2 AM Sunday 26th April 2014 Nunhead Heights
“I dont want to do this.”
That is what I was thinking.
40 French high school students and their three teachers on a class trip – waiting in my Source Below basement for a bit of entertainment. Comedy and then Karaoke. I wish I had been told in advance they were coming.
The Source now seats only 30 in front of the stage since the benches were ripped out and the new chairs haven’t arrived yet. The rest of the students sat behind the microphone – never good for comedy unless you’re Dane Cook. I told the real audience who arrived at the door that night it was probably best to come back another time.
I was struck by how French high schoolers seemed even quieter and shyer than British kids. They weren’t up for this.
And there was a question of whether or not I would be getting paid for their entertainment.
I was steaming. I was furious. I didn’t want to go on.
I waited for them to finish their English meal: Lebanese wraps. And waited. The French eat very slowly and leave over food. Imagine not eating everything on your plate? How un-American.
They were here for a show and I would have to give it to them. Or try.
“Welcome. This is the comedy part of the show. The part de comedy!”
“This is the part where you must laugh – even if it is not funny. Comedy is funnier if people laugh. Bonjour!”
A handsome kid behind me starts making noises and funny faces.
“This is all I need” I thought. Everyone in front was going to be looking at that kid and not at me. This was going to be even harder work.
I pulled the kid up and made him stand beside me.
“You may not understand what I’m saying” I said to his face “and you may not think it is funny. You are not alone!”
“You are very handsome. Which girl here do you want? You must have your choice.”
Him “I may not want girls.”
Oh my, he’s funny, too. Or honest. I thought teenagers didn’t joke about their sexuality.
“Other people think I am not funny and other people cannot understand the jokes, which is why I am performing in this basement.”
“If I were funny, I would not be performing comedy for French high school students! Bonjour!”
I was slowing it down, and explaining the jokes. French people, I have learned, do not like to take risks speaking languages other than France, which is their Lingua Franca. They do not want to be embarrassed. This is what I was told by my doctor friend who lived in France for two years.
“Comedy is not funny when you explain it. It’s much like making love. Not funny when you explain it. Bonjour!”
Or should I have said “Comedy is funny when you explain it. Like making love.”? My mind was mess. What would make these people feel they are at comedy show?
“I have heard many things about the French people. I have heard that you have a different word for everything. See, there? I have done a Steve Martin joke just for you! You love Steve Martin!”
Blank faces. The handsome lad seemed exhausted and slunk back in his seat, tamed.
Then I resorted to flirting with the women teachers. At least they were in one of my core audience demographics, and I hoped to get them into my core geographic area, Nunhead.
“Are you single?”
The teachers in unison: “No.”
“No. Ah, I hear the same word in every language.”
Thirty minutes and I had fulfilled “my contractual obligations” as comic Reginald D. Hunter announces at the end of his shows. I have borrowed his line now, too.
“And now the Karoake. We have many French songs for you.
The karaoke choices are Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques and Frere Jacques. Bonjour!”
That was the only French song I could think of. I was spent.
My associate Sam told my associate Heather “I think that’s the most professional I’ve ever seen him.”
Yes, the most professional performance in the least professional of gigs. All in a day’s unpaid work.The show must go on. Bonjour!
See me live in London every Sunday. Next show 27th April at 8:30pm. Lewis Schaffer: American in London at the Leicester Square Theatre.
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