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Free Until Famous With Lewis Schaffer

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Jay Richardson

With what could be described as a Schafferian capacity for self-harm, the American sent the wrong time for his show to the Fringe brochure, ensuring that every day he’s had to perform two gigs. Thus it was that with similar Schafferian oversight, I found myself attending both in a matter of hours. This wasn’t so much because I’m a sucker for punishment, but because the first was performed directly to a group of myself and seven other confused punters around a pub table. I understand that on days without rain, he’s been delivering an al fresco performance in the area around Bristo Square.

If you like the idea of a self-loathing Jew casting aspersions on you at close quarters, flirting crudely with the women present and making sweeping generalisations about nationality, relationships and religion, then you’re in for a treat. Although the strain showed, Schaffer spoke entertainingly for well over an hour and even work-shopped a Holocaust joke he’d been developing as a response to a Jim Jefferies routine. I felt like I got my Free Fringe contribution’s worth, though hardly enough to justify a review, so I slunk back a couple of hours later, his audience having swelled so insignificantly that he could identify myself and another man as returnees.

Hearing many but not all of the same jokes certainly make you appreciate just how integral Schaffer’s sense of failure is to his performance on any given night. Strong and not so strong routines are dependent on his capacity to convince the sceptical that he’s an accomplished comic and not a washed up hack who speaks about a wife or ex-wife depending on whether he’s winning or losing in a particular sequence.

His exasperated tentativeness occasionally gets the better of him, as when he falters when he can’t get anyone to buy into his alternative Avatar scenario, a statistically improbable number of his audience having never seen the film. But when he’s on more solid footing, he can be devastatingly funny, as when he denigrates his sexual appeal for younger women or perversely accuses Native Americans of anti-immigrant employment policies.

Success would doubtless floor Schaffer, but he’s perhaps the most genuine anti-comic out there by virtue of barely faking his struggle. He deserves a certain degree of admiration for that.

Review date: 30 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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