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Mr Twonkey on the Chicken Church cult and being hit by Lewis Schaffer’s spoon

twonkey_malcolmhardeeaward

Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey

Paul Vickers/Mr Twonkey had forgotten too

“Why are we meeting?” I asked Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey, surrealist performer and winner of the 2016 increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

“I have forgotten,” he told me.

“Me too,” I said. “Are you doing the Leicester Comedy Festival?”

“I am. On 9th and 10th of February. And the Museum of Comedy in London on the 15th of April.”

“Maybe that’s why,” I suggested. “What else have you been doing?”

“I have been taking advice on relationships from Lewis Schaffer.”

“Are you mad?” I asked

“He has algorithms,” Paul told me, “and he is trying to teach me how to read. He says I haven’t learnt how to read properly. I am dyslexic, but he is convinced that it is not a real disease. He thinks I am not trying hard enough.”

“He is teaching you too read?” I asked.

“He has a book,” Paul explained, “and I have to read words that have similar sounds and get used to reading and recognising them.”

“What is the book called?” I asked.

Lewis Schaffer’s book

Lewis Schaffer’s book without wooden spoon

“This Simple Book Will Let You Teach Anyone to Read by Lewis Schaffer. When I mess up, he hits me with a wooden spoon. It is based on a similar thing to Dr Seuss. It does actually work. But it is tedious and unpleasant. I think Lewis Schaffer finds it funny – and I did to start with, but then it became tiring…

“…and painful,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” Paul agreed. “Lewis Schaffer was upset because I didn’t take the book with me last time. He said they had printed it out specially for me.”

“There is,” I asked, “only one copy of This Simple Book Will Let You Teach Anyone to Read by Lewis Schaffer?”

“I think there may be 3 or 4 copies. But he has got a copy that is specifically for me. It is signed at the front and  it is my copy. We have had two sessions so far.”

“When was the previous one?” I asked.

“In May last year, I think.”

“Have you progressed?”

“Not as much as I thought. He showed me the page where we left off last time, and it was only halfway through the first page. But I think he may be cheating; I am sure I did more than just that page.”

“Is it enjoyable?” I asked.

“No,” said Paul. “It is not a fun activity and, last time, I did it before and after a gig so I was quite tired. But that doesn’t stop him. He’s relentless.”

A page from Lewis Schaffer’s book

A page from Lewis Schaffer’s relentless book

“Relentless in what?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Just relentlessly… erm… cruel, I suppose. It seems a bit cruel.”

“I thought you were seeing him for relationship counselling?”

“Well, there is that as well, but he has not written a book about relationships. He just has an algorithm that he feels will work.”

“An algorithm on relationships?”

“Yes.”

“What’s the algorithm?”

“It is based on the fact that all people are fundamentally selfish.”

“Lewis Schaffer thinks other people are too inward-looking?” I asked.

Paul laughed: “I am not sure I can repeat a lot of what was said.”

“Are you going to follow his advice?”

“It is always good to get the Lewis Schaffer’s perspective on a situation.”

“No it isn’t,” I said. “On relationships??? That seems like a very bad idea. You are going to end up an emotional wreck with no self confidence and speaking with a fake American accent.”

A selfie by Paul Vickers/Mr Twonkey

A Soho selfie by Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey

“That is true,” Paul agreed.

“Who first suggested,” I asked, “that you should go to Lewis Schaffer for reading lessons and relationship counselling?”

“That’s just what he sees as necessary when I turn up,” Paul replied. “That’s his idea of passing time with me.”

“Better than conversing…?” I asked.

“Well,” mused Paul, “he made me a chicken sandwich and then he took the book out… and the wooden spoon.”

I asked: “Does he keep a special wooden spoon for lessons?”

“Yeah,” said Paul. “That’s the one he beats you with.”

“This should be a show at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.

“It’s quite tedious, though,” Paul told me. “It really is quite tedious. It’s like blog – slob – cog – mob – gob – hob – lob. Quite tedious.”

“What does this supposedly teach you?” I asked.

“It teaches you how to recognise how certain things sound, because he says I get my Bs and Ds mixed up, which is true. And that I have difficulty recognising sounds and words. When I look at a page, I do sometimes have that thing where I can see words backwards. It’s partly why I ended up going down the road I’ve gone down. Apparently dyslexic people either turn to crime  or art… I could be in prison…

A selfie by Paul Vickers/Mr Twonkey

Another selfie by Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey

“…instead of being hit by a wooden spoon?” I asked.

“The dyslexia has actually affected my life,” Paul continued. “If only Lewis Schaffer had got to me sooner, then maybe I would have turned into an upstanding member of society.”

