Tag Archives: Will Franken

Sketchy comedian Will Franken admits: “I am unable to create in moderation”

Will Franken

Will – raising the dead – using sketch comedy

It is that time of year when comedians are preparing their shows for the Edinburgh Fringe in August and are looking for free venues in which to perform previews. One such is the performance area at the back of comedy critic Kate Copstick’s charity shop Mama Biashara in Shepherd’s Bush, London.

Next Friday and Saturday evening, Italian comics Romina Puma and Giacinto Palmieri are previewing early versions of their Edinburgh shows. And the following weekend – on the afternoon of Sunday 8th May, American comic Will Franken is hosting his third 4-hour comedy workshop at Mama Biashara. This one is titled:

RAISING THE DEAD: USING SKETCH COMEDY TO BREATHE LIFE INTO STAND-UP

“Who is this aimed at?” I asked Will.

“Anybody who wants to do something different,” he told me. “And anybody who wants to get to the essence of a sketch quicker. I think people are prone to take a course from me because they’re tired of doing the same things. I think the problem is there is so much regularity in comedy.

“I think a lot of sketches go on far too long. They don’t know a clever way out. They don’t know the Monty Python approach of Don’t beat them over the head with a sledgehammer punchline, just find a nice segue into something else. Brevity!”

“You’re very keen on characters,” I said.

“Love characters,” he replied.

“Hiding behind them?” I asked.

“Yeah, I think so. A couple of years ago, Fest magazine wrote about me: He’s a rare breed of character comedian. He has no love for his characters.

“The trouble is it’s hard for me to love a character long enough to let them live past five minutes. Usually I kill them off after 2 or 3 minutes and I’m onto the next character. It’s a very Monty Python type approach.”

“You’re not interested in sitcoms?” I asked.

“I’m more geared to sketch than sitcom. I think with sitcom you have to have a great love for your characters. I’ve always envied people like David Renwick who created One Foot in The Grave. The love he must have had for Victor Meldrew to be able to carry that through so many series! And Father Ted. They’re great examples of sitcoms. I never liked Monty Python when they had recurring characters.”

Comedy performer and writer Ariane Sherine was sitting with us. She has written for the sitcoms My Family and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps as well as various children’s shows including The Story of Tracy Beaker. I asked her what she thought.

“I quite like to inhabit a character in a sitcom,” she said, “and see how they develop and change. You can’t really do that with sketch. Though in, say, The Fast Show, they re-visit the same characters. It’s effectively the same sketch each week. It depends what you like – whether you like to feel that you are growing and developing this character and seeing them change or more likely seeing them not learn from their mistakes. Or you like the diversity of being able to have any type of situation in any location and it doesn’t matter about continuity.”

I said: “I never really liked Vic Reeves Big Night Out because they just seemed to be doing the same sketch over and over again.”

“I much prefer,” said Will, “their actual sketch shows like The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer.”

“So you wouldn’t have a recurring or developing character?” I asked.

Alan Bennett in 1973 (Photograph by Allan Warren)

Playwright Alan Bennett photographed in 1973 by Allan Warren

“I do have a character now,” admitted Will, “that I can see possibly going on for a long time. He’s in my Edinburgh Fringe show this year. He’s a Yorkshireman and I’ve been slowly perfecting the accent, listening to Alan Bennett nightly. I’ve just got into Alan Bennett’s stuff. He’s amazing.”

“And your character?” I asked.

“He’s working on a children’s story called Little Jo about a half-pig, half-rabbit who lives in water and, in order to stay alive, he’s gotta spin round and round, spitting out water from both mouths for all eternity.

“That’s the beginning of this year’s show. And then there’s this whole story about how his relatives don’t die and so he murders all of his descendants so they don’t have to live the life that his Nan’s Nan had, who grew up to be 500 years old… Cos that’s no life for a child: to be 500 years old. So I slaughtered all of them and that’s why no-one brings me cake on me birthday… and somewhere sandwiched in the middle of all that is going to be my regular sketch weirdness.”

“Have you done sketch group comedy?” I asked.

“I did once and they said too many of my bits were racist! It was in North Carolina and I had a bit where Whitney Houston has a mental breakdown during a recording of The Greatest Love of All. She’s singing nonsense lyrics: I believe Jeremiah Crenshaw destroyed the world in 1962…

“…and the studio engineer interrupts her to say the lyrics don’t make sense and she says: What the fuck you know, muthafucka? In North Carolina, they said it was too racist, so I could never get my ideas past the group.

“Before that, when I was 16, I had two friends in Missouri and we wrote a little sketch revue for about 20 friends at the coffee shop. But they didn’t want to do it for a living and I did. Sometimes I regret that I don’t have a group. I think it would be nice, but I think I’ve passed that stage now where I could fit into any group.

“It’s like if you’ve been single for a long time, it’s hard to have a wife because you gotta adjust and compromise and I don’t think I’m able to do that.

