Tag Archives: English

Serious comedy – Why this blog was mentioned in an academic bibliography

A serious publisher is desperate for comedy

A serious publisher is desperate for comedy

It is a cliché that comedy is getting to be a serious business. But that won’t stop me writing it again.

This morning, I got an e-mail from Brunel University’s Centre For Comedy Studies Research saying  that Palgrave Macmillan publishers are actively looking for academic comedy books. By coincidence, yesterday afternoon, I had a chat with Italian comedian Giacinto Palmieri.

He is in the first year of a three-year PhD research project for the University of Surrey at Guildford. It is on the self-translation of stand-up comedy – comedians who translate and adapt their own material from one language to another – and he had sent me a short section he had written which was centred on a blog I wrote in December about going with comedy critic Kate Copstick to the fortnightly Italian-language London comedy show Laboratorio di Cabaret – Il Puma Londinese.

“We must meet up and do a blog about it,” I told Giacinto. “It will seem like I am increasingly prestigious because my blog is in someone’s bibliography. Also, it’s the perfect academic thing – where you are studying the act of studying.”

“Well,” said Giacinto, “your blog entry was partially about the experience of watching my set. So I wrote about your blog’s reaction as part of my research and now we are discussing, for another of your blogs, my act of writing about your blog. I love circularity.”

Giacinto and I chatted at King’s Cross

Giacinto & I chatted at King’s Cross station. I don’t know why.

“I think,” I said, “when this conversation becomes part of a new blog, you should write about that too in your research.”

“I will,” said Giacinto. “It will be like Escher. Mirrors inside mirrors inside mirrors.”

“And,” I suggested, “when you write some more research about this new blog, I can write another blog about that… Anyway… Why did you decide Copstick and I were worthy of inclusion in your academic research?”

“Because you were observing bi-lingual comedy and that gave me the idea of observing you observing it and analysing your perspectives and expectations.

“Copstick said of me: In Italian, it’s like someone has lit a fire under him. In English, he is black and white; in Italian, he is in colour.

“Of course there is something objective there; I am not saying it is all a projection of expectations. But comedy is not just a performance. It is always an interaction: a projection of something meeting an expectation of something. It’s a dialogue. Why is she experiencing me as more in colour? Is it because I am performing differently? Or her expectations are different? Or because she likes Italy? It is probably a mixture of all these things.

(From left) Marouen Mraihi., Giada Garofalo, Giacinto Palmieri, Romina Puma, Alex Martini after last night’s show

(From left) Marouen Mraihi., Giada Garofalo, Giacinto Palmieri, Romina Puma, Alex Martini after a Puma show

“All of us regulars at the Puma Londinese are sort-of developing our material in parallel in both languages. Some routines are born in English and translated into Italian. Some the other way round. Some stay in one language and are never translated.”

“So,” I asked, “have you done some of your English material in Italy?”

“Yes, but only in English. I want to do it in Italian now, because it’s interesting for my research. But, of course, comedy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. So, if I do material in Italian in Italy, I’m also dealing with different expectations and different types of audiences, different types of comedy clubs. That bit scares me the most, because I don’t really know the comedy scene in Italy.”

I said: “You told me sometime that Italy didn’t have a tradition of stand-up, gag-telling comedy… that the tradition was character comedy…”

“and sketch comedy,” added Giacinto. “Yes. Stand-up comedy is emerging now as some sort of alternative.”

“Why research this idea of translating comedy?” I asked.

Giacinto Palmieri costumed

Giacinto in a previous Edinburgh incarnation as Pagliacci

“First of all to describe the phenomenon,” explained Giacinto. “It is a subject that has never been studied: I found a gap in the scientific literature and it’s a gap I can fill because I have direct experience of it and I can observe other comedians doing the same.”

“No-one has ever done this research before?” I asked.

“Not as an oral form. There has been research about sub-titles and dubbing but none, as far as I know, about adapting stand-up comedy from one type of oral form to another. The Guardian recently published an interview with Eddie Izzard, but I don’t think the phenomenon has been studied academically.”

“Even dubbing is bizarre,” I said. “I always wonder what happens with the James Bond films, which are full of English language puns. There’s a bit in Diamonds Are Forever where a girl says her name is Plenty O’Toole and Bond says: Named after your father, perhaps? Now that must be impossible to translate because it revolves round O’Toole being a surname. I mean, in Goldfinger, presumably Pussy Galore must have had no double-meaning outside English. What was it in the Italian version?”