“I am not convinced,” I told him, “that you are learning to read. You are just getting bruised.”

“He sees it as doing a good thing,” Paul countered.

Then there was a long pause.

“Well, I don’t know if he does,” he added thoughtfully.

“Anyway,” I said, “what is this new show you are taking to Leicester, the Museum of Comedy and the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“If you could push my Museum of Comedy show on the 15th of April that would be cool,” said Paul.

“And the new show is…?” I prompted.

“It is called Twonkey’s Christmas in the Jungle.”

Mr Twonkey’s Christmas in The Jungle

Mr Twonkey’s Christmas in The Jungle – is not in a jungle

“Is it going o be performed at Christmas in a jungle?”

“No. At the Museum of Comedy in London on 15th April.”

“Have you written it all?”

“More or less.”

“Which?” I asked. “More or less?”

“Well, I have a beginning and an end but, because it has never been performed in front of an audience, I don’t entirely know how much of it works. I have a rough story.”

“Which is?”

“My manager – I don’t have a manager but, in Twonkey World I do – he sends me to do the Iquitos Fringe in the Hallucinogenic Peruvian jungle. The idea is he is trying to get rid of me, cos he has other acts who are more prestigious and exciting to manage.”

“Are you,” I asked, “going to have a jungle in the venue?”

“Yeah. My long-suffering other half, Mary, has made a jungle for me and some of my puppets have turned to a religious cult called The Chieftains of Paradise Who Welcome Evil.

“They wear a lot of rosettes and they believe that Jesus, when he rested, actually went to Hawaii and, when he was in Hawaii, he came up with some ideas like the Solomon Islands and Canada and the piña colada.

“I am trying to wean the puppets off the religious cult and the only way to be rescued from the jungle is for someone to go to the Chicken Church – which actually exists. It is not in the Peruvian jungle, but it’s a massive church that looks like a chicken. Well, it is not supposed to be a chicken: it’s supposed to be a dove but it looks more like a chicken. It has become a tourist attraction.

The Chicken Church in the Indonesian jungle

The real Chicken Church is actually in the Indonesian jungle

“The idea is that, if the puppets get to the Chicken Church and ring the bells, then the rescue helicopters will come and lift us all to safety.

“There is a song about the Chicken Church in Twonkey’s Christmas in the Jungle.”

“That would be,” I said, “the show which is going to be at London’s Museum of Comedy on 15th April?”

“Yes. The song is from a new album by Paul Vickers & The Leg with the working title Sherbert and Chilli – but that’s a long way from finished. We have about twelve tracks written and demo-ed. Christmas in The Jungle is another of the songs. It takes a while to finish these things… and there is always the temptation to try and get it right this time.”

“Do you,” I asked, “resist that temptation?”

“Well, I think I sometimes get it right accidentally. I do know how to persist and I know when something has gathered a certain amount of mass and it may be worth presenting to people, but it’s difficult to know when anything is ever really truly finished. It’s quite tricky to constantly mine the human consciousness for those gems or whatever they are.”

“Have you thought of doing something completely different – like not being Mr Twonkey?”

“I could have gone into advertising, but I didn’t. I could have gone any number of ways.”

“You still can,” I suggested.

“Yeah. That’s the thing. You feel you are in a very small, tight little room but, when you find those little doors it can take the roof off and it becomes expansive again. When people talk about writers’ block it’s really that they don’t have the keys to a door yet.

Paul Vickers tries a new look after our chat

Paul Vickers tried a new look for Mr Twonkey after our chat

David Lynch explains it really well. He says that sometimes you get little bits of ideas but you can’t work out what to do with them or how they connect and everything you need is in one room but it is a room you are not allowed access to yet.

“I think the ideas I have are not necessarily always fully explored. Jennifer’s Robot Arm – the play that I did – was originally just a 500-word story but I realised I could expand it out. There’s a lot of things I have like that; they could be expanded out. I would like to write more plays.”

twonkeychristmasjungle_leicester

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How I helped create the character of the fake American comedian Lewis Schaffer

Lewis Schaffer (left) and Erich McElroy

A very young Brian Simpson (left) in Edinburgh with genuine American comedian Erich McElroy

Brownhills Town Entrance feature sculpture by John McKenna (Photo by Jpb1301 of Wikipedia)

Brownhills Town Entrance feature sculpture by John McKenna (Photo by Jpb1301 of Wikipedia)

Brian Simpson, the English character comedian who performs as American comic Lewis Schaffer, was a massive fan of Tiswas, the slapstick children’s TV show I used to work on. He was born and bred in Brownhills.

Tiswas was broadcast live from the ATV Studios in the centre of Birmingham every Saturday. Brownhills is in the north of Birmingham and Brian, then a novice  comedian, knew one of the regular cameramen on the show.