“You could,” I suggested, “try a sex commune?”

“Possibly. But then I’d get jealous. I have such low self-esteem it’d be like: Whaat? I think free love is very selfish. I’m only into monogamy, unless I don’t like the girl, when I’m into one-night stands. I vacillate between misogyny and monogamy.”

I asked: “You think free love is very selfish?”

“Yeah. I dated a Hare Krishna girl one time and she was seeing somebody else. The guy was away in a hospital, selling his body for medication and medical experiments. I didn’t know this for a whole month… and then he came back. So I associate free love with hippie girls in long broomstick skirts and deceit.”

“You do a podcast, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yeah, I had a very highly successful… I hate to use the word Podcast… I call them Albums. At one point, I had 50,000 listeners. I used to do them pretty regularly and then I started drinking and doing drugs and now I’ve been sober for two years and it’s scarier to put the headphones on and start recording again without the drugs.”

“When did you start doing them?”

“2006. They’re like my live shows: there can be five of me going at once.”

Will Franken

Will Franken randomly approaches podcasts like a symphony

“What’s the podcast called?”

Things We Did Before Reality.”

“So,” I said, “you have been doing this for the last ten years and I have not noticed? How many episodes have I missed?”

“About 25. They’re very insane. I don’t smoke pot any more, but you can put your headphones on, smoke a joint and go off into cuckoo land with it.”

“Is it weekly?”

“God no. When I first started, they were almost every two weeks.”

“And now they’re what? Monthly? Regularly?”

“I approach them like a symphony,” said Will. “The thing is I’m such a perfectionist.”

“Indecision or perfection?” I asked.

“I think it’s perfectionism.”

“So they are released randomly?” I asked.

“Very randomly, yeah.”

“And you’ve just done one?”

“Yeah. This one’s not been published yet but this is my first one in about a year and a half. Maybe within the week it will be published. Before that, I hadn’t done one in more than four years. They’re mostly about 30 minutes long. There’s one called Side Two of Abbey Road where I use all the songs on Side 2 of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album to tell my life story.

“It’s like a one-man sketch thing. You sit with the headphones on all day and you hear playbacks of yourself doing a Yorkshire accent, a Scottish accent, talking to yourself on a train and you really lose your mind by the end of the day. I just woke up this morning chain-smoking and resenting having to go get food. I don’t want a shower, I don’t want to leave the house. The phone rings, I don’t want to answer it. I am unable to create in moderation.”


WILL’S SKETCH COMEDY WORKSHOP IS ORGANISED BY ARLENE GREENHOUSE PROMOTIONS – greenhouse effect@btinternet.com

 

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Will – formerly Sarah, formerly Will – Franken on drugs and shooting himself

Will Franken outside King’s cross station

Will Franken outside King’s Cross… via the British Library

When I met American comic Will Franken at London’s King’s Cross station, he had come direct from the British Library where he had been reading original Elizabethan manuscripts. But his new passion is Sir Walter Scott.

“I’m reading the Waverley novels chronologically,” he told me.

“In order of publication?” I asked.

“In order of historical setting. His dialogue is wonderful. I always read them out loud. Even if I’m on a tube train, I’ll whisper softly to myself. It creates an oral-aural link. It comes out of your mouth, goes back to your ear and tricks you into thinking you wrote it, so brings it to life more. I’m going to mention that on the course.”

In a couple of weekends, on Sunday 21st February, Will is tutoring a 4-hour workshop for comedians: I’ll Be Your Mirror: Using the Layering Craft of Mimicry to Enhance Linear Stand-Up.

Last month, he ran one called: From The Classics To The Clubs: Bringing The Rebellion Of Satire Back To Comedy.

“Why are you doing these workshops?” I asked. “A desperate need for money?”

“Nah. I really enjoyed teaching, you know? It was years since I’d done it. I used to do a lot of teaching. We did a brief mimicry exercise in the Satire workshop, but I really want to flesh it out with a new four hours devoted to faces, voices, accents – telling people how to start big and scale backwards, when to go cartoonish, when to do nuance instead of cartoonish. Dialogue’s another important thing. A gruff voice and a sweet little voice and you can get a comic effect out of the juxtaposition of the two.

“I want to teach people how to take what I consider very dry, linear stand-up routines where it’s just set-up, set-up, punchline… and use what I call the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. If the audience is not going to laugh at the concept, they may laugh at the joke. If they don’t laugh at the joke, they may laugh at the face. If they don’t laugh at the face, they may laugh at the voice. Or they may laugh at all of them.”

“Are you hanging up your dress forever?” I asked.

Sarah Franken - “There was feeling like I was a poster child for transgenderism"

Sarah Franken, now hanging up her dress and wig

For six months last year, Will performed as Sarah Franken, in a dress and wig.

“Yes,” he replied. “Well, I haven’t got rid of the clothes. They’re still in my room.”

