Tag Archives: Charmian Hughes

Last night, everything was normal… Or was it?

Charmian Hughes: The ghost of parties yet to come

Charmian Hughes: The ghost of parties yet to come

Yesterday, my blog was about surreality.

Last night, some reality returned. But only some.

I went to comedian Charmian Hughes’ Christmas party. in South London.

Passing through Blackfriars station, I heard a woman sitting on a metal bench with a younger man (possibly her son) say: “I want to have a proper chat and I can’t with you because you don’t drink.”

It was like a flat stone skimming across the surface of water. Briefly touching a few seconds of other people’s lives.

Comedian Lewis Schaffer met me at Peckham Rye station with his bicycle. We walked to Charmian’s. Lewis did not ride the bicycle. We talked of heart attacks, lungs and cholesterol levels. At one point, he said: “This is old men’s talk.” I had to agree. It is wise to agree with Lewis Schaffer. It saves time.

David Don’t at the party last night

Magic David Don’t at the party last night

At the party, Charmian’s husband, magician David Don’t, told me he had recently been asked to perform at a charity gig. As it was for a charity gig, he quoted a low fee. After the show, they sent him a cheque for triple the amount agreed because they had enjoyed his act so much. I do not know what this demonstrates in terms of charities, but it must demonstrate something.

Before I left, I was talking to very amiable Polish lady Ewa Sidorenko and to Karen O Novak’s equally amiable husband Darren. We talked of toilet bowls and taps. Charmian Hughes and David Don’t do own a genuine Crapper toilet.

Conversation turned from that to the consistency of ceramics and, from there, to the fact that the British – unlike Europeans – have a separate hot tap and cold tap in sinks, rather than have a logically more sensible mixer tap.

Karen O Novak & David Mills did NOT talk of Crappers & taps

Karen O Novak & David Mills did NOT talk of Crappers & taps

I think (though I may be wrong) that Ewa Sidorenko and I came to the conclusion that having two separate taps, with the risk of scalding one’s hand with piping hot water, fulfilled the triple traditional British benefit of identifying foreigners, humiliating them and maiming them.

On my way home, at Blackfriars station again, a young man who looked a little like Prince Harry asked me if he was on the correct platform for King’s Cross. I said he was, although the train actually passed through St Pancras not King’s Cross. We got on the train together and had a long conversation about his university course and job prospects.

StPancrasChristmasTree2013

This is St Pancras station last year not this year and is definitely not King’s Cross station

I told him I had once been on the same Thameslink line and heard a Japanese lady ask, as the train pulled into St Pancras if she was on the correct train for King’s Cross. To her increasing confusion, as she looked at the signs on the walls clearly stating ST PANCRAS INTERNATIONAL, three people told her: “This IS King’s Cross”.

Last night seemed to be a slightly strange evening, but I could not quite put my finger on why. Everything was normal.

But normality can be slightly abnormal.

During the evening, on trains, I saw two people with reindeer antlers on their heads. That is perfectly normal in London at Christmas.

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I get wet with comic Lewis Schaffer, talk toilets with comedian Charmian Hughes

Part of the 400 entourage follow Lewis Schaffer (Charmian Hughes with me in foreground)

Part of the 400 entourage of Beaters follow Lewis Schaffer in Nunhead (Charmian Hughes with me in the foreground)

In yesterday’s blog, American comedian Lewis Schaffer managed to creep in towards the end. Coincidentally, yesterday afternoon I followed Lewis Schaffer for 4 miles through the streets of Nunhead in South East London.

He had organised his second annual Beat The Bounds procession round Nunhead, in which several hundred people walk round the boundaries of the area hitting things – walls, railings, though never small children – with sticks.

Lewis Schaffer managed to get this funded by The Mayor of London, Southwark Council’s Sustainable Transport & Road Safety Fund, Resonance FM, Burger Bear, the Old Nun’s Head pub and the Salvation Army. (Strange but true.)

There were stewards with dayglo jackets, musical accompaniment from banjo duo The Relatives, free bottles of water at the halfway mark and a free beer for walkers in the Old Nun’s Head pub at the end.

The first half of the walk was a great day out.

Then – perhaps because it was a Wimbledon Finals day – the heavens opened and part of the North Atlantic fell on our heads.

Fun-filled Lewis Schaffer led the 400

Forever fun-filled Lewis Schaffer led the 400 strong throng

Afterwards, in the Nun’s Head pub, Lewis Schaffer told me: “They were happy because they were wet. They’re British. They love it. They love suffering.

“Last year we had 250 people. This year I think we had about 400. Some people come and only go halfway with us or they join us halfway through. It’s four miles and these British people, they’re lazy. When it started to rain, people caught the bus home. It was rain even by American standards.”

“Americans don’t have standards,” I told him.

“It was like Napoleon’s march into Moscow,” Lewis Schaffer continued. “You’re going to lose some people along the way but the ones we lost were worth losing. The true winners are here at this pub.”