Brian would stand in the crowded studio and try not to be noticed but he had this wild laugh and people did tend to notice him. Most people assumed he was one of the crew.

A studio floor pass for the show

Brian got onto the ATV studio floor courtesy of a friend

After one particular Tiswas Christmas show in 1981, his friend the ATV cameraman told me Brian wanted to meet me. I was only a researcher on the show, but Brian told me it was a thrill to meet me. He said he loved the bizarre ‘real people’ acts I found for the show, including a ‘Talented Teacher’ segment I sorted out.

He said he was struggling to get noticed on the comedy circuit and he thought this was largely because he was based in Birmingham. He was thinking of moving to London, especially as he was having trouble at home. He was in a relationship with a young Jewish American girl at the time (she was around 19) and they were having problems. This was before he discovered he was gay.

He was disillusioned and was thinking of quitting comedy.

After our first chat, he would talk to me almost every Saturday after the show and ask me what eccentric ‘real people’ items I was working on. He was trying to develop his own eccentric stage character. He was also getting advice from his American girlfriend. He told me he was trying to develop a character act in which he would pretend to be a no-hoper Jewish American comedian from New York who had performed at Caroline’s and at the Cellar, then married a Scottish girl, moved to England and was trying to establish himself over here.

I thought this sounded a little unbelievable, but his girlfriend helped him ‘translate’ his jokes into American English and give it a Jewish slant.

Now firmly established as Lewis Schaffer (Photo by Garry Platt)

Brian today – now firmly established as ‘Lewis Schaffer’ (Photograph by Garry Platt)

I thought and still think he could have been a brilliant British comic as himself but he didn’t think he was funny at all.

And, slowly, he built that self-doubt into the Lewis Schaffer character he created.

After about five years of advice from me (it continued after I left Tiswas), he told me that he thought he was going to make it in the UK and that he didn’t need to speak to me as often – that there were other ‘artists’ who needed my help.

Now we see each other less often.

On YouTube, there is a rare brief glimpse of Brian as himself in the background of the crowd on the studio floor of the last ever Tiswas, broadcast on 3rd April 1982.

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At the Edinburgh Fringe: Arthur Smith and his socks and a duck jockstrap gift

Arthur Smith opens his Museum of Socks

Arthur Smith opens his Museum of Socks at Edinburgh Fringe

“Are you doing your traditional late-night tour of the Royal Mile?” I asked comedian and national treasure Arthur Smith yesterday, beside his new exhibition of socks.

“Yes,” Arthur told me. “And I will be introducing the13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga.”

“She’s the one with only one sock?” I asked.

“Yes,” confirmed Arthur.

“Which Saturday night?” I asked.

“The 20th,” he said. “Well, strictly speaking, it’s the Sunday, because it’s after midnight.”

“What time?” I asked.

“I dunno,” said Arthur. “One o’clock? Two? I don’t care. You decide. If you put it in your blog, that’ll be the time I do it.”

So, dear reader, Arthur Smith’s legendary annual late-night tour of the Royal Mile this year will start at 01.00am on Saturday night 20th August – or Sunday morning 21st August if you are being pedantic. The starting point, as always, is the top of the Royal Mile outside the entrance to the Castle.

“But what about Arthur Smith’s socks?” I hear you cry with some justification.

Well, tough shit. You will have to read on for a bit.

A few days ago, I got a Facebook message from one Broome Spiro asking if I fancied having breakfast with a stranger.

Broome Spiro and his levitating breakfast

Broome Spiro and his levitating breakfast

So, of course, I let him buy me breakfast yesterday morning. He turned out to be a retired immigration attorney living in upstate New York who had chucked in his job and gone to work in a pizza parlour. His son had worked in Zoo venues at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago. Broome is fan of my blog and of the weekly Grouchy Club podcast I do with Scotsman critic Kate Copstick.

“How did you stumble on us?” I asked.

“When my son was working at Zoo,” explained Broome, “my wife Penny was following the Fringe on the computer – online, you can almost be here – and we became interested in the politics behind the Fringe and the different business models – PBH and Bob Slayer – and we ran into your blog, which was ‘real’. It’s nice to have it done with historical perspective so you can understand if you are new to it all.

“Over the years, I have collected a tremendous amount of things. My first job was with an antiques dealer, holding up stuff, and my mother made me quit after a month because I had not had a pay cheque yet, but I kept on coming home with antiques. I have this 3,000 square foot house with four 38ft tractor trailers and two barns filled with things and how I finance coming to Edinburgh is by selling things.”