“I think it is kept as Pussy Galore,” said Giacinto. “In Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, the character is called Alotta Fagina.”

“But translating puns in Bond films must be impossible,” I said.

“You look for a way to replicate the same kind of wordplay,” explained Giacinto. “In a way, puns are the easiest jokes to translate, because you don’t have to keep the meaning, you just create a new pun in the other language.”

“So,” I said, “it doesn’t matter what the joke is, provided there is a line which provokes a laugh at the same point in the action?”

Giacinto at the Christmas Puma show

Giacinto at the Christmas Puma show

“Yes,” said Giacinto. “Some are so brilliant in Italian, you wonder what the original was. In Young Frankenstein, there is a brilliant pun in Italian but I have no idea what the original was. A lot of things are lost in translation, but a lot of things are also found in translation. Translation is a creative activity and if it is done by creative people – by comedians and so on – it is a great chance to express new comedy ideas.”

“Have you delved into this before?” I asked.

“A few years ago, the comedian Becca Gibson organised a literary festival in Earl’s Court and invited Delia Chiaro from the University of Bologna, one of the biggest experts on the translation of humour. Becca booked me to do stand-up comedy during the event, because she knew a lot of my material was based on language. As a result, Delia invited me to do the same during a conference about translation at the University of Bologna. So I discovered there were these two fields – Humour Studies on one hand and Translation Studies on the other which, of course, overlap in Humour Translation. And I realised, if I researched the way comics translate their own material, it could be a way to bring together all these threads of interest.”

“It’s the ideal research for a stand-up comic,” I suggested. “You can write about yourself.”

Giacinto’s image for his Leicester show

Giacinto’s image for his Leicester Comedy Festival show

“Yes,” agreed Giacinto, “I am doing research which is partly about me doing comedy, but I can also do stand-up comedy routines about me doing research about me doing comedy. I am performing my Ride of The Wagnerian show at the Leicester Comedy Festival this Saturday. I am probably skipping this year’s Edinburgh Fringe because I will be too busy with my research. But I am planning to do a show at the Fringe in 2016 about my research. My plan is to call it Giacinto Palmieri needs a PhD For It.

I laughed.

“You see?” said Giacinto, “The show is working already.”

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In order to speak and perform Italian language comedy, you have to live it

Romina Puma

Romina Puma, creator of fortnightly shows

Last night, in London’s Soho, I went to fortnightly Italian language comedy night Laboratorio di Cabaret – Il Puma Londinese. They usually have at least one English language act.

This is the fourth of their shows I have been to and I understand about a quarter of one percent of what is going on in the Italian parts. But the atmosphere is hugely enjoyable and, to illiterate me, the shows are like watching abstract comedy performance. I watch the visual performance and can appreciate the structure of the emotional delivery of the words and feel the emotional meaning of the words, even though I don’t understand the words.

Last night I went with comedy critic Kate Copstick, who is multilingual – she can speak English, Italian, Swahili and Glaswegian. She has written guidebooks to Italy.

“Did you understand 100%?” I asked.

“Maybe 90%,” she told me. “But, in Italian, people take a lot more words to say stuff so, in a way, to get the gist, you only need to understand 90%. One of the wonderful things about Italian conversation is it’s ‘Big’. You maybe say things twice or in three different ways. You just say more than you would in English.”

“Earlier today,” I said, “I was talking to someone about Irish English and it’s often more meandering than most English English and Irish people have told me it’s because the Gaelic is not a succinct language: it, too, needs more words.”

“There is just such fun in saying things in Italian,” said Copstick. “Alex Martini (the compere) was terrific – great energy and quintessentially Italian – which is a GOOD thing. Really, really likeable. But a night like tonight also proves there is an element to comedy that goes beyond the words. I didn’t understand 100% but I laughed more than I do in a lot of good English language gigs. It’s the feeling of fun and enjoyment and laughter.

(From left) Marouen Mraihi., Giada Garofalo, Giacinto Palmieri, Romina Puma, Alex Martini after last night’s show

(From left) Marouen Mraihi., Giada Garofalo, Giacinto Palmieri, Romina Puma, Alex Martini after last night’s show

“Those two girls – Romina Puma and Giada Garofalo – warm, funny, confident and out there – they really brought the audience into it all. Very warm, very female, very anecdotal.