Also there was comedian Charmian Hughes.

Last weekend, she had been at the Glastonbury Festival.

“So you got pissed-on last weekend AND this weekend,” I said.

Charmian Hughes examines her pants. Another exclusive for this blog.

Charmian examines her pants. Another blog exclusive.

“Glastonbury was very wet,” she admitted. “There was lightning over me but then it dried out. Right now, though, I have to do that thing that ladies have to do when they step out of their pants. My pants fell down. The elastic went. They were falling down all the way through the walk and I was clutching them. They’re now in my bag.”

“You MCed the Comedy Tent at Glastonbury?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“Yes,” said Charmian, taking the pants out of her handbag. “First time. It was fantastic. Great fun.”

“Isn’t it difficult because they’re all pissed or drugged out of their minds?” I asked.

Charmian with magician husband David Don’t yesterday

Charmian with magician husband David Don’t in the Nunhead rain yesterday

“I was very well prepared,” Charmian told me, examining her pants. “I made a mathematical chart of all my jokes and put them into statistical families so that, if the backstage people said Only do one minute, I could do the first minute of a joke and then, if they whispered behind the flaps: Keep going! Keep going! The next act isn’t ready! I could keep going on that same subject by accessing the other jokes within that family. They told me: We’ve never had anybody with such amazing time-keeping… and you were quite funny as well. So that was a relief.”

“And how were the toilets?” I asked.

“Lovely,” said Charmian. “There’s only a problem when they try to put proper toilets in.”

The John Lewis roof garden portaloo

The John Lewis roof garden’s exceedingly impressive portaloo

“Ah, you should go to John Lewis in Oxford Street,” I told her, “To celebrate their 150 years, you can get up into their roof garden where they have artificial turf and this week they were watching Wimbledon on giant TV screens. They have the most luxurious portaloos I have ever seen.”

“My wisdom tooth is coming through,” said Charmian, ignoring me, “and I am welcoming it because I need all the teeth I can get but, as it came through at Glastonbury, it was catching on my gum, making my mouth too full of teeth, so I got this speech impediment like a lisp and I thought everybody else might think I was on rugs.”

“Rugs?” I asked.

“Drugs.”

I have listened to the recording several times now. She said “Rugs.”

“I have got to go,” Charmian said, “because I’ve now got hypothermia and it’s fiddled with my mind. I can’t feel my feet.”

There is a video on YouTube of The Relatives and the Dulwich Ukulele Club singing the Nunhead Beats the Bounds theme tune on Lewis Schaffer’s weekly radio show.

The chorus, if you should feel inspired to sing along is:

Nunhead publicity leaflet, including the full song lyrics

Nunhead publicity leaflet, including the full song lyrics

Whack it boys! Beat the bounds!
Whack it girls! Make it sound!
Whack it hard! Whack with pride!
Let us hear the people cry
Nunhead! Nunhead! Nunhead forever!

(lyrics © copyright The Dulwich Ukelele Club 2013)

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Lewis Schaffer and Karen O Novak – two American comedians talking cock

David Don’t and Charmian Hughes watch the cake explode

David Don’t and Charmian Hughes watch 50th birthday cake burst into flames last night

Comedian Charmian Hughes is married to magician David Don’t.

Today is David’s 50th birthday. Last night, he had a party in Peckham.

I ended up sitting at a table with London-based American comic Lewis Schaffer.

“How are your flaps?” I asked him.

The last time we met, he was telling me he has sleep apnea and has old-man flappy-flop flaps inside him.

“Flaps are inherently funny,” I said. “They’re like bananas. Flaps and bananas are inherently funny.”

“I’ve been using a mouthpiece,” said Lewis Schaffer. “If you want to see something inherently funny, it’s a 57-year-old man wearing a plastic mouthpiece in bed so he can sleep. It keeps my mouth open.”

“You don’t need an artificial aid,” I told him.

By this time, London-based American comedy force of nature Karen O Novak and her husband Darren had turned up.

And, by this time, the music was very loud.

I could not hear across the table.

I handed Lewis Schaffer my iPhone.

“Just talk to each other,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “I won’t hear what you talk about until tomorrow morning, but it will give me a blog. Keep up the American act.”

Lewis Schaffer took the iPhone. This morning, I transcribed what they said.

Lewis Schaffer and Karen O Novak reminisced last night

Lewis Schaffer & Karen O Novak remembered NYC  last night

KAREN: I’m one of the few people here who actually knows for a fact that Lewis Schaffer is not a caricature of a New York neurotic Jew. I actually fucking knew you in New York when you were just…

We just called you ‘The Neurotic Jew’ at that point.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: Was I mental even for New York, do you think?

KAREN: Yup.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: So was I a character even in New York, do you think? Because you, Karen, you were a character in New York too.