Broome tests the straps of his jockstrap

Broome tests the straps of his gift jockstrap

He took out and showed me a jockstrap made from a plastic duck.

“You created it yourself?” I asked.

“Well,” said Broome, “I found the duck and designed the jock strap, but a guy called Dara Albro is the one who made it a reality.”

“Was it tested for size and comfort?” I asked.

“I was the fitting model,” admitted Broome. “I am going to present it to Paul Currie.

“Why?” I asked.

“I like his show.”

Later in the day, Broome also turned up at the Pleasance Dome for the official opening of the exhibition of Arthur Smith’s socks.

Which is where we came in.

The exhibition includes one sock belonging to (or, more correctly, formerly belonging to) the aforementioned 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga.

Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Kate Copstick is of a mind to nominate Arthur’s sock exhibition for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid Award on the basis that it is “very Saatchi”.

“Have you,” I asked Arthur, “ever been prosecuted in a Scottish court for your legendary annual late-night tour of the Royal Mile?”

“Not quite,” he said. “There was a balustrade on a corner once – well, it’s still there – and I paid a guy to stand on it and take his top off and sing Scotland The Brave and then a woman said Oh! That’s sexist! so she took her top off as well. They were a couple and had a big row. Anyway, the next day I looked, I realised there was a 40ft drop behind it and they had both been arseholed. They could have died. Maybe I would have been up for manslaughter if they had fallen. I dunno.”

Claire Smith, Broome Spiro and piano creator Iain Gordon at Arthur Smith’s opening

Claire Smith, Broome Spiro and piano builder Iain Gordon

Also there at the grand opening of Arthur’s sock exhibition – rather grandly titled Arturart’s Museum of Socks – was Scotsman journalist and increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Claire Smith.

“I am staying in a tent in Worbey and Farrell’s garden,” she told me.

“What if it rains?” I asked.

“It makes a lovely splashing sound.”

“Why are you staying in a tent in their garden?” I asked.

“Because I love them. They are sweet.”

“Why a tent in their garden?” I asked.

“It’s really lovely,” explained Claire. “I’ve got a little office in there. And WiFi, a vase with lilies and a carpet. And a cherry tree. Have you heard about Lewis Schaffer?”

“Constantly,” I said.

Lewis Schaffer: sexist or vulnerable?

Lewis Schaffer in days before he went grey

“He forgot his suit,” continued Claire. ”He left it in London. He had to do his show in civies yesterday. In his jeans. But he needs his suit. He usually buys his suits from ASDA because he says they are very Armani-ish. Well, a bit. But cheaper. So he left his suit in London and had to do his show in his jeans yesterday and he is wondering if it is a subconscious desire to give up comedy forever.”

“Has he started performing comedy now?” I asked, surprised.

“I have heard,” confided Claire, “that his suit is on its way up from London.”

“Via one of his entourage?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What other news?” I asked.

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (of Topping & Butch)

Loitering within tent? Claire Smith and Michael Topping

“Topping (of Topping & Butch) has given up alcohol and wants to do people’s feet in Edinburgh. He does reflexology in London. He’s really good at it. He lives in a little castle in London. He thought he would come up here and offer people reflexology.”

“People at random in the street?” I asked.

“Well, he was wanting to do it from my tent, but we haven’t really been able to organise it. We thought, if it was sunny, we could have a garden party. Get a load of people round to my tent and get their feet done.”

“Sunny?” I asked. “In Edinburgh in August? Where is your tent?”

“Near Meadowbank Stadium.”

“Oh,” I said. “I’m moving to a flat between Meadowbank and Easter Road for the last four days of the Fringe. It could be noisy at the weekend.”

Meadowbank is a 16,000 seat sports stadium and Easter Road is the 20,000 seater home of Hibernian football club.

“There’s a circus tent down there now,” said Claire.

“Let us hope,” I said, “that they don’t have elephants.”

Arthur Smith and sock of 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga

Arthur Smith in Edinburgh with the newly exhibited sock of the 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga

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The Edinburgh Fringe venue that doesn’t know where its own entrance is

Julie-Ann Laidlaw yesterday

Julie-Ann Laidlaw preparing yesterday

Yesterday, still zonked from my trip up to Edinburgh and not enlivened by six Red Bull drinks, I met Julie-Ann Laidlaw of Blond Ambition, who wanted me to plug her Vive La Variété show for the Cabaret vs Cancer charity this coming Sunday.

On the way to meet her, I bumped into the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge Claire Smith who told me The Scotsman is going to run a piece on me which quotes fellow Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Kate Copstick likening me to a “minah”.

I took this to mean a mynah bird, which tends to be rather noisy and annoying but, apparently she meant something else. I now presume possibly “minor”, but we shall wait to see what it says with anticipation.