“The wig?” I asked.

“Yes, but I wouldn’t use that again. It’s all matted.”

“If you got a rocking chair,” I suggested, “you could perform the end of Psycho.

“I appreciate you treating this with such reverence,” Will told me.

“Have you seen The Danish Girl?” I asked. “Eddie Redmayne as a woman.”

“I wouldn’t see it,” Will replied. “It reeks of trying to get an Oscar.”

“He might get another one this year,” I said. “From cripple in The Theory of Everything to woman in The Danish Girl. That sounds Oscar-worthy. That could be the title of your autobiography: From Cripple to Woman. Have you ever been a cripple?”

“No. I’ve never broken anything. Not a single bone.”

“It might be worth breaking a bone just to get publicity,” I suggested.

“No. I hate pain. Though I shot myself in the toe with an air rifle one time.”

“Why?”

“To get attention. It didn’t work. I wanted pity. I think I was 11 years old.”

“What was the reaction?”

“I don’t know if I even told anybody. It hurt really bad. It really, really hurt and…”

“You say you think you may not have told anyone about it?” I asked.

“In my family,” explained Will, “if you’re not actually bleeding with a slit throat, nobody really gives a shit.”

“But you were bleeding with a hole in your toe,” I said.

Will Franken

“If you’re not bleeding with a slit throat, nobody gives a shit”

“No. There was no blood. It was a big purple bruise. I was barefoot. It was the summer. It was an air rifle. It was a bruise.”

“You missed,” I suggested, “the key to getting sympathy by not telling anyone.”

“I think I might have told my mom, but my mom was one of those people you could never tell anything bad to. I don’t want to hear anything bad! I just want to hear about good things! I think I might have told her: I shot myself in the toe. And she might have said: Well, that’s kinda silly.

“She might have a point.”

“She’s a great study in repression, my mother.”

“What did she tell you when you were a kid?”

“She used to tell me: Make sure you never drink, because your dad’s an alcoholic and you could end up like him. So, when I was 14, I couldn’t wait to drink, because I thought: Wow! I will get to be abusive to people and everybody will feel sorry for me cos I have a disease! Same thing when weed went around.”

“The only drugs I was ever attracted to,” I said, “were heroin and acid.”

“I was never attracted to heroin,” said Will, “though, when I was a kid, I saw the Sid & Nancy movie and I kinda liked the pity. It’s like that David Bowie line: It was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor. There’s something theatrical about it, you know?”

“What attracted me to LSD,” I said, “was the expansion of the mind, but what attracted me to heroin was the downer effect, not the upper.”

“I was a big fan of LSD,” said Will. “There was no future where I came from in the Midwest – Missouri – so you might as well drop acid. I did lots of LSD and peyote and…”

“Peyote?” I asked.

“That was a brilliant experience,” said Will.

“What is the difference in the experience,” I asked, “between peyote and LSD?”

Peyote cacti in the wild

Peyote cacti add that little something extra to a cup of coffee

“Well,” Will told me, “the LSD I took was blotter acid, so there was a lot of speed and strychnine in it. I think the peyote was much more vivid. Little cacti buttons; we put them in coffee.

“About four hours into the trip, at its climax, you vomit. That was actually the highlight. It felt so pure. Just opening your mouth and feeling it fall out but not feeling like vomit usually feels. It was like a great emptying and I had an actual out-of-body experience. I think I was 17 or 16 at the time.

“I was with some friends and not all of us were on it. We were all looking at some weird art book. I was there and I was also in the corner of the ceiling, looking down at me looking at the book with everybody else. A complete schism. But I couldn’t do peyote now even if I wanted to.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m an alcoholic and, if I had a trip, I would come out of the trip thinking: Hey! It would be nice to have some weed! Then, if there’s no weed around, I’d think: Well, I might as well get drunk because I can’t stand just naked emotions.”

“But you got wholeheartedly into the drugs,” I said.

”I’m one of those people who likes to get heavily into a lot of things. I was a woman for six months. For a year in 2009, I was a Catholic, but then I sobered up..”

“I was never interested in getting drunk,” I said. “I never wanted to drink to get drunk, which is what people do in Britain.”

“Did you ever drink AT somebody?” Will asked me. “I do that all the time. You think: Fuck her! and then you drink AT her.”

“No,” I told him, “I never did.”

Will Franken

“On some of them I was completely stoned out of my mind…”

“For me,” Will explained, “weed really freed-up some inhibitions. My iTunes are filled-up with recordings from way back when I was 14.

“I was into 4-track recording when I was a kid. I think one of the reasons I perform in the style I do is I learned how to speed up a pitch and slow it down and do three voices simultaneously when having a conversation.”

“So you have recordings of yourself on drugs as a kid?” I asked.

“Yeah. on some of them I was completely stoned out of my mind. And some of it’s really, really good.”