“If you translated their set into English, it’s just very anecdotal, chatty, kinda Sarah Millican-ish. But the energy and the whole character of doing it in Italian just pulls you in so much more.”

“I have an English friend,” I told Copstick, “who worked in Tokyo then married an Italian and now lives in Milan – so she’s good at languages – and she told me the only way to speak Italian is to ‘live’ the language. You can’t just say Italian words with English speech rhythms: you have to almost perform Italian. Saying the plain words just doesn’t work.”

“Absolutely,” said Copstick. “Giacinto Palmieri is warm and wonderful when he performs in English but, in Italian, it’s like someone has lit a fire under him. In English, he is black and white; it Italian, he is in colour.

“What your friend said about ‘living it’… the minute you translate the Italian words into English in your head, it’s not as funny. The whole approach to the story and the whole way of telling stories in Italian is just different. Literally – to coin Frank Carson’s old phrase – it’s the way they tell ‘em.”

Kate Copstick enjoyed my lively wit (Photograph by Giada Garofalo)

Copstick found herself unable to resist my captivating wit last night (Photograph by Giada Garofalo)

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English eccentric comedy adventurer Tim Fitzhigham talks futtocks and of rowing a bathtub across the Channel

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

(From left) Me, Tim Fitzhigham, Kate Copstick

(From left) Me, Tim Fitzhigham, Kate Copstick in Edinburgh

A couple of weeks ago, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows in the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.

In the third show, one of the guests was English eccentric adventurer Tim Fitzhigham, a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee for one of his annual Fringe comedy shows.

He talked to me and to comedy critic Kate Copstick. This is a short extract from that chat:

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COPSTICK: Your adventures… Is it insanity or is it you don’t think you could write a funny enough stand-up show, so you go and do mental things?

TIM: I think that’s right. But I like to see if things are possible. Can you do it? I have the world record for longest distance travelled in a boat made entirely out of paper. I just wondered how far you could travel in a paper boat.

COPSTICK: How far?

TIM: 160 miles.

COPSTICK: What?!

TIM: Where the comedy comes is I try these things and what is normally quite a mundane thing can suddenly take on a… With the paper boat, I had to get insurance for the paper boat before they would let me take it out on the water. I phoned hundreds of insurance companies. Nobody would give me insurance for that. Then one of them phoned me back and said: We will cover you and the paper boat against fire and theft. You couldn’t write a better joke than that. Just the truth is funny… Then I thought: Can you row a bath tub across the English Channel? I thought some Victorian must have done it, but no-one had.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: How long did it take you to row across?

TIM: Nine hours and six minutes and I had my heel on the plug all the way because, obviously, you needed to be able to take the plug out, otherwise it was cheating.

JOHN: Was it difficult to set up?

TIM: When I first phoned the Royal Navy to try and get them on board with the idea, there was a mistake at the switchboard and I got put through to a rear admiral. And that was the best result for me, because both my uncle and my great uncle were in the Navy and they told me If ever you’re talking to a member of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, you always start the conversation with a question – How are your futtocks, old man?

So I get put through to the rear admiral and I say How are your futtocks, old man? and he replies At their furthest reach, dear boy.

When I asked my uncle about this, he said Yes, that was the correct nautical response. I said That’s fantastic, uncle, but what does it actually mean? and he said Well, that’s the thing, Tim. Nobody actually knows. It’s just this mad thing the Navy have done for 300 years.

I then finally got hold of someone sensible about the whole thing and it turns out what a futtock actually is is the ribs on an old-fashioned boat and, when you say, How are your futtocks? if they reply At their furthest reach then the boat is running at its absolute top capacity. You are, in effect, saying How’s your day going? and they’re saying Very well.

I had to go up to the Admiralty Board – which is quite a serious thing. It doesn’t often happen and there are five flag admirals. I sat there and one of the admirals told me: Rowing a bath tub across the English Channel is not possible. We’ve done the calculations. You’re a single guy. It’s just not possible. Physics is against you.

I looked him directly in the eye and said: I’m not saying it IS possible, I’m saying give me the chance to try.

And – literally in a second – he turned to the admiral next to him and said: And THAT’s the spirit that built this nation!

One second. One answer. And suddenly I had the Navy behind me and they are serious.

In a maritime way.

Obviously, they’re less useful in a desert.

