Tag Archives: shambolic

How I ate in a Chinese restaurant in London’s Soho with four New York Jews

Lewis Schaffer on stage last night

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Last night, I went to see American comedian Lewis Schaffer’s ongoing 90-minute twice-weekly Free Until Famous comedy show in London’s Soho. Every time a different show, but I almost got bushwhacked in Leicester Square by the ever-persuasive Dan March, flogging his excellent monthly sketch show Skitsophrenia. Well, it’s a show featuring The Real MacGuffins, but Dan is one of ‘em. It’s very good. I saw it at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“I’ll come and see it in May,” I told Dan. I’m away in April.”

“Where?” he asked.

“I’m not saying,” I replied.

“When did you get back from Adelaide?” he asked.

“I never went,” I replied. “It’s the power of bullshit in blogging. It just seems like I did because I quoted people’s e-mails so often.”

I had told Lewis Schaffer I was coming with comedian Bob Slayer but, at the last moment, Bob could not make it. I suspect he is probably still hiding from the wrath of expatriate Australians after his sojourn in Oz where, I imagine, the good people of Perth and Adelaide may bear the psychological and emotional scars for years.

Lewis Schaffer – always call him ‘Lewis Schaffer’, never just plain ‘Lewis’ – it’s more memorable in publicity terms – managed a stonker of a show, good from start to finish, despite five 18-year-old American girls in the front row who appeared to have had a major humour bypass or possibly even a humor bypass.

They were particularly offended by Lewis Schaffer’s circumcision routine and by his closing Holocaust routine – which still includes the best Holocaust joke I have ever heard.

After the show, I went with Lewis Schaffer, a New Yorker called Peter who lives in London and Jenna, the girl who rents Peter’s apartment in New York, to a Chinese restaurant in Soho. On the way, bizarrely, we bumped into Jenna’s father Steve. He is passing through London, working, for a week. Don’t ask. I didn’t.

So that’s how I ended up in a Chinese restaurant in London’s Soho with four New York Jews and that’s where the question came up:

“Who is John and what does he do?”

Steve asked Lewis Schaffer.

As I have mentioned before in this blog, I have never been able to explain what I do. I wish someone could tell me.

“Do you know the phrase fingers in pies?” Lewis Schaffer asked Steve.

Steve nodded.

Lewis Schaffer shrugged and nodded towards me.

“I was working with Reg Hunter…” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Who’s that?” Steve asked.

“There are only five American comedians who are of any note in this country,” explained Lewis Schaffer. “There’s the black guy which is Reg Hunter. There’s the left wing guy which is Rich Hall. There’s the hippy guy which is Dave Fulton. There’s the gay guy which is Scott Capurro. And there’s a fifth…”

“You?” I prompted.

“No, I’m not noteworthy,” Lewis Schaffer replied absentmindedly. “Anyway there’s one more. But there’s not enough room in this country for even four, because they hate American comedians here because we’re not one of the tribe… So I was working with Reg over at the Arts Theatre… I liked Reg. Same as Peter,” he said, nodding at the young guy sitting opposite him. “Just as soon as I met Peter, I liked the guy. Did you sense Lewis Schaffer liked you?”

Peter shrugged.

“With you, John,” Lewis Schaffer said, looking at me, I didn’t know if I would like you or not, because you’re a shambolic, horrible-looking mess of a man. You don’t shave. You need your hair cut. It’s longer in the back. It’s like a Larry David kind of haircut. It’s like a mullet. I just met you and I didn’t know exactly what you did or what you wanted from me and I still don’t… So I said to Reg Hunter, who was my friend at the time – he doesn’t call me now. He doesn’t speak to me. People don’t like me.”

Jenna laughed loudly.

“Stop it!” said Lewis Schaffer. “We’re not in New York. This is why you’re going to hate living here. You’ve gotta lower your expectations.”

“Look at the food,” said Jenna.

“It looks good from a distance,” said Lewis Schaffer. “But then you taste it… It’s like my penis.”

“Small portions,” I said.

“It’s probably true,” said Steve, “that all comedians have small penises, because the whole comedy thing is a result of…”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer, “I just pretend that I’ve got a small penis for the sake of comedy. “My penis is very large – it’s nine inches long. I measured it this morning. I put the ruler in backwards – 12 – 11 – 10 – 9 inches. How long into the skin are you allowed to jam the ruler?… So I asked Reg: What about this guy John Fleming? He looks like a shambolic mess.

