Tag Archives: cerebral palsy

Lewis Schaffer and the clenched fist of comedian Tim Renkow’s cerebral palsy

Lewis Schaffer last night - aspiring moustache twirler

Lewis Schaffer and failed moustache last night

“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.”

Frank Skinner,” said Tim Renkow.

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. “

John Bishop - famous in little Britain

John Bishop – He is famous in little Britain

“No-one’s famous,” I said. “No-one’s heard of John Bishop or Michael McIntyre even in America.”

“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?”

Tim Renkow and Lewis Schaffer last night in Subway

Tim Renkow and Lewis Schaffer joking last night in Subway

“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?”

“No.”

“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.”

Tim Renkow at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

Tim Renkow outside Bob’s Bookshop at the Edinburgh Fringe during August this year (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

“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.”

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So there was this comic with cerebral palsy and no voice who auditioned as a singer on The X Factor yesterday…

Lee voices his amusement at yesterday’s X-Factor auditions

One of the joys of writing this daily blog is that people send me bizarre anecdotes.

This is certainly one, so pin back your eyes like you are Alex in A Clockwork Orange and read on.

Yesterday afternoon, I got an e-mail from a Jeff Lantern, who describes himself as “an enigmatic North East England based act” and who says: “I perform on the comedy circuit because no-one else will take me seriously”.

He said he had “recently met a new comic from Sunderland called Lee Ridley, aka ‘Lost Voice Guy’ who cannot physically talk. Today, he is auditioning in Newcastle to go on The X Factor.”

This successfully grabbed my attention, so I got in touch with Lee, who had just returned from the auditions. And this is what he told me:

Basically, I have cerebral palsy from when I was ill when I was a baby. This resulted in me losing my speech and having a weaker right side of the body (which means I walk funny). Instead of talking, I use a small computer called a Lightwriter to communicate with – although I use an Apple iPad on stage as it is clearer and more practical. I just type what I want to say and the iPad says it out loud. A bit like Stephen Hawking.

I only started doing comedy last month so I’m still building up my profile. I’ve only had three gigs so far. I started because I’d always enjoyed making people laugh and watching stand-up. I never thought I’d get to do it because of my disability. But then my mates suggested it might work. I thought about it for a bit and then decided to give it a go. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t.

I already had some X Factor material in my act so, as it looked like it might be a boring Saturday, I thought it would be funny to audition for The X Factor as a singer and see what they said when I turned up. I decided to do I Believe I Can Fly because I thought it seemed apt in a deluded kind of way. I got up this morning at 6.00am to get to the auditions for 8.00am. Once there, I was put into ‘Pen B’ which was for disabled auditionees. I thought it apt that the staff referred to them as Pen A and Pen B as if we were animals going to the slaughter.

I was signed in by an assistant who talked to me through my communication device. This begs a question about how she expected me to sing when she could see I couldn’t talk. Was she just being polite? Two more people spoke to me in the same way and still no questions were asked. Good news for me!

We stood in the cold for an hour while X Factor production staff got people to sing Fog On The Tyne and Let’s Get Ready To Rumble. Stereotypical?  I was surprised they didn’t bring in the fat topless bloke from Newcastle games just for good measure. Or maybe Gazza with some chicken, a dressing gown and a fishing rod.

Then we were let into the venue – the Metro Radio ArenaOnce inside, we had to sit together and wait to be called for our audition. Everyone around me started practising and I did start to feel a tiny bit bad for potentially wasting someone’s opportunity. But not too bad.

When I finally got in for my audition (about two hours after arriving) – basically in the side corridors of the arena – I was greeted by two production assistant type people who were my judge and jury. I could see straight away that they weren’t sure what was going to happen. They asked me if I was going to sing, like they were double checking.

I broke into I Believe I Can Fly and the looks on their faces were priceless. You could tell they were still trying to figure out if I was serious or not. In my opinion, I quite obviously wasn’t (I even had a Lost Voice slogan on my t-shirt), but the sense of humour seemed to be lost in translation. I tried not to laugh too much and just sway along to the words. After a few verses and some very weird glances, they stopped me and told me I wasn’t going through to the next stage. Part of me thought they looked annoyed at me for being a twat and wasting their precious time. I hope they were anyway.

I asked if I had sounded too flat as I walked out.

Still not a smile.

As I said, I already had some X Factor material in my act, so I plan to add to it with what has taken place today. My biggest gig yet is coming up is next month – Sunday 8 April 2012 at Rib Ticklers’ 1st birthday in Hartlepool with special guest headliner Patrick Monahan.

I have decided to record my ‘losers song’ and put it online.

__________

Here it is:

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Filed under Comedy, Disability, Television, Uncategorized