But, in a maritime way, they’re the best.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, UK

Toothache and George Eliot, writer of the best novel in the English language

I just can’t be bothered to write a blog this morning. I have not recovered from what, in effect, was my day trip to Kiev – despite the fact I slept for a lot of that.

And I have to go to the dentist at midday today.

He is treating me for problems with a top right tooth and a bottom right tooth.

And, six days ago, an entire filling fell out a top left tooth. No immediate pain, but I could not get an appointment until today and went to Kiev with six different types of painkiller and a temporary tooth filling kit.

Now I just want to go to sleep before seeing the dentist.

GeorgeEliot_WikipediaSo this blog is just going to be quotes from my favourite author before I stopped being able to read books after being hit by an articulated truck in 1991 – Look, you should have read my previous blogs. Now you will have to wait for the book of the blogs.

The writer Julian Barnes called Middlemarch by George Eliotprobably the greatest English novel”. Virginia Woolf said it was “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people” and Martin Amis called George Eliot “the greatest writer in the English language”.

All three are right.

GEORGE ELIOT
RIP Mary Ann Evans
born 22nd November 1819
died 22nd December 1880

So it goes.

  • I like trying to get pregnant. I’m not so sure about childbirth.
  • Different taste in jokes is a great strain on the affections.
  • It is never too late to be what you might have been.
  • Failure after long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure.
  • Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.
  • The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.
  • Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are.
  • Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.

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Toilet seats and the difference in the collapse of British & Russian empires

A bottom-shaped toilet seat as it was meant to be

A toilet seat as it was meant to be…

I flew to Kiev yesterday. I went to the toilet first.

They have tried hard at London’s Gatwick Airport.

There is a new ‘super-loo’.

The holes in the toilet seats are rectangular.

I checked my bottom before and after using one. My bottom is not rectangular. I was unable to check other people’s bottoms. But I suspect the design of these new ‘super’ toilet seats is a triumph of design over practicality.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Some seats in the Departure Lounge at Gatwick have little flat surfaces next to them with plug sockets and USB ports so you can use and charge your computers and mobile phones.

All the sockets and USB ports had been switched off.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Ukraine International Airlines were very attentive on the flight to Kiev. All the pilot and cabin announcements were, of course, in both Ukrainian… and in English as, I think, the rules say they have to be. At least, I think they were in English.

But the English was around 97% totally incomprehensible. It was like audio origami. I basically only knew it was English because of the polite addition of clear Thankyous at the end of sentences.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

A street in Kiev at 9.40am this morning

A central street in Kiev – or Kyiv –  at 9.40am this morning

So now I am in Kiev.

In an enlightening conversation last night, a local was telling me how the corruption system works.

It is a triumph of actual effectiveness over good intentions.

I say I am in Kiev… but actually I am in Kyiv. Because ‘Kiev’ was the Russian-approved Western spelling used in the Soviet era. Now Ukraine is independent. So now it is written as ‘Kyiv’.

As with all ex-Soviet states, there was and is a problem with the Russians.

I remember a historian (not British born) telling me in the 1990s what he thought was the difference between the collapse of the British Empire and the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

I do not know if he is right or wrong, but it is an interesting viewpoint.

The way he saw it, the British had conquered an empire but had, by-and-large, not fully integrated themselves within the local community, particularly in India.

In the Raj, they tended to live in British communities, go to British clubs and continue living their British lives separate from the local communities. Britain was always seen as their home country. They lived consciously as ex-pats.

With the Soviet Empire, the Russians, to a greater extent, colonised each country and moved their families and lives lock, stock and family barrel into them because they, perhaps, felt that all these other countries really were part of one great Socialist country.

When India got independence, by and large, most British families simply upped-sticks and left, mostly going back to their ‘home’ country – the UK.

But, when the Soviet Empire collapsed and satellite countries got independence, the Russian populations within those countries had psychologically, economically and physically integrated their families’ lives within the communities. They had no actual close family ties back in Russia. They were not expats living away from mother Russia. They were Russians who felt fully part of the satellite countries.

For example, in Uzbekistan, they were not Uzbeks yet, in Russia, they were not ‘real’ Russians. They had nowhere to ‘go home’ to. These were Russians who had been in Uzbekistan for generations and were now left stranded in what had been their home country and was now a foreign country.

Same thing in the Ukraine… exacerbated by a history of invasions over the centuries.

There is a heavy Russian presence in the east and in the south of modern, independent Ukraine. According to a 2001 census, 67.5 percent of the population declared Ukrainian as their ‘native’ language and 29.6 percent declared Russian.