But I digress.

Surely not.

“It was just after Bowie died,” Julie-Ann Laidlaw told me, Dusty Limits, Rose Thorne and Benjamin Louche set up a show in London – Ashes To Ashes – and donated all the ticket sales – over £5,000 – to Cabaret vs Cancer. Then they got in touch with me and asked if I would be their ambassador up here.

“Vive La Variété is on for the whole Fringe month and we have been collecting contributions in a bucket after each show but, on Sunday, we’re dedicating the whole show – all ticket sales – everything – to the charity.”

I asked: “Where does the Cabaret vs Cancer money go to?”

Vive La Variety also sells an all-nude charity calendar

Cabaret vs Cancer also sells a nude charity cabaret calendar

MacmillanCancer ResearchSt Joseph’s Hospice and St Joseph’s Bereavement Team for kids who have lost parents to cancer.

“I’ve got a few cabaret shows on throughout the Fringe, so I’ll take the bucket round them as well.”

“Shows such as?” I asked.

Cabaret Whore with Sarah-Louise Young, Doug Segal’s I Can Make You Feel Good, Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Four: Zis Time It’s War and Oh My Dad: Christ on a Bike with Jesus and his followers.”

“Does Christ still live in Glasgow?” I asked.

“Yes,” Julie-Ann confirmed. “I’ve got all those and The Illicit Thrill as well and over in Le Monde I have the Le Monde Cabaret hosted by Bruce Devlin and Fest on Forth at Harvey Nichols.”

“What does Christ do when he’s not being Christ?” I asked.

“He’s a dancer, a choreographer. He choreographs a lot of pantos.”

“Oh no he doesn’t,” I said.

No-one ever laughs when I say that, as I often do. I don’t know why. One of those things.

My personalised flyer from Thom Tuck

My personally illustrated flyer from Thom Tuck

It’s like very few people actually ever flyer me in the street. I think they glance at me and see some bloke well past his comedy-appreciating prime who will clearly never go to a Fringe show and is probably a former bank manager down on his luck and now shopping at Poundland.

Yesterday evening, as is often the case, I think I may have been the oldest person in the George Square Spiegeltent for the Edinburgh Festivals magazine launch. Even there, no-one flyered me except the ever-original and newly svelte Thom Tuck who was drawing individually-personalised flyers for his thom: foolery show.

There are some certainties amid the anarchy of the Fringe.

One is that it will rain.

A second is that people in the comedy industry will talk about Lewis Schaffer but not go to see his show.

Another is that I will rarely be flyered.

Mervyn Stutter in the street this morning

Mervyn Stutter was out the street this morning

And a third is that I will randomly bump into Mervyn Stutter in the street on the first day he arrives in Edinburgh. It happened again this morning. I took a photo of him. I think I have done this for the last three years and never used one.

Mervyn thinks that he rarely gets written about in my blog because – he believes – I am Lewis Schaffer’s personal blogger. “My show starts on Saturday,” Mervyn told me. “It’s my 25th year here.”

One day I may write about him. Both he and his Pick of The Fringe show are an Edinburgh institution.

Unlike the Gilded Balloon at The Counting House.

The Gilded Balloon’s Counting House The signposted entrance on the left on the left is not the entrance

The large entrance on the left is not the entrance to the venue. It’s actually the door on the right. I knew this; the staff didn’t.

This afternoon, I went to see my first show at The Counting House – dubiously and damagingly (for their reputation) taken over by the Gilded Balloon venue apparently after the owner approached them but against the wishes of the management. And comedians.

They have re-designed the outside of the building and it was interesting that the Gilded Balloon staff in the street did not know where the actual entrance to the venue was – they mis-directed me next door.

The upside once I was in and avoided the deadly step in the pitch dark venue room was that Katia Kvinge’s Squirrel show was… well… extraordinary… a proper smorgasbord of energy, intermingling a character comedy show and a ‘confessional’ autobiographical show. If she can keep this level of adrenaline-fuelled anarchy going, people will be going back day after day to see it.

If they could bottle this energy, it would become a drug of choice and be made illegal.

KatiaKvinge_Squirrel

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Three ways to publicise an Edinburgh Fringe show without using a PR person

No 1: THE LEWIS SCHAFFER PRESS RELEASE

LewisSchaffer_poster2016

Jewish comic recommended by a Palestinian

A fortnight ago, Lewis Schaffer sent out a press release:

“New York Jewish comic Lewis Schaffer has landed a Palestinian sponsor for his five star Edinburgh Fringe show Lewis Schaffer: You are Beautiful.”

