Lynn Ruth Miller, the irrepressible 85-year-old American comic and occasional burlesque stripper based in London, has been off on her professional travels again.
Here is an edited version of her whistle-stop diary of the trip.
This is the first time I have flown directly to Singapore from London. It is a very long flight: about 17 hours. I could have paid twice as much and gotten there two hours earlier but I am Jewish.
I do not waste money.
I have been thinking about why comedians travel as far as we all do to stand in front of a lot of strangers for as little as ten minutes or as long as an hour talking about ourselves. For me, living alone as I do, it is worth the travel and the personal inconvenience to have those few moments when I am in the spotlight making a lot of people love me – because, in that moment, they do.
But it is more than that.
We are, after all, social animals and interaction feeds our souls. As I get older (and I sure hope I keep doing it) I realize that the impetus to keep doing this is far more than those moments on stage. It is that amazing connection with different people from different backgrounds and the jolt of surprise when I realize how similar our values are and how alike our mutual vision of what makes the good life.
This is the third time I have been to Singapore.
This time, Naomi from Jakarta alerted the Jewish population of Singapore (which is far larger than I thought) to come to the show, so the place was packed. When I do comedy here, the audiences want to laugh and want to support us. They make us all feel like stars.
After the shows in Singapore, we all stay to have a drink and get to know one another as people. This is in contrast to the London experience, where the headliner usually comes in just before it is time to do his set and the rest of the comedians leave the show when they are done performing.
Here in Singapore, you realize you are all working together to create a good experience for the audience and it reduces that sense of competition that I always get in London. No one person is better than another because each performance presents a unique viewpoint.
And that is what makes stand up comedy so satisfying. The audience gets a glimpse of another perspective on the life we are all trying to live.
HO CHI MINH CITY (formerly Saigon)
Compared to Singapore, which is spacious. modern and richly beautiful, the streets in Ho Chi Minh City are narrow and the buildings retain the flavor of the pre-war city. It has preserved some of its original character and yet it is filled with bright lights and glittering signs that give it a Las Vegas feel.
I featured for Jojo Smith who is an established comedian who has been doing this kind of thing for about 25 years or more. It is always an honor for me to be on the bill with women who have broken down barriers I still have yet to smash.
We both did very well but the interesting thing was that I thought the evening was a huge success and I do not think Jojo agreed. The audience was smaller than she expected and the ambience of the room was not what she had hoped. I have decided that my expectations must be very low because I thought it was a gem of an evening.
Jojo and I were on the same plane to Hanoi the next morning.
When we got here, Dan Dockery picked us up and, like the reliable rock that he is, he got us back to the very lavish Intercontinental Hotel that sponsors his events.
Jojo was not feeling well so she went up to her room which was the size of a three storey mansion and I toddled over to one of the several cafes each one fit to serve tea to Queen Elizabeth.
When I returned to my room – so spacious I am amazed I managed to find the bed without a divining rod – I napped until show time. Poor Jojo had digestive problems and, like the understudies in West End shows, she gave me my big moment. She stayed in bed and I headlined.
I did fifty minutes of comedy and every joke worked. I was walking on air when I left the stage then, after I drank the bottle of wine one of the audience members bought for me, I was floating on a cloud so high my feet didn’t touch the ground.
I think that is what keeps me in this business. The thrill of a successful gig has not worn off for me. It is never just another night.
I vaguely remember the night I lost my virginity on plastic sheets in a grim motel in Indiana and I have to say that supposedly cosmic moment did not compare to standing on stage in Hanoi talking dirty to a bunch of expats in a hot little room overlooking the river.
It was my kind of magic.
The next morning, Dan’s driver took me to the airport and he was telling me how life has changed since the war. He said the entire place has been rebuilt and now there are more motor bikes than there are people on the roads and also a huge gap between rich and poor. Hanoi though – even more than Ho Chi Minh City – has retained its rustic flavor while always sparkling with colorful lights.
Chris Wegoda runs Comedy Club Bangkok, the most successful English-speaking comedy club in Bangkok. I headlined there.
Chris, who is unbelievably reliable, sent a man named Sheldon – a swimmer, former surfer and LA guy – to pick me up and off we went to the show.
The show was fast-paced and the audience anxious to laugh. I did my set and I did well.
Then we all went down to the bar to drink and Liam and Kordelia, whom I had met at the airport, said I must come to Mojacar Playa to do a show. I said I would.
They said: “Everyone there loves funny old ladies.”
I said: “I hope so.”
The next morning, my darling buddy Jonathan Samson sent a Thai guy to fetch me to his club in another neighborhood of the city. Jonathan does comedy in a youth hostel and keeps the prices low, which I support.
After our show that night, Jonathan bought a pan, a hot plate and a lot of ingredients for me to make my signature dish: blintzes (Jewish crepes.) Six members of the audience stayed after to help with the mixing, the beating and the frying and, by God, we made blintzes so authentic that Moses descended for a taste.
The next day I met Matthew Wharf for lunch. He is originally from Melbourne and runs a club in Bangkok but, this time around, he could not fit me into his line-up. He took me and a wonderful American man he called Wine for lunch. It turned out the man was from New Jersey and his name is Wayne. We talked shop for a couple of hours because ‘Wine’ wants to do stand up and I have the sense he is going to be great at it.
Then I played a club on the outskirts of the city called Comedy Den Pakkret. The line up was excellent.
Tristan, one of the comedians there, had married an Israeli. He was telling me how modern and exciting Tel Aviv has become. He also talked a great deal about how biased the foreign press is against Israel, partly because of Netanyahu‘s belligerent policies and partly because so much of the press is anti-Zionist.
It was a revealing discussion because, even though I personally do not like Israel’s practices toward the people in Gaza, I had never realized that there are so many extenuating circumstances.
The one observation I made to justify what goes on there is that, after the Holocaust, the Jewish people never want to be in a situation where they are not the majority. One can hardly blame them for that.
The next day, I met Aidan Killian and Trevor Lock for lunch. Aidan has managed to put on large shows once a month in Bangkok that feature major names like Shazia Mirza. Trevor has lived in Bangkok for several years doing comedy throughout Southeast Asia. He only returns to Britain for short periods of time to do shows in Edinburgh and London.
It was an interesting lunch because again we talked shop.
It turns out that Bangkok has a very small audience base so it is almost impossible to earn a living doing comedy there. And yet we all agreed stand up comedy is the last place left where you can say what you really think without fear of being banned… though I have to say that is not as true as it once was.
I still hold to the theory that any topic works if you can make it funny. The idea is to make people laugh.
Home to London now, to freeze and get ready for trips to Harrogate and Amsterdam.
It is a good life.
… LYNN RUTH’s TRIPS CONTINUE HERE …
Online, there is a clip of Lynn Ruth on Britain’s Got Talent in 2014.