KAREN: I think we’re all characters in the great big…

LEWIS SCHAFFER: No, Karen. You were a memorable person even then. You were over the top. And you weren’t even a Jew. You were like a fake Jew.

KAREN: I’m Jew… ish.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: You gotta come up with a better joke than that.

KAREN: I’m Jew by injection. I kept my first husband’s Jewness. I got it in the divorce.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: What town did you grow up in?

KAREN: Roxbury, Connecticut.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: Where’s that near?

KAREN: It’s near a lot of Jews. Stephen Sondheim lives there.

David Don’t behind unknown woman outside ladies toilets last night

David Don’t in Beatles’ suit, behind an unknown woman, outside Ladies toilet

LEWIS SCHAFFER: Were you like me? People think my family had money when I was growing up, but we never had money.

KAREN: We had money.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: Did you inherit any of it?

KAREN: They’re not dead yet.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: I think your husband Darren loves you even without the money.

KAREN: He would have to.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: Yeah, he would have to, cos you’re very annoying. I say that as a misogynist and a woman-hater.

KAREN: You’re very good at both those things.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: I like the idea of women.

KAREN: You like the shape of them. The curvy squishiness…

LEWIS SCHAFFER: Even that can get on your nerves.

KAREN: … not so much the brainy part.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: A lot of my friends are women. I actually respect women. You know that about me, Karen.

David Don’t tries to remove Lewis Schaffer’s bra (perhaps you had to be there)

David Don’t tries to remove Lewis Schaffer’s bra (Don’t asked)

KAREN: I know that.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: That’s what people can’t believe. I actually spend a lot of time with women talking about how much I hate women.

KAREN: You spend a lot of time with women without your penis out. Probably the women insist on that.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: My penis doesn’t come out. It’s an ‘innie’. How long have you lived in Britain?

KAREN: About 15 years.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: Same as me: 13 years.

KAREN: I don’t have any English children, though.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: John says I’m not allowed to discuss why I’m here on a Saturday night. I was supposed to have the kids tonight, but the mother is punishing me for not loving her.

KAREN: If it was me, I would punish you FOR loving me. You are SO not worthy.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: That’s why you’ve kept Darren around for so long. That’s the key to keeping a man happy. I say to women: “When you make love to a man – right after he reaches orgasm – you should slap him in the face and say: Get off me, you disgusting pervert.”

KAREN: That IS what I do.

Lewis Schaffer asks Darren a question last night

Lewis Schaffer asks Darren a question in Peckham last night

LEWIS SCHAFFER: (TO DARREN) Is that what she does?

DARREN: But I AM a disgusting pervert, so that’s fair enough.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: (TO KAREN) You probably think about going back to New York every day?

KAREN: Never. I like New York. I miss my friends there. But I don’t miss the city. The city itself is a shit hole.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: But you had a lovely apartment. It had a garden.

KAREN: We used to have some great parties in that flat.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: Did he make a good living: your first husband?

KAREN: Why on earth would I have a husband who didn’t make a decent living? I’m not an idiot.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: Are you calling my ex-wife an idiot? Is anyone who has sex with me an idiot?

KAREN: Pretty much, yeah.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: I think so too. I like this. We’re almost having a little relationship here.

KAREN: I think we could do a podcast.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: You were on my radio show.

KAREN: Yeah, but we didn’t get a good rapport going because there were too many other people there. And we weren’t nude.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: That was the early days when the shows weren’t very good. They’ve gotten better now. I’m a more generous host. That’s the key.

KAREN: Are you a generous lover? That’s the key. When you make love to a woman, you have to give and give and give.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: I bring her an extra portion of fish. What does it mean to be generous?

KAREN: Exactly. You don’t even know what it means to be generous in bed.

Lewis Schaffer and Karen discuss something or other

Lewis Schaffer and Karen discussing relative values last night

LEWIS SCHAFFER: I DO know what it means and I AM generous because, the more I give a woman, the less she has to pay attention to me, the less she’ll notice how I don’t care, how I’m unable to get an erection. How, even when I get an erection, it’s not noticeable.

KAREN: You got an ‘innie’?

LEWIS SCHAFFER: I got an ‘innie’.

KAREN: It’s more like a vagina, really, than a penis?

LEWIS SCHAFFER: Yeah. It’s like a penis, only smaller. Is your husband a generous lover?

KAREN: He’s very generous. He gives me his paycheck every month.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: (TO DARREN) How much do…

KAREN: (TO ME) You know what? John Fleming should write his own blog. He just talks to other people and then writes it down.

LEWIS SCHAFFER: That’s what he does. He’s gotten so lazy.

ME: Have you given me a good blog? Have you mentioned Lewis Schaffer’s flaps?

LEWIS SCHAFFER: I’ve got an ‘innie’.

ME: What?

LEWIS SCHAFFER: I’ve got an ‘innie’.