Yesterday, he followed this up with a press release headed: Lewis Schaffer to crowdfund for his hit Edinburgh Show.

It began:


New York Jewish comic Lewis Schaffer is crowdfunding for his Five Star Edinburgh Fringe show Lewis Schaffer: You are Beautiful.

In yet another attempt to come up with new revenue streams, Lewis Schaffer has entered the world of crowdfunding.

Already this year Lewis Schaffer has accepted sponsorship from a Palestinian-owned freight company that serves the Middle East, now he has set up a crowd funding site.

Benefactors of Lewis Schaffer’s campaign will get the following rewards:

Purchasing one £10 ticket gets you one ticket to Lewis Schaffer: You Are Beautiful at Just the Tonic Community Project, Five Stars in The Scotsman.

Purchasing two £10 tickets gets you two tickets to Lewis Schaffer: You Are Beautiful at Just the Tonic Community Project, Five Stars in The Scotsman.

Purchasing four £10 tickets gets you four tickets to Lewis Schaffer: You Are Beautiful at Just the Tonic Community Project, Five Stars in The Scotsman.

Purchasing ten £10 tickets gets you ten tickets  to Lewis Schaffer: You Are Beautiful at Just the Tonic Community Project, Five Stars in The Scotsman.

Purchasing 100 £10 tickets gets you 100 tickets to Lewis Schaffer: You Are Beautiful at Just the Tonic Community Project, Five Stars in The Scotsman.


No 2: ELLIS & ROSE’S BEGGING LETTER

EllisAndRoseLetter2016

Ellis & Rose gave Copstick a red letter day

This week, I was shown a red letter – literally a red letter – by Kate Copstick, the most influential comedy critic at the Edinburgh Fringe. It read:


Dear Copstick,

We’re writing this letter to try to convince you to review our Edinburgh show this year, because we can’t afford a PR person and our hard-working producer is doing our PR (and everything else) for free – but she obviously has no clout because we’ve had no press stuff in the run up to the Fringe – not that anyone really reads that bollocks anyway.

We have worked really hard on making our show this year and we think we have a chance of impressing you enough to beat the three star review you gave us in 2013.

Love x
and sexy kisses
Ellis & Rose


They added a cartoon drawing of Copstick’s head saying A FLATTERING PORTRAIT OF YOU


No 3: THE LOUISE REAY FORTUNE COOKIE

LouiseReay_QueSera

Whatever will be performed wholly in Chinese

Yesterday was my birthday.

An anonymous letter arrived with my name and address scrawled on the envelope.

Inside the envelope was a sealed red sachet.

Inside the sealed red sachet was a Chinese fortune cookie.

I broke it open.

Inside the fortune cookie was a very small piece of paper with the printed message:

Do not clip your toe nails at night,
in case you are visited by a ghost.
You must enter The Caves,
Just Up The Road at 3.20pm.
It is your destiny. Que Sera 些拉 ?

That was the message in its entirety.

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Two comedians talk about cannibalism

Lewis Schaffer (left) and Martin Soan

Brian Simpson/Lewis Schaffer (left) & Martin Soan yesterday

Yesterday’s rather self-indulgent blog was about my rail trip to see comic Martin Soan at his home in Nunhead, London. Also there was Brian Simpson, the English character actor who performs as the New York Jewish comic Lewis Schaffer. We chatted…


BRIAN
John, is this really the end of the line for your daily blog?

JOHN
On the 31st of December, yes.

BRIAN
My point is…

MARTIN
There’s always a fucking point with you.

BRIAN
Because I’m trying to get some kind of meaning to my life. I’m not like you who is free-floating and everything’s OK.

MARTIN
I don’t think everything’s OK.

BRIAN
You’re contented. I guess the way you get contented is by not having a point. Because, once you start searching for a point, you will not find contentment. I’m always searching for a point, for some meaning.

MARTIN
Become a table tennis instructor. You would be a genius table tennis instructor. All you’ve got to do is just talk at them. Just talk, talk, talk at them.

JOHN
It’s talking balls. It’s ideal for you.

MARTIN
So what are we discussing?

BRIAN
John’s blog.

JOHN
Chris Dangerfield reckons he can’t remember talking to me for any of the blogs he has appeared in. I might as well have made them up. Although I suppose no-one could make up Chris Dangerfield.

BRIAN
You could. You could have made the entire blog up.

JOHN
Like you made up the Lewis Schaffer character? When are you going to come out as yourself?… Well, I suppose you already did in 2013, but people didn’t really believe it.

BRIAN
I am going to come out as Sarah Franken.

