at Americans living in Nunhead, which is part of Peckham in South East London. He had invited me along to sit on the floor during the recording.
“How many Americans are actually living in Nunhead?” I had asked.
“Thirteen,” Lewis Schaffer replied. “Maybe twelve.”
“Do you meet up?” I asked.
“No,” he replied.
“Frank Skinner,” repeated Tim Renkow.
“Maybe he started in his thirties,” said Lewis Schaffer. “But he didn’t start as a blogger.”
“They didn’t have blogs when Frank Skinner started,” I said.
“You’ve been doing this blog,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “At the end of the day, it’s just a blog. I’ve been doing two free shows every week since the start of 2009; I’ve been doing my Sunday paid shows at the Leicester Square Theatre all this year; I’ve been doing a weekly radio show since 2009…. And nothing. I’ve got nothing out of it… What’s happened to you with your blog? Nothing. You’ve been focussing on the smallest aspect of the entertainment business, which is…”
“Lewis Schaffer?” I suggested.
“Lewis Schaffer,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, “is the smallest part of the smallest part of the entertainment business. Even if you were focussing on somebody really big – John Bishop or Michael McIntyre – there’s only a limited number of people who want to read about stand-up comedians. “
“You’ll never get big writing about stand-up comedy,” continued Lewis Schaffer. “Even worse, you’re picking on the dregs of the stand-up comedy business, which is Lewis Schaffer.”
I pulled down my shirt and exposed my right nipple to Lewis Schaffer.
“No-one wants to see your body, John. It’s not funny,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’d rather look at Tim Renkow’s drooling.”
“It IS funny,” said Tim Renkow.
“You make a note, John” said Lewis Schaffer, “that I was the first stranger to tell Tim Renkow that he needs to tidy himself up.”
“I dress like a homeless person,” agreed Tim.
“You too, John,” Lewis Schaffer told me. “I’ve also criticised your dress sense.”
“What dress sense?” I asked.
“My point is…” said Lewis Schaffer. “My point is… At one point, I thought to myself Well, it’s only because I moved countries from America to England that I’m not famous or it’s because I’m an artist or something but… I’m never going to make it, okay?”
“You can never tell,” I said. “Someone picks you up for a TV show, you can become famous within a week. Supposedly famous.”
“Was it a good radio show tonight?” asked Lewis Schaffer.
“It was,” I said. And it had been.
“You’re from America,” Lewis Schaffer had asked Tim Renkow on the show. “You’re doing comedy here in England. How did you get here? Why did you get here?”
“I got here cos I burned every bridge I had,” Tim told him. “I told a couple of promoters in New York to fu… to do something I can’t say on the radio at 6.30 at night.”
“What is it?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “Is it an anger you have?”
“In New York,” said Tim, “when you start out, they make you bring your friends to the show and then they charge ‘em like 50 bucks and I didn’t like that and I told them that and they didn’t like me telling them that.”
“Why here? Why Nunhead?” asked Lewis Schaffer’s co-presenter Lisa Moyle.
“I’ve been asking myself ever since,” laughed Tim. “I like that you don’t drive here.”
“…So you can get around,” explained Lewis Schaffer. “You’ve got cerebral palsy.”
“Yeah,” said Tim. “So I COULD drive, but it would be a disaster.”
“You’re a rebel,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You’re constantly drooling all over the place.”
“Is that an act of rebellion?” asked Lisa Moyle.
“I only do it on Lewis Schaffer,” said Tim.
“Is that true?” asked Lewis Schaffer.
“No,” said Tim.
“It that a act of rebellion?” asked Lewis Schaffer.
“Yes,” said Tim.
“Is it really?”
“Are you having an argument with me?” asked Lewis Schaffer.
“I’m trying,” said Tim.
“Is there a cerebral palsy community?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “When you see someone with CP do you go up to them?”
“Yes,” said Tim, “I give ‘em the Black Power fist. But that’s only cos I can’t open my hands.”
“How did you meet Lewis?” asked Lisa Moyle. “And would you call him a friend?”
“What would you call Lewis?” mused Tim. “An interesting case study… I like Lewis. I like anyone with the balls to tell me to Walk right, which is what Lewis said the first time he met me.”
“Well, he goes around with no shoes on” said Lewis Schaffer.
“That’s dangerous,” said Lisa Moyle.
“Especially in some of the comedy clubs we have,” agreed Lewis Schaffer.
“Well, I can’t walk with shoes,” said Tim. “And it bothers people. I like that it bothers people.”
“That’s what I like about you,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You’re very similar to me.”