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Memories by other comedians of comic impressionist and eccentric Chris Luby

Chris Luby - the forces’ favourite

Chris Luby swapped between Army and Air Force acts

Comedian Chris Luby died in London on Saturday. He fell down a staircase at home when (it is said) he was drunk.

In January 2005, his friend, mentor and occasional manager/agent Malcolm Hardee drowned when he fell into Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. Malcolm, too, was drunk at the time.

It is a very British thing.

Chris and Malcolm ran the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and comedy venue in Greenland Dock.

Chris’ comic stage act was to use his mouth and considerable lung power to perform audio recreations of Trooping The Colour, Formula 1 races and bombing raids/aerial combat in World War II. The act usually went well though, on Malcolm’s Christmas Eve show in 1998, Chris’ act was not much appreciated by some sections of the audience and, in the middle of his Battle of Britain impression, a heckler yelled out: “Do a glider!”

2004: Chris Luby (foreground) at the Wibbley Wobbley with Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s mum Joan. All are now dead. So it goes.

2004: Chris Luby (foreground) at the Wibbley Wobbley with Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s mum Joan. All now dead.

In its 2005 report of Malcolm Hardee’s death by drowning, the London Evening Standard wrote:

His business partner Chris Luby said friends were shocked. “His death will leave a huge hole,” said Mr Luby, a friend for over 30 years. “He ran the best club in the world called Sunday Night At The Tunnel Palladium, which was the most extraordinary club ever.

“It set people like Jo Brand, Jack Dee and Harry Enfield up. Malcolm was incredibly good at spotting new talent. There are thousands of comedians that were given open spots by Malcolm and have gone on to carve their niche in comedy.”

Now both Malcolm and Chris are dead. So it goes.

In a possibly frightening illustration that nothing is private nor forgotten by Google in this Cyber Age, I can tell you that, on 24th September 2010, comedian Alan Davies Tweeted:

Chris Luby did the Spitfire, the Lancaster and various marching bands. Did many gigs with that fella. Bonkers…

Yesterday, Alan Tweeted about Chris: He could name 6 of anything.

Malcolm Hardee is still remembered in the comedy industry and by media people, though not yet by the Great British public.

A Twitter conversation between comedians Robin Ince and Omid Djalili on 28th September 2012 went:

ROBIN INCE: If comedians don’t make it to TV or radio then, once they’re gone, that’s it (true of all I suppose).

OMID DJALILI: Chris Luby has done no TV but lives in my mind more vividly than most. But that’s not comedy, it’s heroic lunacy.

ROBIN  INCE: I never had a lift with him because I had been warned of those long air shows all the way up the M1.

This refers to Chris’ habit of doing his aeroplane impersonation act on long journeys (as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog).

Comedian Charmian Hughes said yesterday:

I will never forget the time I had Chris and Malcolm in the back of my car on the way back from a gig in Birmingham. They were so distracting that, at the roundabout at Hammersmith flyover, I pranged another car. Luckily Malcolm was a brilliant witness and pointed out that it was the other car’s fault, which it was. But I would have anticipated him if they hadn’t been so noisy! Farewell Chris, a kind, sweet, generous, often annoying, and noisome man.

Malcolm and Chris’ friend Steven Taylor aka ‘Steve From Up North’ says:

One of my favourite memories was on the way back from a gig in, I think, Blackburn. There was Chris, myself, Malcolm Hardee and Jo Brand. Chris was annoying us all – doing the noises of the gear changes and the engine. Suddenly, Jo said to him: “Chris, if you don’t shut the fuck up, I’ll open that door and push you out and you can do the sound effect of your body bouncing down a motorway!” He was a great guy and true eccentric.

Brian Damage remembers:

When the Wibbley Wobbley started, Hardee comedy intermingled with Luby quiz nights.

When the Wibbley Wobbley started, Malcolm Hardee’s comedy nights mixed with Chris Luby’s quiz nights.

We had a three hour car journey with Chris a few years ago. To keep us entertained he did a quiz… all the way to the gig. We were exhausted by the time we got there. On the way home, he did another quiz – with exactly the same questions. Apart from his quizzes, he was one of my favourite people.

Promoter Kev Wright says:

I was proud to get Chris Luby on at our Cracking Night Out at The Hackney Empire. I must have told him it started at 7 and he turned up on time… But he told me it was the second time he had been there that day as he had already been knocking on the stage door at 7 in the morning, as thats the time he thought we meant! The cleaner had told him to go away and he came back across London twelve hours later for 7 in the evening.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, he also performed on a comedy bus.

Brian Crane remembers: Ah, the comedy bus with Malcolm as the naked conductor and Chris Luby on the mic as announcer… a classic night, never to be forgotten.