JOHN
Will Franken might be in my very last daily blog. I would prefer the last one to be about a court case that is brewing over the Edinburgh Fringe – because then I could end on a whacking cliffhanger, like The Italian Job. But the guy involved doesn’t want publicity yet. How is your campaign to save Southwark Woods going?

BRIAN
Chris Lynam is interested in the trees. He walks his dogs in Southwark Woods and he’s totally gung-ho about it all.

JOHN
If they want to cut down some trees to put in more burial plots, I…

MARTIN
(TO BRIAN) I’m not against your cause at all, but we’re coming to a population crisis in terms of interment. We’ve got to find a cost-effective way so we’re composted and produce crops for future generations to eat. That’s the next stage. But Mankind can’t accept that, so we do these things like cremations and burials. What we gotta do now is…

BRIAN
… chop up the bodies and make them into fertiliser?

MARTIN
Yeah. Absolutely. There’s no other way for Mankind to go on to the next stage in evolution on this planet unless we do that. We’ve got to recycle Mankind.

JOHN
The next stage of evolution is cannibalism?

BRIAN
That’s what I was thinking: Soylent Green.

MARTIN
Yeah, well we’re eating everything else.

BRIAN
The amount of space it takes to plant a dead body is very minimal. But they could just plant them in mass graves – layer them five on top of each other. They did that historically in this country. All of Camberwell Old Cemetery is people who were buried six deep.

MARTIN
But now we come to a critical phase of that, cos we can’t bury on Mortlake or Blackheath, because that’s Black Plague ground. We’re not allowed to disturb that ground for 150 years That’s why it’s become common.

JOHN
And I think there are plague pits under Soho. They have problems extending downwards.

MARTIN
So where do we go? We can’t take up more agricultural land. Everyone wants to build everywhere, so there’s less and less space. There’s got to be an efficient way of recycling human beings.

BRIAN
Why not put people six deep in a pit? They don’t do that in this country any more.

MARTIN
You can’t bury six bodies at a time.

JOHN
If the history of the Jews has taught us anything, it’s that you can bury people six deep.

BRIAN
…but they prefer to burn them. Jews are very flammable.

MARTIN
Mankind is expedentiating at a rate of…

BRIAN
Expedentiating? You just made up a word there.

MARTIN
Yeah, but I’m good at making up words, man.

BRIAN
Exponentially…

MARTIN
Expedentially. You understand where I’m theorising from now.

JOHN
You could bury them vertically.

MARTIN
Absolutely. It’s a real fucking issue now that no-one wants to face. It’s as big as chickens.

JOHN
As big as chickens?

MARTIN
Yeah. Don’t you understand?

BRIAN
I do. It’s one of those old sayings. The Bells of Bow Bridge or whatever.

JOHN
What does As big as chickens mean?

MARTIN
Of course it does.

JOHN
What is As big as chickens?

MARTIN
The disposal of Mankind upon itself.

JOHN
It’s a phrase you have just made up.

MARTIN
There is no other way to look at it.

BRIAN
(TO MARTIN) Is that a phrase you just made up?

MARTIN
Yeah.

JOHN
That’s a relief.

BRIAN
The point I am making is… We are not disagreeing with any of your points.

JOHN
Yes we are.

BRIAN
We aren’t.

MARTIN
(TO BRIAN) You just want to argue all the time.

JOHN
(TO BRIAN) You want to argue because you’ve turned into Lewis Schaffer. You made him up and now you’ve become him.

BRIAN
I want to argue because I am an ENPT type on the Myers-Briggs scale. ENPT-T. That’s the rage, now, if you’re interested in what’s going on.

JOHN
What does the T stand for?

BRIAN
Trouble.

JOHN
No it doesn’t.

BRIAN
Turbulent. I’m a debater. I like debating.

JOHN
I have lost the will to live. Set fire to me… Martin, when is your next Pull the Other One?

MARTIN
January the 29th.

JOHN
Who’s on?

MARTIN
Phil Kay, Darren Walsh and The Short Man in Long Socks.

Pull the Other One - 29th January 2016

JOHN
At last I will see him!

BRIAN
Who?

JOHN
The Short Man in Long Socks.

BRIAN
Where’s he from?

MARTIN
He works mainly in the Eastern European cabaret circuit.

BRIAN
What’s his act like?

MARTIN
Indescribable.

JOHN
That’s why I want to see him. He’s a legend.

BRIAN
I’ve never seen him.

MARTIN
Yes you have. We were filming for the 8th anniversary of Pull the Other One, which we called the 10th anniversary for publicity purposes. You were interviewed and…

BRIAN
That’s right! He popped in and popped out. I met him, but I’ve never seen the act.


After that, the conversation degenerated even more.