They considered Russian their ‘native’ language.

Almost 30% of the country.

Almost all in the east and south.

This is not good.

Some people talk of splitting the country.

Mostly the Russians in the Ukraine. And the Russians in the Kremlin.

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The dangers when a TV programme researcher approaches a mad inventor

John Ward – a man out standing in his field

I first met mad inventor John Ward when I was a television researcher on Chris Tarrant’s sadly forgotten series Prove It!

Time-Life called him “possibly the best English eccentric inventor living today.” He designed and makes the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award trophies and is currently creating a trebuchet – a giant catapult based on medieval siege engines – for next year’s World Egg Throwing Championships

John Ward thinks the standard of TV researcher may have fallen over the years. Yesterday he told me this story…

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The trebuchet – John Ward is building one for egg throwing

It was a nice day to start off with, being Tuesday, and so I loaded up and headed down the road to see Roger in Cleethorpes to try out the Egg Throwing Trebuchet Mark II as Roger’s field is quite large and should anything get out of hand, it won’t effect anybody (hopefully..)

So there I was setting it up and loading said device… and the mobile throbs away… and the day takes on a new meaning…

“Are you John Ward? – the John Ward?”

“Yes,” I said, “or, at least, one of them.”

“I am Tamara Hyphen Whatever and I am a television researcher…”

And then a deathly hush was heard and, not knowing if I should bow and kiss the earth beneath me, I replied: “Oh yes…?”

Miss Hyphen continued: “Yes, I am working on a new television programme and came across your web site and I have to say its very impressive. I could not believe the sheer amount of things on there that you have done. What a trove of fun it is!”

“Thank you for that,” I said, “and…?”

Then Miss Hyphen explained the format and I replied that it sounded – once again – like Scrapheap Challenge with the contrived supposed items made in a scrap yard but all the ‘bits’ are spread over a yard area in order for them to be picked up and slung together at the end of the show and it’s not the people on camera that are the builders but the list of Production Assistants at the end of the show credits that give the game away although I had sussed it about twenty minutes in when I saw the first ever episode because can you think of where you would find a scrap yard that has a turn the key and its works Land Rover on hand…

To which Miss Hyphen replied: “Yeessss, I see…”

She then wondered if it would be worth her while to come down to see me at some stage and I pointed out that the local cinema still – I believe – had a stage but any cafe would perhaps be better, moreso if they were showing a film projected onto the said portion of the stage quoted..

By now, I was thinking there was an intellectual barrier between us but I could be wrong of course – Time will tell, I thought..

After various useless questions and answers that I got the impression she at the other end was scribbling notes down to, the Gifted One then asked the usual clunker thus:

“By any chance, have you appeared on television at all?…” and I parried this by asking:

“You’ve not been working at the BBC for long?”

She then asked how I could possibly know? and I said I was shit hot at reading tea leaves as well.

I then put it to her, as best I could, having brought up children of my own you understand, that if she had indeed ‘seen’ my web site, she would know the answer to that question without being so brain dead as to enquire.

After all this and going to Roger’s field and getting back home, another bit arrived via e-mail.

“I have just seen you online with a bird table. Could we come and see you and film you for an interview?”

…to which I replied I was not that bothered but whom shall I say is coming along? And the nice man said he was a ‘field researcher’ for CBS Factual in the US of A.

How odd.

On the one hand, somebody was ‘wondering’ about coming to see me from about a hundred miles away and, on the other hand, a crew of four were going to get onto a plane and come from the Colonies to film an interview some three thousand miles away.

Thus we are to arrange a date in the next week or so.

So today – so far – I have found out our Trebuchet can hurl half a house brick a distance of 230 yards and I have found out people with strange three barreled names seem to be lacking in the thinking department.

Ah! The simple joys of the (allegedly) eccentric inventor.

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Here is John Ward demonstrating a new type of television to presenter Chris Tarrant on the sadly forgotten ITV series Prove It!

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Inventions, Television

Two Jews jabbering about sex, drugs and suicide at the Edinburgh Fringe

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post and by the Indian news website We Speak News)

Laura Levites and Lewis Schaffer: New York Jews together

At the Edinburgh Fringe, I know comic Lewis Schaffer and bumped into comic Laura Levites. It turns out they were both brought up in Great Neck, New York, but had never met. I suggested we should have a chat for this blog. Two New York Jewish comedians. What was I thinking? I hardly got a word in.