“A shambolic mess?” Steve asked.

“Look at this man,” Lewis Schaffer said to Steve, pointing to me, “This man is a dictionary definition of shambolic.”

“Is ‘shambolic’ not a word in America?” I asked.

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer. It’s not a word here either. There is no word ‘shambolic’ in English dictionaries.”

“There is,” I protested.

“There isn’t,” said Lewis Schaffer. “There’s no word for ‘gullible’ in the dictionary either.”

“In America?” I asked.

“Anywhere,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Yes there is,” I protested.

“John,” said Jenna. “He’s just trying to make you seem gullible.”

“Very smart girl,” said Lewis Schaffer to Steve. “Your daughter’s very smart… So, I said to Reg, Is he a reasonable guy? Look at the way he looks? He hasn’t shaved. So he said… I can’t remember the funny quote, but he said…”

“Who said?” asked Steve.

“This guy Reg Hunter,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “He’s the Number One comedian in this country.”

“Does this guy really even exist?” asked Steve.

“Yes,” insisted Lewis Schaffer. “He said I like the way he looks…”

“Who?” asked Steve.

“John,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I’ve never met him!” I interrupted.

“He said I like the way he looks,” Lewis Schaffer continued, “because, in this country, you never trust a man who wears new clothes – because he’s trying too hard.”

There was a long pause.

“Trying too hard?” asked Steve.

“Trying too hard,” repeated Lewis Schaffer. “Because in this country… Well, maybe he didn’t say that. But I’m saying that. That’s what Reg Hunter said.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Well,” said Lewis Schaffer, “I don’t want to misquote him. I don’t want to put words into Reg’s mouth which he didn’t say because I want to use it in my show.”

“I often get mistaken for Brad Pitt,” I said.

No-one laughed.

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How did spaghetti-juggling get into this year’s Edinburgh Fringe programme?

The ever-energetic comic Bob Slayer is looking after The Hive venue at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for the Laughing Horse Free Festival and, back in January, he asked me if I wanted to do any chat-type shows based on my blog.

I had already arranged to stage a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe.

So we arranged that I would precede this with four ‘talking head’ shows. Debates, but with comedians. I would chair the first two and doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick (a Malcolm Hardee Award judge) would chair the second two. The subjects seemed quite clear:

On Monday – “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – based on a blog I wrote which comedy industry website Chortle later used.

On Tuesday – “Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!” – again based on a blog of mine which Chortle later printed.

On Wednesday –  “Have the Big Boys Fucked Up The Fringe?” about large promoters, producers and management agencies’ effect on the Fringe.

On Thursday – “Are Bono, Bob and the Big Boys Fucking Up The World?” about charity and aid money.

This was all OK until Copstick discovered, at the last moment, that she had to be in London for the final of ITV’s new reality TV series Show Me The Funny on the same days as her planned Fringe debates – and possibly rehearsing in London on the previous two days.

This happened a few days before the final Fringe Programme deadline, when the titles and billings had already been submitted.

I have always wanted to hear the introduction, “And now… a man juggling spaghetti…”

I would accept a woman. If you have a spare one, let me know.

But, if I could hear that introduction and then see someone do it, I could die happy and fulfilled.

Since the mid-1980s, when I was working on the LWT series Game For a Laugh, through series like The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, I half-heartedly tried to find someone who could juggle cooked spaghetti for more than one minute. It appears it cannot be done. In the 1990s, I tried with the brilliant juggler Steve Rawlings, at which point, I gave up – If he can’t do it, no-one can do it, I thought – but it has always simmered away at the back of my mind.

So, on the basis that I could not think of anything better, I decided to hold the Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contest – Year One (who knows if there will be a Year Two, but it sounds good) at the Laughing Horse Free Fringe venue which is exactly what it says in the name – Outside The Beehive – in Grassmarket for 45 minutes on the final Tuesday and Wednesday nights of the Edinburgh Fringe.

It should be messy and, if it rains, shambolically messy – a fitting tribute to Malcolm Hardee. But it might get a few pictures in the media and/or some word-of-mouth to plug the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the Friday night. And I suspect I can get quite a few comics to wander along and take part as well as members of the public.

The submission has gone in to Guinness to see if – in the unlikely event someone can actually keep cooked spaghetti in the air for more than a minute – they would actually recognise spaghetti-juggling as a world record.

Now all I have to do is find somewhere to get large amounts of cooked spaghetti on two nights in Edinburgh in late August…

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