“There’s gold on those tapes,” I said. “Comedy, narrative and autobiographical gold… Is it OK to quote all this drug stuff?”

“Oh, I’m totally cool about it,” said Will. “All the trans activists who hate me for becoming Will again may go Hey! You know, I was disappointed when he stopped being Sarah and went back to being a man, but he does drugs! … You never know what people are going to like or dislike.”

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Will Franken wants to return comedy to the art form it was intended to be

Will Franken and Charles I in Soho Square today

Will Franken and Charles II in London’s Soho Square today

The last time Will Franken appeared in this blog was on Christmas Day, when he and Lewis Schaffer were talking about being comedy failures.

This afternoon, I talked to Will about the 4-hour ‘satire workshop’ he is hosting at comedy critic Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara emporium in London, on Sunday 17th January – promoted by the ever-entrepreneurial Arlene Greenhouse.

The workshop is titled: From The Classics To The Clubs: Bringing The Rebellion Of Satire Back To Comedy.

“There is a continuum,” Will told me. “There is a link between Jonathan Swift on up through to, let’s say, Chris Morris.”

“What do you know about satire?” I asked him.

“Well, I have my degree in Restoration and 18th Century British Literature. My thesis was on Juvenalian Satire Within Swift and Pope.”

“Where was this?” I asked.

“The University of Missouri. I had some good instructors.”

“So, in your satire course, you will include what?” I asked.

“One thing I will slip in will be Obvious versus not-so-obvious enemies. If you are going to be a satirist, you have to have an enemy of some sort. Horatian satire, for example, is very lighthearted – like You know, the people at Starbucks, who make the coffee – But Juvenilian satire is like Swift – Oh, you want to stop the starvation problem in Ireland? Here’s a recipe for eating babies – It’s got this viciousness.”

“What are the satire targets today?” I asked.

Donald Trump or Jeremy corny? The choice is yours

Choose Donald Trump or Jeremy Corbyn…

“Well,” said Will, “if people come to the workshop and say I want to do something about Donald Trump, I would caution them by saying: First you have to look at supply and demand. Do you think that the market will be saturated with Trump jokes? I presume it will be. However, are there any Jeremy Corbyn jokes? So how can you look at Corbyn and try not to be obvious? Is there anything in Corbyn that you can see is worthy of ridicule? If you can, you might be on your way as being able to stand out as a satiric voice, 

You don’t want to perform in an echo chamber. You need to be able to stand out. When I got started in San Francisco, everybody had George Bush jokes – It was Bush Bush Bush Bush. I realised the only way I could stand out was to add a layer to that and make fun of the people who were making fun of Bush. So I had to observe them, learn their mannerisms, learn their hyperbole and make it even more exaggerated.”

“Why did you choose Restoration satire for your university course?” I asked.

“Well, I had been a fan of Swift before that. I had read stuff like Directions to Servants and Modest Proposal, of course. I was just intrigued by the fact somebody could have that idea of biting against the Establishment that long ago – and even before that, with Juvenal and Horatio.

“What I’m really good at is satire and being able to make a point of moral indignation but couch it in humour to make it a bit more palatable.”

“That’s your definition of satire?” I asked.

“Yeah. When I originally put the posting about the workshop up on Facebook, a lot of people confused satire with sarcasm.”

“So how,” I asked, “is your workshop on satire going to change comedy for the better in Britain?”

“At the very least, it will add a bit of intellect,” will replied. “When I first sent Arlene Greenhouse my pitch, she said: I dunno if they’re gonna get it. And I said: Well, the thing with comedians is that they all want to be clever. So, even if they don’t get it, they will pretend that they get it.”

“If I print that,” I said, “it will sound like you are knocking your market.”

Will/Sarah Franken - "I didn’t know when to make the move"

Will Franken – for intellectuals, pseudo intellectuals & ‘others’

“Well, the thing about my comedy,” said Will, “is it works with intellectuals AND with pseudo-intellectuals. Even if they only pretend to get it, I win. And other people love it because it’s just weird and politically offensive.”

“That,” I warned him, “will read as if you have a superiority complex.”

“It’s because I’m a failure,” replied Will. “All I have is my ego.”

“You reckon you will be a good teacher?” I asked.

“Well, I did it before and quite enjoyed it. I taught World Literature and Creative Writing.”

“Where?”

“At North Carolina for a couple of years and at the University of Missouri for a year. I used to dress up as Jonathan Swift and get a powdered wig and an 18th century outfit in Springfield, Missouri. I memorised the entirety of Modest Proposal and had a PowerPoint presentation on the recipes for the children.”

“Are you going to wear a powdered wig in Shepherds Bush?”

“My wig days are over, man.”

“British alternative comedy’s great days,” I suggested, “were when Margaret Thatcher was in power in the 1980s.”

