18 August 2012 Saturday Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The worst part about doing comedy is that sometimes the audience winds up hating me.

I want people to like me – that’s my primary motivation as a comedian – there are other reasons I do it but that’s the main one. When an audience hates me it’s the exact opposite to where I want to be.

Last night… Last night went spectacularly wrong.

I was doing a five minute guest spot at Sarah Bennetto’s lovely, cosy, intimate Story Tellers at the Pleasance. I was supposed to tell a five minute story. I had no idea what I was going to talk about when I got to the stage. I wasn’t feeling up for it because I don’t think of myself as a story teller, per se. There are stories in my show but they are buried in the jokes.

I didn’t approach the stage in a loving way. I am in new venue with a new audience I don’t usually cater to.  

The audience didn’t expect intense interaction. I didn’t realize this. 

I see two people in wheelchairs in the front row. I am surprised. Two wheelchair users at one show in Edinbugh? I haven’t seen even one at my shows.
I say: “Wow, it’s good to see paralyzed people here. Edinburgh is not a paralyzed friendly place.” 

In the context of the show, I can see how this could come across as belittling them but I was genuinely pleased to see them.

My comic tone – my human tone – wasn’t as loving as it should be. You could also blame it on that.

It was a story telling gig. They weren’t in stand up comedy mode. Bad call on my part. You can blame it on that.

The audience went cold. It’s on videotape. 

I dug deeper. “That’s the first time that has happened to me I usually have a go at black people.” That was meant as a joke. 

I’m in trouble.

The two wheelchair users make for the door. I rush off stage: “Stop, don’t leave.” I plead. “This isn’t my show. I’m leaving. The other acts are not like me.” 

The woman exits. The man turns and stays. Three people follow the woman. Far below my average for leavers, but still high. The other night 40 out of 65 left. That’s another post.

Outside, the wheelchair-using woman asks me why I called the two of them “you people”? Did I call them that? I don’t think so but if I did I didn’t intend to offend.

I am not allowed to assume wheelchair users “paralyzed” and I didn’t realise paralysed was a pejorative term.

I fled from the Pleasance Courtyard.

Rarely do comics set about to hurt someone. 

Once, at a gig in southwest London during my first year here in Britain, I did. I faced some troublesome Australian punters in the front row. I had a flashback to my ill-fated Australian visit where I was hated in 22 cities and towns. It made the paper in Frankson, Victoria.

I wasn’t feeling loving at all. I blurted “I don’t like Australians. No, that’s not true.” I pointed at the worst offender. “I just don’t like YOU.”

And then the beer was thrown all over me.

That was the last time.

Sarah texted me last night and told me that the woman was a disability campaigner and that a formal complaint was being lodged against me and the Pleasance.

People hated me last night. I’m sad about that.

Two Shows at the Fringe
4:45 PM The Hive and 8:15 PM at the Three Sisters.

Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous in Soho
Every Tuesday & Wednesday 8pm Free Admission
Reserve at www.sourcebelow.com

Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer
Every Monday 10:30pm
www.resonancefm.com 104.4fm  London
On iTunes www.bit.ly/NunheadAmericanRadi

4 thoughts on “The worst gig of the Fringe. The wheelchair users 'walk' out.

  1. I came to see you on the 24th and you were still troubled by what happened. Would they have preferred to be referred to as ‘disabled’ or ‘wheelchair-users’? Maybe, or maybe that would have offended them too – maybe they didn’t want the attention on them at all – but then why sit at the front?! I tried not to – but did enjoy the show and do like you…sorry about that..

    1. who knows. maybe the wheelchair users were having a bad day, as anyone can have. maybe they wanted to get into a fight. maybe they wanted an excuse to leave. who knows.

      usually people walk out for what they think they have heard, rather than what they have heard.

      I am still awaiting an apology from them!


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