Yesterday afternoon, with my eternally-un-named friend, I went to Brunel University in West London for the launch of their new Centre For Comedy Studies Research which aims to “promote and facilitate academic research on the comedy/society interface”.
In some ways, it is good for academics to treat comedy seriously though – as is often the case – this can sometimes lapse into intelligent people creating abstract academic ‘things’ to study to get an income and to spend their time on. The phrase ‘looking up your own arse’ is ready-made for these situations and deserves more detailed research.
When I sit through a discussion of ‘Polish jokes’ and encounter the sentences “The Polish trickster is a master of the paradoxes of porosity” and “It moves from a phobic to a philic register” I sometimes think a psychopath climbing up a university bell tower with a high-powered rifle and picking-off people at random is not necessarily performing a negative function in society.
On the other hand, the delightfully dour Rose – one of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s entourage – is currently writing her third academic thesis on Lewis Schaffer and there could be entire university departments profitably studying the psychological and sociological intricacies of Lewis Schaffer’s neuroses.
Hellfire! There must be multiple theses to be written on why he keeps repeating his full name “Lewis Schaffer” and why he attracts off-the-proverbial-wall incidents at his shows. Last night was no exception – and a good antidote to academia. It was one of his ongoing twice-a-week Free Until Famous shows which go hand-in-pocket with his ongoing weekly pay-to-enter American in London shows.
I arrived slightly late which, a whole two minutes after I was seated, managed to distract him from the flow of his performance. He was on form, though. Good show, good audience reaction.
Later, amidst the glamour of Leicester Square’s flagship McDonalds, Lewis told me:
“I’ve lost track whether my shows are good or not. My shows are like a rollercoaster. Most rollercoasters start with a slow incline up. Mine start with a drop into a pit. All I care about is making them interesting for me. I can’t start a show with people enjoying themselves because I’ve just got a feeling it’s going to get worse. I feel I have to start off with them hating me and build it up. I guess I want to be loved – I want to be loved by people who don’t love me.
“If they come into my show with high expectations of enjoyment, I just want to quash that. The key to my shows is that the audience, at some point, has to believe I’m a professional comedian and I can only be self-deprecating for a short period of the show. But I didn’t feel I was that brilliant tonight.”
“And then there was the drunk,” I said.
At the end of the first part of his nearly two-hour long show, Lewis Schaffer told the audience he was going to hide behind a curtain during the interval so that, if anyone wanted to leave without embarrassment, they could.
“Why were you hiding behind the curtain?” I asked.
“For scientific purposes,” Lewis Schaffer told me.
While Lewis Schaffer was hiding behind the curtain, a drunk came down into the basement venue and sat in a corner. At the time, I was upstairs buying a coffee for my eternally-un-named friend.
“He was young middle-aged,” she told me later, describing the man who came in. “He shuffled in wearing a dark jacket. He sat down at a table where two people had been sitting, but they’d gone to the bar to get a drink. He sat hunched over, holding a carrier bag to his chest in the way of the psychologically wounded or drunk, like someone who is cold. I thought Oh, is he a drunk who often comes in and tries to sleep in the corner during Lewis’ shows?
“If he’d come in without being so obviously drunk or damaged and then just leant against a corner in the dark, he would probably have been left alone because it wouldn’t have felt like he was so obviously the elephant in the room but, because he was slumped forward in a sleepy, drunken way… Rose realised there was this guy who was going to alter the atmosphere of the room, so she went to warn Lewis behind the curtain that there was a possible situation.”
“He was a proper, full-on, drunk, homeless guy,” Lewis told me. “He came in and passed out at the back of the room. He was very huge and very dangerous and we had to start the second half of the show and I felt I didn’t have the time to escort him out myself, so I asked the bartender to escort him out.”
“The barman was young,” explained my eternally-un-named friend, “and Italian, so English was not his first language. I think he was telling the guy You’re only allowed in here if you buy a drink and you’re too drunk to have one, so you’ll have to leave and the drunk guy was disputing this.”
I came back into to room when the barman had got the drunk man on his feet and they were both shuffling towards the bottom of the stairs.
Things apparently got physical up in the street and the drunk guy allegedly punched the bartender, the bartender allegedly punched the drunk guy and the drunk guy allegedly threw something at the kebab shop above the venue, cracking the window.
“It caused maybe £1,500 of damage” Lewis Schaffer told me,
“And your point is?” I asked.
“My point is that I feel horrible because I’ve had 20 years in the bar business – that’s what my job is compering and hosting comedy shows – and I know how to get people out of a place without getting them angry. I should have done it myself… Is there something funny in that for your blog?”
“Your shows are never less than entertaining,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “Some people see the bottle as half empty; some people see the bottle as half full. You always see an empty bottle.”
“So it goes,” he said.