“Margaret Thatcher,” said Will, “had a debate with William F Buckley around 1980/1981. She said: There was a time when people had conviction. Now, you see, it’s all consensus. Who can argue with that? It’s a paraphrase, but…”

“I suppose yes,” I said, “if you want to rule by constant consensus, you must be against people who rule by conviction.”

“Yes,” said Will. “There is an assumption that, if a lot of people agree with something, it is therefore correct and good. How stupid can you get?

“There is a dearth of satire nowadays and I think that’s because people largely don’t know what it is – and I think that’s largely due to being inundated with political correctness. If you have a politically correct comedy establishment, there’s really not much you can do in the way of satire.

“When people come in and they say Sensitivity… sensitivity… they are basically saying Don’t do comedy. There is a hyperbolic feeling which people have that, if you come out and say Political Correctness is stupid. Of course you should make fun of whoever you want to make fun of… then there will be black people hanging from trees.

“A satirist is an artist, right? A comedian fills a function. That’s another thing I hope to bring across to people in the workshop: How to transform comedy from something that’s just a means to get a pay check from Jongleurs… Because it’s always the bookers, not the audience.

Will Franken

“Throw something out there and it’s good… they will grasp it”

“It’s the bookers who are the gatekeepers, who say: I get it, but the audience will be too stupid.

“As pessimistic as I am, I always believe that people in this country will innately veer towards the intelligent. That, if you throw something out there and it’s good, they will grasp it.

“I say in the marketing stuff for my workshop: I can’t guarantee you a string of gigs at Jongleurs, but I will veer you towards being able to go after comedy as the art form it was originally intended to be.”

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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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Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer explain the “Judge Rinder” scam trial disaster…

Will Franken (left) and Lewis Schaffer angling for Pret a Manger sponsorship

Will Franken (left) and Lewis Schaffer hoping for sponsorship?

Yesterday’s blog ended with American comics Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer about to go to Manchester for the recording of the ITV reality court show Judge Rinder last Wednesday – on the basis that Lewis Schaffer was annoyed because Will owed him £42 and Will was annoyed Lewis Schaffer had never called him Sarah when Will dressed as a woman and performed/lived as Sarah Franken.

Two Fridays ago, a car from the Judge Rinder programme delivered a ‘Witness Statement’ to me at my home, based on a telephone call I had had with one of the production team. I signed it – to be read out at the TV court appearance in Manchester the following Wednesday. The statement (with their mis-typings) read:

My statement for the Judge Rinder programme

My statement to be read out on the Judge Rinder programme


Two years ago Lewis loaned will £50. To date Sarah has only returned £8. Although the situation is unfortunate, Will still owes Lewis £42, and he should pay Lewis back. It’s is a matter of principle, and I agree wholeheartedly that Will should pay him the funds. The money was given as a loan; and it’s only right that he pays Lewis back.

Lewis has built a reputation for being quite controversial on stage – he actually has one of the best Holocaust jokes I have ever heard in my life! Lewis will say the unexpected – the things that people take offense to, but he honestly means no harm.

In regards to Will, we’ve always known Sarah as Will so I don’t believe that Lewis’ intends in any way to insult, degrade or offend Will. If I am honest, I believe that Lewis has always referred to him as Will, and as a result he continues to address him by his name.

Although it is in Lewis’ nature to be annoying, I firmly believe there is no intention on Lewis’ behalf to cause any harm to Will.

I’m sad that they have fallen out over something so menial. It’s sad that a matter such as this has affected their relationship. I hope this matter can be resolved.


I met Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer again last Sunday, at the Pret a Manger eatery in St Pancras station. I believe both may be open to offers of sponsorship by any retail chain. Lewis Schaffer was wearing a black eyepatch on his left eye for no discernible reason. I did not ask why because I suspected there was no reason.


“As far as I was aware,” I told them, “the programme was going ahead. The programme people never told me it was not going ahead.”

“I might use it in my Edinburgh Fringe show next year,” said Will. “Our attempt to defraud them.”

“You speak for yourself!” Lewis Schaffer objected. “The story is totally true! You owed me money and I wanted it back.”

“You told people you had a £250 gig,” said Will, “and you didn’t.”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer, “I did not tell them a £250 gig.”

“So why did it not go ahead?” I asked.

“I got scared,” said Will, “because I was recruiting witnesses to bolster my defence and my witnesses were getting scared because the TV people wanted pieces of paper signed.”

“And your witnesses wouldn’t sign?” I asked.

“I called a guy in Birmingham,” explained Will, “and said: Hey! If somebody calls you, would you say you were there the night Lewis gave me this money and that you were there for about ten different shows across England where Lewis was calling me ‘Will’ and making people very uncomfortable? And he said: Yeah, yeah. I’ll do it.

“Then they called him and asked Would you be willing to sign a document? and he said What do you mean document? This isn’t a real court, is it? And apparently they said: Yes, it IS a real court. And he called me back and said he didn’t want to sign anything and I got scared too. They were calling my ex-girlfriend to do the same thing.”