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Filed under Comedy, Death

Two comedians talk about being failures

Will Franken (right) gives Lewis Schaffer 60p at St Pancras station

Will Franken (right) pays back Lewis Schaffer 60p in London

It is Christmas Day.

Bah! Humbug!

So here are British-based American comics Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer talking about being failures in the comedy business, with a couple of questions from me…


WILL
Lenny Bruce could not have made it in this day and age.

LEWIS
Did he make it even in his day and age?

WILL
He did make it in that day and age. Well…

LEWIS
Yes, he made it briefly, for a couple of years.

JOHN
Did he make money?

LEWIS
He did make money. He had a house in the Hollywood Hills.

WILL
Two reasons why he would not have made it today… ONE Because everybody’s got to be a fucking businessman and he didn’t have a scrap of businessman in him.

LEWIS
That’s totally not true. He was a…

WILL
He was a vaudeville guy.

LEWIS
He had been doing it for years and years. He was a crook. He used to go out in the street and pretend he was…

WILL
…a priest. I know.

LEWIS
…and to hustle.

WILL
Yeah, but that was a bit, man.

JOHN
A Christian priest?

WILL
Yeah.

LEWIS
There is no way – ever – somebody could be a success without being good at business.

WILL
You’re out of your mind, man. There was something different in those days. And the second reason he would not make it in this day and age is because people no longer understand the concept Freedom of Speech. They don’t get why Political Correctness is anathema to it.

LEWIS
You are talking about a man who was destroyed for what he said. You say they understood Freedom of Speech back then?

WILL
If he was around today…

LEWIS
They were putting him in jail, in jail, in jail.

WILL
If he was around today, he’d be going after every PC sacred cow there is and they’d say: Oh my God! This guy’s a racist! Let’s not go to his shows!

LEWIS
Exactly. So he wouldn’t make money.

JOHN
But Jerry Sadowitz does that.

LEWIS
And he does make money, yes. But he doesn’t put his head above the parapet. He doesn’t make Facebook announcements. He has his own 200 people going to every single show. And he makes a decent living from that.

WILL
He’s a cult.

LEWIS
He’s a cult. But you (TALKING TO WILL) want to be more than a cult.

WILL
I don’t want to be more than a cult. I’m happy being a cult.

LEWIS
You want to be bigger than Jerry Sadowitz.

WILL
This pisses me off about you. You say I want to be bigger than Jerry Sadowitz. No. I want to be able to pay my rent, buy some classic literature every now and then and go to the movies. That’s it. That’s all I want.

LEWIS
Well, then, you’re being a bad businessman.

WILL
How good a business person do you have to be to pay your rent? You don’t have to be Donald Trump.

LEWIS
As a comedian, you’ve got to be really good.

WILL
You don’t know what you’re talking about. If you were sitting there in an Armani suit and you’d just come of a 500-seat gig, I’d say: Yeah. I’ll never be like Lewis. But the fact is you and I are squabbling over £50…

LEWIS
I didn’t say I was a good businessman. I’m an absolute failure as a businessman.

WILL
I went to three different countries in October.

LEWIS
I know. You were a somebody back then.

WILL
This was only two months ago. I had a comfortable…

LEWIS
You only speak to me when you’re doing badly.

WILL
Exactly.

LEWIS
Why do you do that?

WILL
Because it reinforces my self-pity. The way this business is… I wasn’t gigging last night, so I went on Twitter, scrolling through, waiting to see if somebody agrees with me that ISIS are bad people. I’ve been doing this lately. Does anybody think ISIS deserves to be punished? And I see Lewis Schaffer is in North Allerton. He’s supposed to be a failure! You’re my barometer for failure, Lewis! So, if Lewis Schaffer is gigging and I’m not, that’s not good and I have to call you. Whereas, if I’m going to three different countries in a month…

LEWIS
You wanna know why I had a gig and you didn’t? Because last year I spent a couple of months working. Actually working. And that’s something you do not do.

WILL
I work!

LEWIS
No, you spend time on your comedy, which is why you’re so funny. You go home and write shows. Every single day, you’re thinking of comedy.

JOHN
(TO LEWIS) You were working at what?

LEWIS
Working is doing stuff you don’t wanna know. It’s calling up people on the phone and saying: Hey! Can I come to North Allerton?

WILL
You told me you’re a failure.

LEWIS
IAM a failure! But you’re more of a failure than I am, because you’re funny. That’s what I like about you. You make me feel good. Of all the people I know, you have the largest gap between what you have achieved and what you deserve to achieve. You are totally capable of achieving great things. You could be a success tomorrow and this whole conversation will sound so fucking stupid. You have time. There’s an old saying: A happy ending depends on when they end the movie. Your movie might have another four hours to go.

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