I booked Chris on TV shows with ‘mad inventor’ John Ward at least a couple of times. Yesterday, John told me:

Oddly, I was bringing Chris to mind only the other day as we live in a flight path for the RAF Memorial Flight and they often fly their Spitfire over our place on the way to gigs and I thought how smashing it would be to get him to come up to see us this summer – I thought I would take him up to the base at RAF Coningsby and introduce him.

Chris Luby - once met, never forgotten

ATTEN-SHUN! – Chris Luby – A very loud act

I met Chris twice when he was doing his act on Prove It (presented by Chris Tarrant) for TVS light years ago – once for the pilot and once for the actual show. The first time, I recall being in the canteen in the TVS studios with my lunch and, as I was sorting myself out, I thought I heard an army battalion in the distance or at least in the building but – No – I suddenly found myself in the World of Chris Luby. He had moved towards me sideways so that I did not see him speaking or, for that matter, doing his act of impersonating sounds that you don’t normally associate with a single person on his own.

His Spitfire impression was a masterpiece as he talked through the process involved in getting the plane into the air – starting the engine from cold, the warming-up before take-off, then climbing up to 5,000 feet or so, levelling off and then spotting the ‘Hun’, going into battle and, after shooting one down in flames, his descent and landing.

The second time we met on Prove It, once again, the TVS canteen was his stage as that week’s guests were sitting down having a bite to eat at lunchtime and, having not seen him perform in the rehearsals, they were baffled as they sat there training their ears to fathom out where the noise was coming from. It was just Chris creating the sound of a WW2 Spitfire all on his own. But to see four full-grown adults standing against a window and opening it to look for a plane that seemed to be rather close – in fact even overhead – It was a classic moment.

When he appeared on the show that second time, he had broken his leg. He lurched on to the studio floor dressed in a Coldstream Guardsman’s uniform plus busby with his leg all done up – but he was still brilliant despite this minor upset. He was a real trouper or should that be trooper?… R.I.P. and I hope he keeps ‘em laughing in the ‘hanger in the sky’.

Yesterday, comedians were Twittering.

Ian Stone suggested: There should be a marching band at his funeral.

Andy Smart thought: It’ll be a lot noisier where ever he’s gone!

Even the trade union Equity Tweeted:

We’re sorry to hear of the death of Chris Luby. His one man Battle of Britain was a thing to behold.

Arthur Smith told me last night:

He was, as you know, incorrigible – I used to pay him a tenner to shut up for ten minutes and then torture him by saying: “I wish I knew what a Sopwith Camel sounded like….” but he always managed the ten minutes, at which point he would explode into an aerial bombardment… He was not entirely of this world. I hope he is enjoying the molecules in the stars.

Jenny Eclair Tweeted:

Oh please can all the mad, bad, bonkers and wonderful old timers from the old days of alternative comedy stop dying?

and, when I asked her about Chris Luby last night, she told me:

I just remember when Malcolm offered me out-of-town gigs asking if Chris would be in the same car and taking the train rather than be trapped with him doing Spitfires in my ear!

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What it is like to be in the constant company of a self-obsessed comedian. Case Study No 1: Lewis Schaffer

Charmian Hughes perhaps foolishly invited Lewis Schaffer

Party girl Charmian perhaps foolishly invited Lewis Schaffer

Yesterday morning’s blog included a comment by American comedian Lewis Schaffer about the importance for a performer of repeating your own name to people, to ensure they know who you are.

Lewis Schaffer is having a Christmas break but, each week, he has been doing his radio show Nunhead American Radio for Resonance FM on Monday, free 90-minute comedy shows at the Source below in Soho on Tuesday & Wednesday, guesting on a Monkey Business comedy show in Kentish Town on Thursday and performing an ever-changing 60-minute pay-to-enter comedy show at the Leicester Square Theatre on Sunday.

Lewis Schaffer has, I suspect, around 4-6 hours of basic comedy material which he personalises to each audience, shifts round according to the circumstances and which he adds to as he goes along.

Yesterday evening, I went to a Christmas party at the home of comedian Charmian Hughes and magician David Don’t (they are married) and who should turn up?

Yup. Lewis Schaffer plus one third of his entourage – diminutive, seemingly eternal student at Oxford University, Heather Stevens.

Lewis Schaffer with Harriet Bowden

Lewis Schaffer shows interest in someone – Harriet Bowden

While Lewis Schaffer flirted with comics Karen O Novak and Harriet Bowden, I asked Heather about Lewis Schaffer. She has been part of his entourage for two years.

Comedian Ivor Dembina was passing by at the time.

“Lewis Schaffer,” Ivor joked (well, OK, maybe he only half-joked), “has never been heard to utter a sentence that did not include the word ‘I’ although I did once hear – and it’s only a rumour – that he once did say a phrase that neglected to use the word ‘I’ but did include the word ‘me’.”

“What on earth,” I asked Heather, “is it like being with Lewis Schaffer for prolonged lengths of time?”