I asked Lewis Schaffer: “You told me that they cancelled because the TV people thought the two of you were getting too aggressive towards each other. Did they?”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer, “that’s not what it was. It was because you had two plonker losers negotiating at the same time. It was escalating. I thought we could get some money out of them. I told Will: Ask for some money. I could have gotten £250.”

“I liked the idea of us being grifters,” said Will. “I think the term ‘grifter’ makes it sound cool.”

“It isn’t cool,” said Lewis Schaffer, “it’s just business. We were asking for money.”

“I’ve got this guy on the phone from the TV show,” said Will, “and he’s thinking Oh, we’ve got this great little trans-gender caper and emotional distress caper! and he’s so enthusiastic… Oh, so you and Lewis Schaffer were really good friends? and I’m cupping the phone and like laughing, cos it’s so funny. It’s a prank joke.”

Lewis Schaffer said: “You took it a bit too far.”

“No, you took it a bit too far,” Will told him.

“I asked for a little bit of money,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“He asked for £250,” Will told me. “So I get off the phone and he tells me: They’re gonna give me £250. So now I get the free hotel, I get the trans-gender pity and he gets £250, cos he had the wherewithal to say: Oh, by the way, I’m missing work.”

“This is how I screwed myself,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Because I told Will I was doing £250 and I told them: Will needs £250 because of the ‘Comedy Union’.

“The what?” I asked.

“The Comedy Union,” said Lewis Schaffer and Will together, like a Greek chorus.

“We got a Comedy Union now!” laughed Lewis Schaffer. “So then Will asked for £300.”

“No,” said Will to Lewis Schaffer. “First thing I did was I said: I need you to send me a Facebook message taunting me and saying ‘Ha ha, Will, I’m getting £250 AND my £42. Ha ha ha.’ – So I could then tell them Look – Lewis is taunting me. So they don’t think we’re friends. Then I got the producer on the phone to me going: OK, well, the thing is you’ve not mentioned missing any gigs the night of the recording.”

“All you needed to do,” said Lewis Schaffer, “was say: Listen, you gotta pay us some money for this! You gotta pay us a per diem or something!

“But you told them you were missing a gig,” said Will.

“I didn’t say specifically,” explained Lewis Schaffer. “I said I might miss a gig. We could have gotten offered a gig in the two days before the recording.”

“So,” I said, “you didn’t tell them you’d miss a gig; you told them you might miss a gig.”

“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“So,” said Will, “Lewis had upped the ante with the £250, so I get the TV guy on the phone and say: Look, Lewis is taunting me with the £250 he’s getting. I’m gonna lose money too.”

“We were just pushing the money,” said Lewis Schaffer. “They didn’t trust us after a while.”

“Of course they didn’t.” said Will. “We embellished the story.”

“What happened,” said Lewis Schaffer, “was it was an escalation of demands and they just thought: These people are trouble. I think they just realised that Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer is double trouble. It’s vortex of trouble. We couldn’t make money if we owned the Mint.”

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How Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer decided to con ITV out of lots of money

Lewis Schaffer videos Will Franken by a Big Mac toilet

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog conversation with London-based American comedians Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer.

A few months before, Will Franken had decided that he would wear women’s clothes on stage and off stage and would be called Sarah Franken. For the conversation I had, Will had come dressed as a man and there was some discussion about whether or not he might drop the Sarah Franken persona.

The blog continued in a post the next day, in which Lewis Schaffer mentioned that Will owed him some money and Will mentioned Lewis Schaffer had never called him Sarah Franken.

One reason this conversation was split into two blogs was to draw a little attention to the ‘he owes me money/he didn’t call me Sarah’ narrative, because there was one part of the chat we had (in a McDonalds in Holborn) which I carefully omitted from the two blogs.

In the second blog I posted, Lewis Schaffer is quoted as saying: “When I moved to England, I got an offer to appear on the TV series Wife Swap. My wife at the time did not want to do it and I didn’t want to do it either,” after which Will said: “The first thing that goes though my head now is: Is there money? I don’t think about exposure any more.”

The section of the conversation which I omitted came immediately following that.

Below is what I omitted.


Lewis Schaffer (left) and Will Franken concocted a comedy idea in a McDonalds

Lewis Schaffer (left) and Will Franken concocted a comedy idea in a McDonalds

“I don’t give a fuck about exposure,” Will continued. “I got an email from the Judge Rinder people.”

[Judge Rinder is a British reality court show. It stars criminal barrister Robert Rinder as the judge, who oversees disputes between two real members of the public in a mock-up of a small claims courtroom. It is similar to the US TV show Judge Judy]

“It was Friday afternoon,” Will explained, “and I got an e-mail and it was somebody from ITV studios in Manchester saying: We may have an opportunity for you. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years now and I’ve never learned my lesson. The first thought that goes to my hayseed, Missouri hick brain is always: They’re going to give me my own show! Thankyou, God!

