Midway through her three-week series of gigs in and around San Francisco, 84-year-old comic and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller has realised something…
Here in the US, Donald Trump jokes do not work… even in California, where voters are overwhelmingly Democratic.
There are large clusters of angry people who believe Donald Trump is refreshing (!) and honest (!!!) and they do not think he is being fairly covered by the press (who definitely hate him because he violates everyone’s sense of integrity, honesty and human awareness).
I am also aware of how important it is in this particular comedy scene to do set-up and punchline with little in between.
Stories do not work as well here as they do in the UK. Americans want their jokes to be fast just like the food they eat. And they do not drink enough to soften the edges and see humor just because they want to see it.
After one show here, I went out to dinner with Bob Johnston who has been a redneck comedian for the past 21 years. His comedy is fast and hard-hitting and he has experienced success in pockets of the country where they like blue-collar humor.
He lives in Martinez, another bedroom community in the San Francisco Bay area, and he has begun a series of comedy shows in an amphitheatre there that have been hugely successful.
My friend Brett was with us and we talked comedy and people we knew over a dinner that was a typical American mess of large portions of unidentifiable food. There was a slaw of some kind with mint in it, fried plantains and what was supposed to be cod in so much batter I never did find the fish. It made me miss Bardsley’s Fish and Chips in Brighton, England, where the cod tastes better than a gourmet steak and the batter is to die for.
Do not tell ME the English do not know how to create good food. Their fish and chips are beyond compare.
Just do not get me started on haggis. (Sorry Scotland)
Brett is a perfect example of what has happened to the middle class in the Bay area.
It is very like London in that Brett has a good job with a fine salary that anywhere else would be enough to support him and give him many luxuries – but which, here, he cannot even consider. He thinks of himself middle class as all of us do but he cannot afford an apartment of his own and he certainly cannot consider expensive vacations or nights out on the town.
The sad thing is that he is a marvellous comedian but, by the time he finishes his eight-hour job and two-hour commute to wherever he is living, he is too exhausted to perform in a comedy show that keeps him out until midnight or after.
That is the plight of would-be comedians here. They cannot support themselves on comedy alone unless they are TV stars and a daytime job saps your energy so that, even if you do not mind operating on 5 hours sleep, you cannot be as sharp as you could be or in tune with your audience.
I suspect this is a similar plight of comedians in London.
Brett is in contrast to the man I described in yesterday’s blog who has found himself homeless and helpless.
Brett has never stopped working at anything anywhere to take care of himself. When he was evicted from his first flat in Pacifica, he went door-to-door and followed ad after ad until he found something. He was not bogged down with self-pity or paralyzed with a sense of inadequacy. He fought the system and found a niche he could live in.
The day after our dinner I met Mike Moto, a superb comedian who had a stroke three years ago and is recovering slowly but surely. He is a marvel and very, very funny. His day job is doing taxes and he is still top-notch at his job. The thing I love about him is his perseverance.
He is recovering slowly from the damage the stroke did to his motor abilities and this is one time when I wanted to transport him to the UK where there are troupes of comedians with disabilities doing very well throughout the country like Abnormally Funny People.
Nick Leonard came by to take me to lunch. He is a gay comedian, sometimes an adorable Tranny, who lived in London for a time and has turned to acting to support himself, only doing comedy occasionally. He is a master at set-up and punchline and I was telling him about the famous UK suffragette Alice Hawkins who was arrested several times for being offensive.
I told Nick I am now paid to be offensive and he said: “That’s progress.”
That night, I sang Zip (the song that got a standing ovation in London) at The Stud in San Francisco and this time, instead of a standing ovation, I got about $80 in tips which buys a lot more dinners than a standing ovation. To put this in perspective, the audience throw folded dollars onto the stage and the average take is about $20.
The show is a tribute to Red Bone who is the host and is hugely capable not to mention drop-dead gorgeous… and Dottie Lux, the founder of Red Hot Burlesque. She has made it a true variety show, not just bums and tits.
One young lady secured teacups in her bra and people threw sugar cubes into them. Then she poured water into the cups, poured that into her hat and did a bit of magic to make the water disappear.
After the show, I was waiting for my ride home and a young man came up to me and told me he had filmed me at one of my shows years ago. He remembered my house in Pacifica and a show he filmed at The Shelton Theatre.
I have always felt that I made no impression at all in my 30 years here, despite having two local TV programs, exhibiting and selling art, writing columns and features for a newspaper and a magazine and of course doing comedy.
But, evidently, there are still a few people who actually remember that I was once part of this scene.
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