1AM Sunday 6 April 2014 Nunhead Heights.
Five years ago, comic Steve Best took my photo.
He told me he was taking photos of all the comics he worked with. We were in the hallway of a club in Wimbledon, Southwest London. I didn’t ask what he was going to do with the photos. I just thought it was ‘naff’. ‘Naff’ is an English way of saying ‘not cool’.
I had considered taking photos of the comics at gigs. Comics get famous and it would be good tell people I knew them before, or during, their fame. At least I would get something out this business. But I’d stop and think “No, that’s naff.”
I can’t tell who’s going to be famous and it’s weird to ask a non-famous person to take their picture. I worked with Sarah Millican and Jack Whitehall before they became famous. I worked with Frank Skinner and Jack Dee before I knew they were famous. Every comic meets everyone.
In New York, I worked with everyone, too. Zach Galifianakis, Jim Gaffigan, Jeffrey Ross and Louis CK. You name them. Every comic meets everyone.
Jim Gaffigan and I started together in 1993.
We used to go to the same open mikes – the grueling, joyless gigs used by new comics to get stagetime. After he began to get enough paid work to not need to do the open mikes, Jim kept on doing the open mikes. And doing them. And doing them.
Three, four, five open mikes a day. Day after day. Year after year.
If I remember correctly, I respected him for putting in the work. But probably I don’t remember correctly. Most likely I thought it was naff. I didn’t see my hero, Dave Attell, doing open mikes.
At the time I was doing my own naff thing.
I was spending hours hustling for customers in the street. I was begging for people to come inside for live comedy. For the effort I got to compere shows – or MC – first at the Comedy Cellar and then at the Boston Comedy Club. Nine shows a week at the Boston. Maybe 25 hours of shows for three years. That’s a lot of stagetime.
I know many comics thought what I was doing was naff.
At least with open mikes, most of the comedy community couldn’t see the naffness. But I was out in the open in the nexus of Village comedy.
Louis CK once dropped my clipboard – with the show’s running order – onto West 3rd Street.
He was doing a spot at the Boston Comedy Club. I was standing outside, as I did. He asked to see my clipboard with the list of who was on. He looked at it, then looked at me expressionless and let the clipboard fall out of his hands onto the street. It landed at my feet. Then he climbed the stairs up into the club, leaving me to pick it up.
At the time I didn’t understand why he did that.
Now, I am pretty sure it because he didn’t have respect for me, or what I was doing, or who I was. But that is a guess. I will ask him one day if our paths ever cross.
I must have liked barking (or as it is called here in the UK ‘flyering’) more than being on stage. I was better at it than performing. It was a form of performance. That is why I did it so much and for so long. I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. Other comics did and wouldn’t do it.
Yesterday I went to Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia – or whatever they call that area of London – to pick up a copy of the book that Steve Best has made of the photographs. Comedy Snapshot by Steve Best.
There was my photograph and photos of Sarah Millican, Harry Hill, Sean Lock and Andy Parsons (and about 420 others). Those people are mega-famous in the UK. (See above photo.)
That naff thing I thought Steve was doing – well he turned it into something amazing. I bought an extra copy. If you love British stand up comedy you must have this book. I am sure it will only become more valuable as more of of the 400 non-famous people rise to stardom.
Jim Gaffigan was in London last night for a sold-out show at the Leicester Square Theatre. So that is what all that naffness has gotten him: Proper famous in America and a sold-out show here.
Tomorrow at 8:30pm I’m at the Leicester Square Theatre with my show Lewis Schaffer: American in London.
You can see if those thousands of hours of stagetime at the Comedy Cellar and the Boston amounted to anything. And maybe, for old time’s sake, I’ll go into the street and bark for customers. Arrive early to catch the naffness.
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