“You deserve it, too,” Lewis Schaffer told him.

“So I go back home,” Will said, “and, of course, the terrorist thing happened in Paris. So I called the guy the next day and he said: OK. Do you know this show called Judge RinderWe are looking for people who have a funny story, like maybe somebody took your laptop but didn’t bring it back? Something like that. Do you have any stories?

“I asked: Is there any money for this? And he said: No, but we will give you money for a nice hotel in Manchester. I said: Do you have any idea what the fuck happened last night, man? What kind of whorehouse is this?

“And then today, he e-mails me again and says: OK, have you had some time to think? Do you have any friends? And I said: No, we would all need a fee. every one of the people I know would need a fee.”

“No money?” said Lewis Schaffer. “I wouldn’t do that, because that’s not comedy. You would have to do some actual work before it. The thing is, you’ve got to get two insane people to be on that programme.”

“Why don’t WE do it?” Will asked Lewis Schaffer. “I would do it if you and I could do it.”

“THAT would be funny,” agreed Lewis Schaffer.

“But what,” I asked, “could you sue each other over?”

“I could e-mail the guy right now,” said Will, “and we could say, if he gets Lewis and me each a hotel room in Manchester and covers our travel…”

“…and food,” added Lewis Schaffer. “And we want a per diem of some kind.”

“Were you serious,” I asked Lewis Schaffer, “when you said you lent Will some money?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, that’s the basis,” I said.

“He needed money,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “and I said to him If you come down and come on my radio show – because I needed a guest and I’m very last-minute – I was desperate for a guest and I said to Will: Come down and I’ll loan you the £50.”

Will said: “I thought you said: I’ll GIVE you £50.”

“I’m not gonna GIVE you £50!” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Say it’s £150,” I suggested. “It’s sexier.”

“But,” replied Lewis Schaffer, “then the judge will ask: Did you fuck him?

“I think it will be funny,” said Will.

“It will be funny,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, then said to me: “He’s given me a total of £8 back.”

Will, laughing and adopting a hick mid-Western accent, said: “He took my catchphrase, which was Cheerio, Yankees! Let’s just make up something.”

“If,” I said, “you’re going to tell a lie on TV about anything, base it on reality. He lent you £150.”

“What’s the difference?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“It sounds better,” I said. “For £50, you wouldn’t go on TV; for £150, you might.”

“Maybe I’m just angry at the guy,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s payback time.”

“This is kind of funny,” said Will. “Shall we do this?”

“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“It’s a good idea,” I agreed.

“Do it tomorrow,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“No,” I said. “Do it now.”

Will started composing an e-mail.

This guy Lewis Schaffer…” he started.

Comedian Lewis Schaffer…” Lewis Schaffer corrected him.

“Say he’s another American,” I suggested, “because then they get two Americans having a go at each other.”

“… another Yank…” said Will, “says I owe him…”

“We can just ‘Yank it up’,” laughed Lewis Schaffer.

“£50?” asked Will.

“£42,” said Lewis Schaffer. “And this Lewis Schaffer guy is angry. And he wants to embarrass me.”

“You both want to embarrass each other,” I suggested. “Do they know about the cross-dressing? Do they know about Sarah?”

“When he was on the phone,” explained Will, “he said Sarah. Well, that’s obviously not your REAL name and I thought: Well, this is some guy who’s not into the PC thing!

“Your angle,” I suggested, “is that Lewis Schaffer was the only guy at the Edinburgh Fringe in August who did not call you Sarah and that really annoyed you.”

“I could ask for damages,” said Will. “I owe Lewis £42 but I want £1,000 from him for emotional damages.”

“But,” said Lewis Schaffer, “there isn’t a pool where one of us will get the money.”

“I don’t know,” said Will, “I’ve never watched the show.”

“Maybe we should ask for £250,” said Lewis Schaffer, “and we split the money.”

“They don’t pay you the £250,” said Will. “They expect me to pay you.”

“No they wouldn’t,” Lewis Schaffer told him. “They can’t. It’s not a court. It’s a TV programme.”

“It’s not a court?” asked Will.

“It’s not a court,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“How about £242?” suggested Will. “That sounds more believable.”

I said: “Keep it simple. He hates you because you owe him money. You hate him because he didn’t call you Sarah.”

“Exactly,” said Will. “We could use this as a showreel. These two guys dicking around in McDonalds with John Fleming hatched a plot…”

I said: “Two comedians. Two Yanks. They’re both vocally fluent. They’re bitching at each other. And one is in a dress. The TV people will love it. If you say ‘trans-genderism’, they’re going to have an orgasm on the spot. They’ll go for it.”

And they did.

Will sent the e-mail.

The Judge Rinder producers arranged the recording date for the following week in Manchester.

