3PM Sunday 16 February 2014 Nunhead Heights.
I have had more bad shows than most comics have had good shows. I have had more bad shows that most comics have had shows. Most comics would have given up by now.
I bombed at the second Resofit Bloomsbury benefit Friday night. It was organized by Stewart Lee, who did a set, compered by Daniel Kitson with Josie Long also doing a set. I would close the show.
At the first Bloomsbury show for Resonance FM I killed. I felt like I did well, and others told me I did well. I seethed and ranted and was wild and then Stewart Lee, the compere, asked me back on for a encore. Unprecedented. You can read about it here:
I was told by my people [Heather Stevens and Alex Mason] that maybe Stewart Lee wanted to see if he could use me for his Alternative Comedy Experience TV show. Stewart asked if could do different material from the first show and a ‘proper set’.
Well, I thought, I don’t remember what ‘material’ I did the first time – the jokes come out as they come out – and as for a ‘proper set’, well, I have never done a ‘proper set’, will never do a ‘proper set’, and am not sure what a proper set is after 20 years doing stand-up.
My brain turns into a mess. What are the jokes I cannot say on the night? What jokes can I tell?
So I start fuming:
“Fuck you, Stewart Lee, and fuck your TV show. If you think that is what ‘alternative comedy’ is, a ‘proper set’, and if you believe that is what I am going to do for you, then you can fuck off. I don’t want to be on TV anyway.”
“And… I am not an alternative comedian. I don’t even know what that means.”
That is what was in my head. “Fuck off, Stewart Lee.”
Heather and Alex put together a ‘proper set’ of jokes I hadn’t done. I tried to run through it a few times before the gig, only to have it disintegrate in front of audiences. The only time it almost worked was when I read off the set list on a piece of paper and then I went into a full-on tirade on Stewart Lee. I can’t do that on the night, I knew.
Heather and Alex agree I can’t be relied upon to do a set.
I turn up at the Bloomsbury totally blocked.
I’m a mess of feelings. I am unprepared to do a set but thinking I had to do one. I am angry at the situation, furious at Stewart Lee and knowing, no matter what, this gig is not going to be as good as the first show. My people are all excited about it. I wrangle 7 comp tickets – five more than I am allocated – for my people to see this debacle.
On the night, I see Stewart in the green room, and the Bloomsbury has a proper green room.
He tells me how much he loves my stuff. How he loves that anything can happen when I am on stage, and that it can end in chaos, and that he never expected me to do a ‘proper set’ and knows that I am incapable of doing a ‘proper set’ and that is what he loves about my work. And that is why I am on last, because I am room-shifter, or something – and that I am unfollowable. He can’t follow me. Meaning, that no comic can do a spot after I go on. [Which I know to be not true, I am the easiest to follow, because after chaos calm is welcome.]
Anyway, I don’t remember it all because I was spending the entire time looking at his smooth face wondering “Does he mean this? Why is he saying such nice things about me? This is Stewart Lee!”
Suddenly, my anger at Stewart Lee is gone. I remember how much I like the dude, and what a good guy he is. My mood is lifted. I can do what I want on stage tonight.
I am now feeling very good about myself.
But now I don’t know what to do tonight. Do I try to do the set list, or should I wing it? Or what my attitude should be when I go on stage. I don’t even feel angry, which would have been something to go in on.
After an eternity, I am backstage, listening to Daniel Kitson going on and on – he was compering – making the show his own, being brilliant. That is what Kitson does.
And I start having doubt. Kitson is the alpha male of British comics. He will find a way to win. He is the British comedy world’s Messi. I don’t need to win all the time, and hence I don’t. I am the guy who sometimes scored the amazing goal but often doesn’t. Insert the correct footballers name here.
“How can I follow him?” crept into my mind.
So I turn on Kitson. My cells are saying “Fuck Kitson”. Why is he taking all the laughs for himself? Leave some for me. He has gone on long enough. These people don’t even know who I am, how am I going to make this work after Kitson?
So I am on stage, slightly irritated and mostly confused and bored. And thinking that I am not going to make this work, and thinking that “I am Lewis Schaffer! You heard what Stewart Lee said about me!”
But they hadn’t.
I looked out at the audience and I didn’t see a single face – just a grey mass of audience. Not good. I don’t think the best way to experience comedy is in a comfy chair with the comic a million miles away. Comedy is best in a basement, just like sex.
So I didn’t know what to say, or even worse, feel.
After five minutes of flailing, I walked off stage to the wings to look at my set list. That is something I have never done before, nor seen any other comic do before. I came back and started to tell the jokes. But the energy wasn’t there. The emotion wasn’t there.
I thought I could pull it out by telling the audience how I felt it was going: that it wasn’t going well at all. But I told them that so much, I lost my power to make them listen to me, even if I had something important to say.
Comedy is like a car crash, which I was compared to Friday night. At first you don’t expect it. If you did, you would have avoided it. Then it gets surreal and all slow-motion. Then, when it is over, you’re either dead, or shaking with nerves.
I could see a woman in the front squirming, looking irritated at me. She shouts “Well, get off!” And I knew I was going to be hit by a car. I’m in a car crash. I’m going to DIE. I have to do something!
So I went into 9/11/Fireman heckler joke, directed to her, and she shouted out the punchline “Yeah, 9/11 and you said that joke five years ago!”
And I blurted “What jokes have you written in the last five years?” which was decidedly unfriendly. I never put down hecklers, at least not seriously, and here I did. My mood, on the night, was horrible.
The audience seemed to come to my aid against her, booing her. Which means they didn’t really hate me as much as I thought. And I could tell by how they shook my hand after the show and took my flyer for my Leicester Square Theatre shows that it wasn’t a complete death.
But it was a death, and it could have been so good.
Come see me at the Leicester Square Theatre tonight 16th February 8:30. Lewis Schaffer: American in London.