“Harrowing,” she replied. “He talks about his shows being a harrowing mid-life crisis, but constant contact is just harrowing on its own. Oh dear, that sounds horrible, doesn’t it? It’s sometimes alright.”

“Does he talk about anything that doesn’t involve Lewis Schaffer and his comedy?” I asked.

Heather (left) at yesterday’s party while Lewis Schaffer schmoozes with Karen O Novak & husband

Heather Stevens (left) at last night’s party while Lewis Schaffer schmoozes with Karen O Novak and her husband

“He does sometime talk about his ex-wife and his kids,” she told me, then paused, thought and added. “But I suppose that’s part of his comedy as well. He never talks about anything that isn’t connected to Lewis Schaffer. He will always have the words ‘Lewis Schaffer’ somewhere within the sentence or it will be an ‘I’ or a ‘me’, as Ivor pointed out.”

“Has he ever asked you what your name is?” I asked.

“I don’t think he knows my name,” said Heather.

“And you’ve been with him for two years?” I asked.

“Yes. He doesn’t need to know my name. He will never need to use it in a sentence.”

“And you are actually helping him,” I said.

Martin Soan earlier this week, naked on radio

Martin Soan on Lewis Schaffer’s radio show

“Yeah,” agreed Heather. “I write jokes for his radio show. I write a proper script, but the punchlines get moved around. He doesn’t learn them, so any joke I write will be maimed. Nothing I write is as-written when he says it.”

“That’s fair enough for his sort of comedy,” I said.

Heather laughed.

“You weren’t writing for him originally,” I said.

“No,” explained Heather. “On the radio show, he started out asking me to research news items, so I set up a Twitter search to monitor the word ‘Nunhead’ and I’d give him news items, but he’d ask Why haven’t you made this into a joke? So then I’d write one or two jokes and I’ve done two or three shows where I just properly scripted the whole thing.”

An edition of Lewis Schaffer’s radio show (with guest comedian Richard Herring) is on SoundCloud.

Rose and Lewis Schaffer in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon

Rose Ives with Lewis Schaffer at the Edinburgh Fringe 2013

“You and Rose,” I said to Heather (Rose Ives is another member of Lewis Schaffer’s entourage) “take notes during his stage shows, so he can re-use any ad-libs he makes. But you don’t actually write for his stage shows.”

“No. Only things that I’ve put in the radio show and he’s decided to use. Or when I’ve written down things from his live show, I’ll sometimes suggest he moves a punchline or re-word something. There’s only been one or two bits over two years that I’ve written from scratch.”

“In fact, though,” I suggested, “no-one really writes for him. It’s little decorations that he may pick up and use or not or play around with.”

“Yes,” agreed Heather. “Part of my role and all of Alex Mason’s role (Alex Mason is yet another of Lewis Schaffer’s entourage) is helping him with his jokes.

Lewis Schaffer + part entourage Alex Mason & Heather Stevens

Alex Mason, Lewis Schaffer and Heather Stevens in London

“So we’ve both written set lists for him – which he never uses. When he did the Bloomsbury Theatre show, Alex and I were with him for about four hours writing a set list until he was happy with it, but then we went to the show and we were sitting in the audience and he didn’t use it.”

“Well Rose and I were in the wings backstage,” I said, “and, when he went on for an encore, we told him to do his big 9/11 joke because the show actually was on 11th September and, of course, he didn’t do it – the one joke he should have done that night!”

Heather laughed.

There is a clip of the Bloomsbury Theatre show on YouTube, with Lewis Schaffer introduced by Stewart Lee.

“Perverse,” I said. “That should be the title of his next Edinburgh Fringe show: Lewis Schaffer is Perverse.”

As I left, Charmian Hughes kissed me on the cheek and said: “I’m looking forward to your blog tomorrow about Lewis Schaffer’s party.”

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Adventure, mass murder and bananas. It’s the perfect Edinburgh comedy show.

Charmian and Kaye on the Ganges in Varanasi

Charmian (left) & Kaye last month on the Ganges in Varanasi

If you are going to perform for over three weeks at the always potentially rainy and windy Edinburgh Fringe in August, it is best to make your show about a glamorous subject simply on the basis that the research will cheer you up.

Comedian Charmian Hughes was in India last month doing 16 days ‘research’ with her friend Kaye Bachelard. Both were following in the footsteps of their earlier even more feisty relatives and trying to uncover what really happened to them.

Kaye had a relative who forsook the Jesuit priesthood for a woman. Charmian’s story was even more of an adventure and will be the basis of her Edinburgh Fringe show next year.

“Which section of the Fringe Programme do you think I should put it in?” she asked me last night after she and Kaye had run through their stories with photos and videos in Charmian’s kitchen.

“In the Comedy section,” I said, “because it will attract more bums on seats. It’s a real cracking adventure story – well, a double adventure story – the 19th century one and your own 2013 one. It’s got murder, mystery mayhem and all the rest – but you’ll make it funny with all the incidental details – the populace paying homage to a great man by giving him bananas is worth at least a titter.”