…CONTINUED HERE

Lewis Schaffer (right) with his arms round Will Franken at St Pancras station

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Grouchy Podcast extract: Will Franken’s lack of commitment to being a woman

Copstick and Fleming and a world of Pain

Copstick & Fleming trapped in a not totally comedic podcast

In this week’s 38-minute Grouchy Club Podcast, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I discussed The Jewish Comedian of the Year, a man with plastic testicles, the best Holocaust joke ever, Lewis Schaffer (no surprise there), how BBC TV executive Alan Yentob re-cut controversial comic Jerry Sadowitz’s TV series, the power of TV advertisers, Noel Gay TV and, in this brief extract, trans-gender comic Will Franken aka Sarah Franken and a TV series with horrendous visuals. (You will have to listen to the Podcast to hear details of the visuals… that’s how teaser extracts work.)


COPSTICK
So, are Will and Sarah dividing and going their separate ways; are they alternating; or what’s happening?

JOHN
I think they’ve had a creative difference with each other… No, no. I think he might be phasing out Sarah. It was in my previous blog – worth reading.

COPSTICK
If you can’t remember what’s in them, why should I read them?

JOHN
I can’t remember what’s in it, no. I don’t read them. You know I don’t write my blogs, don’t you? I farm them out to some Filipino children who are going blind in the dark with candle light.

COPSTICK
I did say I didn’t… possibly to you in a blog but, then, you wouldn’t have remembered… that it was… not exactly a phase – ‘phase’ always makes it sound…

JOHN
Star Trek.

COPSTICK
…trite

JOHN
Phasers.

COPSTICK
…trite. I never really felt Will to be like a… There was never a woman in there fighting to get out.

JOHN
There clearly was.

COPSTICK
No.

JOHN
He never wanted to have ‘the snip’, but…

COPSTICK
It’s a little bit more than a snip I think you’ll find, John. A little bit more than a snip.

JOHN
A snip and an excavation.

COPSTICK
A snip and a scoop and a flip…

JOHN
A flip?

COPSTICK
…and a turning-outside-in and…

JOHN
Ooh! what’s the flip?… Oh! the turning outside-in.

COPSTICK
Mmmm.

JOHN
Do you have pictures?

COPSTICK
I actually do. I have an entire video which I made for a television series which I produced called World of Pain…

JOHN
World of Pain?

COPSTICK
…and we were allowed to follow a sex change. Well, ‘gender re-assignmment’ surgery.

JOHN
What was in World of Pain apart from this? It was a 6-part series, was it?

COPSTICK
No.

JOHN
Ooh! What was it?

COPSTICK
It was three 15-part series.

JOHN
Ooh, wow, ooh. And do you remember what was in them? – Because you have a better memory than me.

COPSTICK
I remember everything that was in them. Every episode had a different theme.

JOHN
As I expect from you. What was the most painful bit in the World of Pain?

COPSTICK
Well, it depends. I mean, we did people who got hooks through their skin and dangled from the ceiling. We did branding. We did…

JOHN
Sarcasm?

COPSTICK
We did shark bites.

JOHN
Intentional shark bites?

COPSTICK
John, I am not going to talk to you any longer if you continue to be obtuse.

JOHN
I’m not used to the world of pain. I try to avoid it, myself.

COPSTICK
There were some horrific sporting injuries. I mean, where you see in slow motion a leg bending backwards and forw… Yes, fairly horrific.

JOHN
So it wasn’t all self-inflicted or a welcome World of Pain?

COPSTICK
No. Of course not. What I found interesting was the way the television censors looked at it. There was a really very nice little bit of film that we did in Russia and it was called Ice Babies. Because, in certain areas of Russia, what they do with fairly new born babies is take them out, cut a hole in the ice and dunk the baby in.

JOHN
For why?

COPSTICK
To kick-start their immune system.

JOHN
Like Sparta?

COPSTICK
Yes. I mean there’s a person in there. There’s a nurse and somebody else…

JOHN
In a hole in the ice?

COPSTICK
Well, it’s bigger than a hole. It’s a huge hole. And they throw the babies in and the babies are not massively distressed. Then they pull them out and swaddle them up and it’s kind of a kick-start to their immune system. In the rural villages where they do it, the kids don’t get colds and flus and whatnot and it seems to work in terms of being a bit of a smack in the face for your body’s reactions.

The babies were not distressed. the babies were not crying. None of that. And ITV would not let us show it at all. AT ALL.

JOHN
What is the nurse’s uniform in this? Is she wearing a frogman’s outfit?

COPSTICK
No. she’s wearing a bathing costume. You are being obtuse again, John.

JOHN
It’s very icy. Anyway, ITV wouldn’t show it because…


You can hear the full 38-minute Grouchy Club Podcast HERE.

Tomorrow’s blog will include a more jaw-dropping piece about Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer (right) with his arms round Will Franken at St Pancras station

Lewis Schaffer (right) with his arms round Will Franken at St Pancras station – more tomorrow

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