Andy Kaufman was born in Great Neck,” Laura Levites said. “The first line in the movie Man in the Moon is It all started out in Great Neck…”

And Groucho Marx moved there,” added Lewis Schaffer. “And in the movie Miracle on 34th Street, she wants to buy a house in Great Neck. And Alan King moved to Great Neck. And then there’s F.Scott Fitzgerald.”

The Great Gatsby is set in Great Neck,” said Laura Levites. (It is called ‘West Egg’ in the book.)

“You told me Great Neck was full of sad rich, flashy Jews,” I said to Lewis Schaffer.

“And a few Jew failures,” he added.

“My dad wasn’t smart enough to get rich,” said Laura Levites.

I laughed.

“I’m not even joking,” she insisted. “He really wasn’t. And he was an asshole.”

“Did you live in a house?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“We had a house.”

Lewis Schaffer: his show at Edinburgh Fringe

“Then we must have been poorer than you.”

“My parents didn’t buy the house,” said Laura Levites. “my grandmother gave them money to buy it.”

“Well my grandmother gave my parents money to buy a car,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I hate to talk about them this way cos it makes them seem like losers, my parents.”

“My parents ARE losers,” said Laura Levites. “My dad is dead and my mom is alive.”

“What did your dad do for a living?”

“He was in advertising and then he was just an asshole.”

“Did he divorce your mom?” Lewis Schaffer asked.

“Yes.”

“He moved away?”

“No, he stayed in Great Neck.”

“But the money was spent on another flat?”

“No, the money was spent in a bitter custody battle over me and my brother.”

“How old were you?”

“Ten.”

“So you were a child of divorce,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I sensed that. I sense that. Vulnerable.”

“I’m vulnerable,” said Laura Levites. “I have daddy issues. I’m a mess.”

“Am I old enough to be your daddy?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“You wanna adopt me?”

“I don’t want to adopt you that way.”

“Yeah, but I mean that in a sexy way. I like to be spanked.”

Enough, already! Enough, already! Enough already!

“You like to be spanked?” laughed Lewis Schaffer. “I like to punch. Well, I would like to punch women, but I haven’t.”

“I can take a punch,” said Laura Levites. “You wouldn’t be the first guy who tried to hit me.”

“So basically.” I interrupted, “we are talking here about two bitter Jews who had a bad upbringing and became comedians.”

“My parents were not in a bitter custody battle,” said Lewis Schaffer, “because they were old school and thought they had to stay together until they or the kids died.”

“Lewis’ comedy,” I told Laura Levites, “is very autobiographical.”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I wouldn’t say I was autobiographical. I would say I mostly do penis jokes.”

“But,” said Laura Levites, “they’re about your penis.”

“There’s also a lot about his children and ex-wife,” I said.

“But those are substitutes,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “for the core issue that my parents didn’t love me. Let me re-phrase that. My mother didn’t love me. So I focus on my ex-wife.”

Laura Levites’ show at the Edinburgh Fringe

“Does your family feature in your show a lot?” I asked Laura Levites.

“This one, no. But, by virtue of everything they did to me, yes. I mean, I am their fault. Are you going to come see my show?”

“You’re down there somewhere in the list,” I said.

“I’m somewhere in the list? I’m tired of people saying that.”

“So you grew up in the house with your brother,” said Lewis Schaffer. “and you were ten.”

“I was ten or eight. I was not fully-formed.”

“Did you have breasts?”

“I did not have breasts. I don’t have breasts now.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I don’t have breasts now,” she repeated. “Look at this! I have nothing! It’s just skin. Who cares? I don’t have boobies. My grandma used to work at Bloomingdales. My grandma, she’s in a nursing home. I went to see her one day. She put both hands on my breasts. She sold underwear: that’s what my grandma did for a living. And she said You have big nipples, but you’ve small breasts. That’s what she said to me. Even my grandma said I got no titties!”

“This is a New York Jew,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I’m a New York Jew,” said Laura Levites. “What d’ya want?”

“If I were younger,” said Lewis Schaffer, “I’d be getting an erection right now. That’s all I’m saying.”

“I’m losing my shit if you’re not getting an erection.”

“Why is talking about nipples Jewish?” I asked.