I asked Charmian to give me an ‘elevator pitch’ for her proposed show.

“It is,” she said, “about me and my friend Kaye going to find out about our families who had escaped from India – and WE ended up having to escape!”

“Who was the relative whose adventure you were following in the footsteps of?” I asked, on the basis that it’s easier to write blogs if you get other people to supply the words.

“Mrs Goldney,” said Charmian. “She got caught up in the Indian Mutiny. She escaped on the back of an elephant by climbing up its tail and disguising herself in torn-up petticoats as an Indian bride. She took shelter with the one-eyed scoundrel and the Rajah and she escaped from a mob who were trying to kill her by throwing her money around so, in the end, she had the same tipping worries as everyone else does in India. Do you think it’ll work?”

“Yes,” I told her. “It has a Three Act structure. It starts off like it’s going to be a gentle tale about two modern women on a trip to India following in the footsteps of their forebears… then it becomes a 19th century female Indiana Jones adventure story set in the Indian Mutiny, with people getting killed by being tied to the front of the barrels of cannons while others are beheaded and escaping on elephants…

“…and then we have the end bit of your adventure which we can’t say too much about in a blog because it would give away how you met royalty and why you thought – with good reason – that you and Kaye might be killed and/or bricked-up alive inside a wall. What is there not to like? It has adventure, mass murder and bananas – the perfect Edinburgh Fringe comedy show. And, because you both had short hair, people kept thinking you were lesbians and kept offering you double beds. So it even has the lure of sex in it. You just have to add in some Indian dancing…”

Charmian tests out an Indian dance last night

Charmian tests out an Indian dance last night

“No dancing,” said Charmian.

“There has to be,” I said. “It’s a tradition in your shows. You did the sand dance in two of your shows. This one cries out for you to do some Indian dancing.”

“No,” said Charmian.

“Well at least have a practice here in the kitchen,” I said.

And she did.

I have high hopes Charmian may, once again, dance in her Edinburgh Fringe show next August.

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A masterclass in how to perform good comedy – even at the Edinburgh Fringe

John Robertson - a man with outstanding hair

John Robertson, a man in Dark Room with outstanding hair

Life continues as normal at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday, I got a text message from Australian comedian John Robertson of The Dark Room saying simply:

“Crowd-surfed a dwarf at last night’s Spank! Life is good.”

The Scotsman gave a 4-star review to Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II ending with the line: “If you were hoping to find a Nazi themed Las Vegas style cabaret show with occasional nudity and a touch of the Nuremberg Rally then look no further.”

A while ago, I got an e-mail from Neil Dagley aka Flange Krammer, saying:

“I’m writing a spoof Edinburgh Fringe review site for the 2013 Festival.  The idea is that Golf Monthly has sent a team of reviewers to the Fringe– it’s supposed to be a wry commentary on the hundreds of totally unqualified reviewers who descend upon Edinburgh to pass judgement on the participants.

I’ve got several established comedians on board to write as guest reviewers (under golf related pseudonyms). Do you think it could be a possible candidate for a Malcolm Hardee Award, or is it a bit too subtle!”

Golf Planet - comedy site whose reviews are a load of balls

Golf Planet – comedy site whose reviews are a load of balls

Yesterday, I got a follow-up email from Neil, telling me that the established publication Golf Monthly had demanded that he change the name of his spoof review site to Golf Planet and comedian Sean Hughes had retweeted Golf Planet’s 2 golf ball review of his show Penguins, saying:Best written review so far.”

The review partly reads: “Dressed all in black, Hughes deliberately evoked thoughts of the great Gary Player… However, Hughes kept getting side-tracked by completely un-golf-related stories about his youth, which frankly left a sour after-taste following the promising start.”

I then bumped into uber-promoter/manager Brett Vincent of GetComedy who showed me the extraordinary way his printed Edinburgh brochure comes alive on an iPhone/Android phone with the Blipper app.

Brett Vincent reads his brochure with the Blipper app

Brett Vincent reads his brochure with the Blipper app

It works something like a QR code reader except you just point your phone at a picture/page in the GetComedy brochure – or at a flyer or a poster in the street – and it comes alive on your phone plus it allows you to buy tickets and see videos of the act performing.

It can show you the act before you buy the ticket.

Brett seems to be the first entertainment company in the UK to use Blipper. Other users include Justin Bieber, Heinz, JLS, The Wanted, The Gadget Show and Oyster Card.

“I just phoned Blipper up,” Brett told me, “and asked Do you fancy doing it for comedy? – I think they fancied the free comedy tickets as part of the deal. I just thought it was something different. You can go and blip all the posters, every image, watch the videos. I find out who blips it, what age group they are and if they’ve made a booking via the app. I can also find out which page you blipped in the brochure, which person you looked at and, hopefully, one day I’ll find out who you are.”

