4 AM Wednesday 4 April 2012 Nunhead
If you want to waste an evening at a comedy show sit in the back. You won’t enjoy it. It’s like going to an orgy and watching from the kitchen.
Last night was one of those nights when I thought everyone was sitting in the kitchen, including myself.
I turned up at the Source Below without my suit belt. Forgetting my belt meant I hadn’t gone through even the most cursory of checks before I left the house for my show Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous - which meant I wasn’t nervous about the show – which meant something bad was going to happen. The Power of Worry – worry prevents tragedy – I hadn’t been worrying – and I got nervous.
So I don’t have a belt – and I didn’t bring my raincoat and it started raining in Soho – first time in weeks – and I need to meet people at the door – and not just because the club is basically a black doorway on the smallest street in London – the one-block-long Lower John Street – which people often miss altogether and go to Lower James Street – one street away – I need to meet my audience before the show so I am not afraid of them.
Yes – afraid – that is why I cannot perform into darkness because I think the worst – I think they hate me. I need to meet them then see their faces.
Not one person coming in tonight has seen me before – which is unusual – some have come because friends recommended me or because of Time Out or from the newspapers. I don’t have any support – I thought.
I have a new bartender downstairs. Stefano isn’t there. Where is Stefano?? And the two pretty and poshy English women barely look at me on the way in – did I mention them? I have a problem with fancy people in this country. The American in me hates them.
Downstairs, no one is sitting in the front row. The blonde women sit in the back. So no belt, and the numbers were low. I don’t want to say how low – 20. There, I said it. 20 on a wet Tuesday in spring.
I only write about comedy when things go bad. Like when I died in Morpeth or when I had ten punters in last week on the first nice day of the year. I don’t write about the good gigs – because good is boring and I don’t trust it. Jeffrey Ross – the Roastmaster General of the Friars Club in America – once told me that I know how to “die” – I need to learn how to “kill”. That was 12 years ago – at least. He is famous in America now.
I lie. We had 17. Why do I lie then tell the truth? 17.
There is a saying that a butterfly flaps its wings in China and the knock-on effect is that I have a bad show.
Now I am on stage – or what passes for a stage at the Source – and I am not feeling my belt and I am not feeling the love. Young men wear belts to keep their trousers up. Old men wear belts to keep their stomachs up. I need my belt. I am having a bad show.
Where is this going? Where it always goes:
Let me tell you why I am the best comic in England:
It is not because I refused to give up and let the show die. The best comics fight to the end – Phil Nichol or Michael McIntyre or Dave Attell – they don’t give up. It is not because my jokes are better than other comics – because I barely tell the jokes I have and barely tell them the right way or in the right order. And it isn’t because I am the most confident comic – having done this comedy thing for 19 years – the opposite is true.
I am the best comic in England because I am not confident but honest. I told the audience I was having a bad night – I was struggling with my demons – and that I wasn’t feeling their love. And I am doing this in a room with no support.
And I told them that I understood that they were having a bad night, too.
They had chosen to spend their free time on an unknown comedian who met them on the street screeching “Source Below – Comedy Show?” – A post-middle-aged disaster-of-a-man buried in doubt and fear.
They were directed though a dark side-passage – past the slippery-from-chicken-fat preparation area of the kebab shop – down a dark stairs into a barely lit room with two Ikea-style lamps with aluminium foil – aluminum foil, damn it – illuminating the “stage”. Once there the bar was offering Soho-priced drinks to a people enticed by the word “free”.
It took all of my skills to make everyone in that room – except for the two blonde posh women and another couple who were sitting in the back who left during the break – and who I hope die in a freak asteroid storm on the way to see Lee Evans at the O2 – I made everyone in that room – including myself – realize we were all in this together – after a typically dodgy start – and for that night at least – and we had a good laugh – and won – for that night.
I thought we won. We had gotten out of the kitchen.
Listen to Lewis Schaffer on the Radio Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer every Monday evening at 10:30PM on www.resonancefm.com and 104.4fm London. Or listen to the show’s podcasts at bit.ly/NunheadAmericanRadio
See Lewis Schaffer live every Tuesday and Wednesday at the Source Below. Free admission. Reserve at bit.ly/londonfreeshow