“You couldn’t get a conversation like this out of an English girl,” said Laura Levites. “Because they don’t express themselves. They can’t even answer a simple question. It’s like How are you FEELING? Don’t give me the answer you THINK I want to hear. It fucks with your goddam head! I’m not even kidding. The English are fucking mad!”

“Did you see my show?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Three-quarters of it,” replied Laura Levites. “I was in the back”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“Yeah. I REALLY enjoyed it. I feel at home with you. I understand everything you say. I relate to everything. I feel the same way you do.”

“I think circumcision should be illegal,” said Lewis Schaffer. “but not for women.”

“You’re cut and I’m sorry about that,” said Laura Levites. “You don’t know what you’re missing. I can teach you how to grow it back. You make this (wanking) motion and you pull every day or you put weights on it. I’m not even joking.”

“But, “ laughed Lewis Schaffer, “I do pull it every day and it hasn’t grown.”

“You haven’t been pulling it the right way. There’s a motion; there’s a technique; I’ll take you to the websites.”

I interrupted: “One thing I like about New York Jews is the pace. Jabber jabber jabber. No time to inhale oxygen. How do you breathe? You have no gaps to breathe in.”

“No no no. Wait! Wait!” said Laura Levites. “Look what’s written on my wrist…”

Laura Levites’ wrist reminds her that she has to BREATHE

She held up her arm to me. Tattooed on her wrist was the single word BREATHE.

“It’s written there,” Laura Levites said, “because I don’t breathe. You’re looking at my arm. You’re going to talk about my cut marks?”

“Suicide?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “They say suicide’s painless, but it’s not painless.”

“Yeah, it is,” said Laura Levites. “I tried to kill myself a bunch of times.”

“I won’t put this in the blog,” I said.

“You see,” Laura Levites said, “that’s so British of you. That’s fucked up. I don’t care. I’m OK with it.”

“You have to think PR,” I said. “Is it in your show?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t mention about trying to kill myself in this show, but I’ll talk about it all the time because I’m not repressed. I take pills and I’ll take ‘em in front of people because I don’t care. Anti-depressants, stuff for ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), sedatives; you name it, I take it. Do you know how many drugs I brought? Because you can’t get shit here.”

“Are these legal?” I asked nervously.

“They’re legal in America,” she said. “They’re not legal here because you guys have terrible drugs.”

“Look at my face!” said Lewis Schaffer. “Look at my face! I’ve become English now.”

“I got bottles,” said Laura Levites.

“I can’t believe you’re saying this,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I came here with bottles of pills…” Laura Levites continued.

“You said they’re illegal in Britain,” I warned her.

“No, no,” she corrected me. “I can bring them in. I have prescriptions. But, like, my ADD medication isn’t legal in this country.”

“So you can’t get arrested?” I asked warily.

“I’m not going to get arrested EVER,” she replied. “I’m a white girl. No-one’s going to arrest me. Do you know how much shit I’ve gotten away with in my life?”

“You’ve got red hair, pale skin, you’re pretty and you’re American,” I agreed.

“No-one’s going to arrest me,” she said. “And I’ve done some fucked-up shit.”

“Have you really?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Yeah.”

“Can I get the video of it?” Lewis Schaffer asked. He paused… “The thing with this girl is you can’t get a rise out of her.”

“Why do you want to make me angry?”

“I love making people angry.”

“You’re not going to make me angry, because I actually agree with what you say in your show.”

“I know. I find that uncomfortable.”

“That I agree with you? That I think women are crazy?”

“Yes.”

“I do think we’re bananas. I know who I am. I have self-awareness. Do you know how much therapy I’ve had?”

“But that doesn’t make you any less crazy,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I’m aware of my craziness,” she replied. “I don’t have a problem with someone saying that to me.”

“You’re like a wild girl,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s like old home week for me. You’re nuts.”

“I’m good nuts,” said Laura Levites.

“Yeah. You’re good nuts,” agreed Lewis Schaffer. “Well, you’re good but you’re not nuts.”

“No, no, I’m not nuts. Well, I mean, like on paper, I actually am. If I wanted to kill someone, I could get away with it.”

“Did it seem like I was funny in my show?” Lewis Schaffer asked.

“You’re naturally funny, yeah,” said Laura Levites. “The Jews and the Blacks are always funny. But American Jews aren’t dominating the comedy scene any more.”

“People are bored with the Jews,” said Lewis Schaffer. “The Holocaust was exciting, but we haven’t done anything interesting in a long time.”

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