“How does it know who I am?” I asked.

“There’s a certain amount of things your iPhone can tell people because of your iOS settings,” explained Brett. “At the moment, only a few things. Your age group, your sex and sometimes your country.”

If only everything at the Fringe were so efficient.

C Venues – long-known for having such bad signage that people are constantly having to ask under-trained staff where a particular performance room actually is – managed to out-do themselves yesterday.

Their staff now appear not to know where their own outlying venue buildings are. They don’t know left from right And they don’t know the difference between the George IV Bridge and South Bridge (despite the fact South Bridge is a 5-second walk from their front door).

Lynn Ruth Miller - Grade A show; dodgy C venue

Lynn Ruth Miller – Grade A show; dodgy C venue

As a result, I arrived 3 minutes late for the wonderful Lynn Ruth Miller’s equally wonderful show Granny’s Gone Wild.

When I did arrive at the venue, of course, I had to ask two members of staff on different storeys where the actual performance room was.

Despite the fact the sound techie missed cues and the microphone only worked 50% of the time, Lynn Ruth Miller’s show – as always – was a joy for the audience particularly those, it seemed, in their 20s. A wonderful concoction of jokes and songs, it occasionally mixed in some sadness and certainly two 20-something girls in the audience were wiping away tears during one particular song.

The equally wunnerful Charmian Hughes’ show Odd One In managed to tell the true story of her youthful loves including a future Church of England bishop and recently disgraced government minister Chris Huhne. Sadly, this year, she did not do the Sand Dance.

But my evening was rounded-off with Scots comedian Brian Higgins’ show From Beer to Paternity at the Jekyll & Hyde venue – an L-shaped room with dodgy sight-lines which I have always thought was very difficult to perform in.

Brian Higgins - From Beer To Paternity last night

Brian Higgins – he went From Beer To Paternity last night

I had never heard of Brian Higgins, which just shows how much I know about comedy.

I went to see him on the recommendation of fellow Scot Alex Frackleton in Prague (of whom more, I think, in an upcoming blog).

Brian had managed to fill the basement venue to standing and awkward-sitting capacity and gave a masterclass in how to perform comedy to a mainstream mixed audience.

The word to bear in mind here is Mainstream.

We are not talking of alternative comedy, basement club-going, London-based, Islington-living Guardian readers here.

We are talking about normal people.

Alternative comedy, basement club-going, London-based, Islington-living Guardian readers are not normal people.

With some audience members from multiple ethnic origins, Brian trod a very fine PC line which some alternative comedy clubs might have been slightly (but only very slightly) unsettled by – and the same with some of the gags about women.

But this was not the world of Guardian-reading uber-PCers.

It was ordinary men, women and foreign students from Taiwan.

And they LOVED it. They loved every gag about themselves. And the couples loved it. And they all loved it. And Brian did, pretty much, seem to be hitting laughs every 10 seconds with no faltering – a laugh-rate few Guardian-rated comedians could even come close to.

He also managed to pull the rug from under the audience with a totally unexpected tragic story which had them in total, silent, rapt attention. That, he admitted, was the reason for performing this Fringe show. That one story. A story that had a sharper political knife-thrust than most trendy ‘political’ comics could ever muster.

I was sitting there thinking: He surely can’t end with this? How is he going to get the mood up again after this? He’s got them in a state of near-shock. How can he get them laughing again without seeming to be bad taste?

But he managed it through sheer professionalism.

He is a vastly experienced comic at the top of his game.

Njambi McGrath performs in Edinburgh last night

Njambi McGrath performing last night

He even interrupted the flow of his act about ten minutes in by giving a ten-minute spot to Kenyan comic Njambi McGrath who established “I am from Africa,” but then performed spot-on totally British social material with some very funny back-references to Africa. I particularly liked a joke about Oxfam which only an African could make. She is a potentially major comedian.

Anyone wanting to become a comedian should go watch Brian Higgins and try to deconstruct what is going on. You can’t beat total audience control with a seemingly casual persona.

And Njambi McGrath is one to watch.

From tomorrow, she is going to be one third of the cast in an 8-night run of a show called The Equal Opportunities Act 2010 Presents…

It promises “a Nigerian perspective from Nigeria, gold-digging stories from Kenya and dirty filthy knob jokes from Essex”

I will be there.

What is interesting is that – with the exception of the C Venues show where staff did not know where their own venues were and the microphone did not work – all the shows I have mentioned have been free shows – Charmian Hughes, Brian Higgins and the upcoming Equal Opportunities show.

I have a feeling that free shows may increasingly start winning the major comedy prizes in Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, tonight at 2.00 in the morning, I will be outside the entrance to Edinburgh Castle awaiting Arthur Smith’s legendary night-time tour of the Royal Mile.

He will also be on my Fringe chat show on Monday.

Both those events are free too.

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