Matei Clej is pleasantly surprised by Jewish comedian Lewis Schaffer, who has the last laugh on the Harpenden leg of his 2015 comedy circuit tour.
Lewis Schaffer is a dude with soul. His beady black eyes radiate a mix of Semitic warmth and cerebral anxiety. The New York native is on the Harpenden leg of his Free Until Famous UK tour 2015, and is in a bullish mood.
The tour is named after his long-running London show, a one-time resident at the Source Below in Soho and now at the Rancho Grill in Mayfair. The title Free Until Famous is a pretty good clue to the frame of mind of the self-described “57-year-old failed comedian” and Nunhead resident. We grab a moment to chat in the back-office ahead of the show.
“A lot of Jews don’t like what I do,” he says. “Christians look at you and say ‘wow, you’re a comedian, you get up on stage, that’s fantastic’. A Jew measures it by how much money you’re making.
“If you tell them you make a living out of it, they have respect for you,” he complains.
Schaffer’s tradecraft is a mix of kvetching, self-effacement and generously distributed insults. His ex-wife, women in general, the English and the audience itself are all fair game for the latter.
His delivery is highly strung and off the cuff, with the odd meltdown thrown in. Having seen some of Schaffer’s on-stage crises, I was surprised to see an energetic, well-paced, tightly structured set. The crowd clammed up only when he had a dig at the Queen (“Kim Jong-Il plus 400 years”).
This was Harpenden after all, right in the heart of Hertfordshire. Schaffer swiftly got the audience bubbling again with gags about Diana Windsor and her fall from grace – “from wife of the future king to bedding the butler to dying in the arms of a dodgy Arab on a weekend break to Paris”.
Schaffer loves to play with stereotypes. Jews, who are supposedly good at business, built the pyramids and still haven’t been paid for it, he says.
The British, who sold the Jews Palestine while it still belonged to somebody else, are a nation of dodgy estate agents. And so on. He ends on a high note, tearing into the excesses of English reserve in a routine about ketchup packets and customer service. The reaction from the mostly English audience? Guffaws aplenty.
Schaffer might not yet be famous, but for such a brutal story teller, it can’t be long now before the implicit forecast comes true.
For more details of Lewis Schaffer’s tour, which runs up until December, visit www.lewisschaffer.co.uk