Yesterday night, with comedians Ivor Dembina and Lewis Schaffer, I went to see writer Mark Kelly’s stage-work-in-progress What A Day at the unusual venue of London’s National Film Theatre. Teakshow duo Johnny Hansler and Jackie Stirling performed. The play will probably be re-titled on future outings and is unusual in probably having more gags-per-minute than Lewis Schaffer has self-doubts-per-minute.
Meanwhile, a film-maker named Jonathan Schwab has shot a 10-minute short – Lewis Schaffer Is Free Until Famous – which is on Vimeo, but which remains password-protected so no-one can see it, because Lewis Schaffer has his doubts.
No news there.
Writing “Lewis Schaffer has his doubts” is like writing “The Sahara has its sand”.
“It’s a technically very well-made film,” I reassured him last night.
“I know,” Lewis Schaffer shot back. “He’s a serious German film-maker. Looks a bit like Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks and Showgirls. But I’m worried I’ll be like Emil Jannings in The Last Laugh. Have you seen it?”
“Well, you’ll know what I mean.”
“Not remotely,” I replied.
“The pathos,” said Lewis Schaffer. “To me, I thought it was an incredible movie.”
“The Last Laugh?” I asked.
“The film about me,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I thought it was an incredible movie, It’s a brilliant film. I just wish I wasn’t in it.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s just me bitching about how I’m not any good,” said Lewis Schaffer.
“But that’s your schtick,” I said. “That’s your act. All your shows are made up of you saying you’re no good or telling people your name is Lewis Schaffer. The film is great publicity. The only thing publicity can do is make you interesting enough for people to want to go see your live show and they will make up their own minds on your act after they see the show.”
“No,” said Lewis Schaffer. “They’ll see this guy on the film and think Oh my god, his shows are going to be irretrievably horrible.”
“I think it’s good publicity,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “It will intrigue people who don’t know you and it will increase your standing among other comics simply because someone has actually chosen to make a film about you instead of them. The main thing is it shows your face and it keeps saying the words Lewis Schaffer.”
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen.” said Lewis Schaffer. “Jonathan Schwab will be famous for making this film. His film is like the end of Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street.”
“I’ve not seen Scarlet Street,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “What happens?”
“Edward G Robinson had killed his… had killed… I can’t remember, but he was going through a mid-life crisis and his comeuppance was… I can’t remember… He was sentenced to roaming round the city as a broken, un-famous man like me… No, he was a weekend dabbler as a painter and this young girl took his paintings and sold them as hers and the girl became famous for his paintings.”
“Well,” I told Lewis Schaffer, “I have to tell you I’m working on an act very similar to yours and thinking of performing it myself at the Edinburgh Fringe this year… But what’s your Scarlet Street comeuppance?”
“My comeuppance is being known as a depressed failure.”
“That’s not your comeuppance,” I said. “That’s your entire stage act.”
“I say in the film I’m tragic,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’m not tragic. Well, I am tragic, of course, but other people don’t need to know that.”
“They can’t avoid it,” I said. “If they go to your show, you keep telling them that!”
“I’ve had a tragic life,” Lewis said, warming to his theme, “in that every person’s life who lives an unfulfilled life is tragic – who doesn’t accomplish what he could accomplish or should accomplish and every single day is doing less than he could be doing.”
“But you’ve appeared in my blog repeatedly,” I pointed out to him. “What greater fame could you want?”
“I could be happier,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I don’t even know if I even want fame. It’s not a question of fame; it’s a question of accomplishing something. In a way, my life is tragic, but no more tragic than other people’s. Have you seen the comment on my Facebook page? It’d make a good ending for your blog.”
“What does it say?” I asked.
Lewis Schaffer read it out to me.
“I’m not sure that’s a good ending,” I told him. “It’s a bit negative.”
“It’s a good ending for your blog about Lewis Schaffer,” Lewis Schaffer told me.
This is what the comment on Lewis Schaffer’s Facebook page says:
For the millionth fucking time, take me off your goddamn mailing list. Sitting through your show was one of the most painful experiences of my life, stop reminding me of it. REMOVE THE EMAIL ADDRESS FROM YOUR FUCKING MAILING LIST!!!!!!!
“It’s a good ending for your blog about Lewis Schaffer,” Lewis Schaffer repeated.
At the time of writing this blog, Jonathan Schwab’s excellent 10-minute Vimeo film remains password-protected so that the public can’t see it, because Lewis Schaffer remains unsure if it is good for his image.
His twice-every-week show Free Until Famous – the longest-running solo comedy show in London – continues every Tuesday and Wednesday in the glittering West End (well, South West Soho, near Piccadilly Circus) and his weekly radio show Nunhead American Radio With Lewis Schaffer continues on the internet every Monday night on Resonance FM.
“What are you going to do about your hair?” I asked him.
“I think I might go grey,” said Lewis Schaffer. “What do you think? I’m not sure. The trouble is all my publicity photos have black hair. I would have to have new photos taken.”
“You could get them taken for free by St Martin’s,” I suggested.
“I think I might maybe go grey,” said Lewis Schaffer.