Lewis Schaffer: You Are Beautiful | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Museum Of Comedy, London

Lewis Schaffer: You Are Beautiful

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Museum Of Comedy, London

Lewis Schaffer has built his reputation (‘career’ seems too formal a word) on being a cranky master of chaos, confounding and amusing in equal measure with intense self-analysis and a love-hate relationship with his audience. Running jokes kvetching about the gig and his entire life beyond, feeding off, and into, his insecurities.

But after several years of that approach, he has now come up with a more purposeful show about topics other than his own neuroses, although still inspired by them, raising questions about beauty, sexuality and love that he leaves tantalisingly ambitious.

You Are Beautiful, which developed over this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, is based on a tale of a rich, gorgeous girlfriend he had back in the 1980s when he was still in New York. She was a high-flying real estate agent working for Donald Trump, he was a hopeless wannabe comedian selling advertising space – or failing to. Yet, unlikely as it seems, he dumped her over a physical ‘imperfection’ he couldn’t see beyond. Many men, admittedly, would have been turned off instantly, but he had a three-year relationship, so it wasn’t an instant deal-breaker.

They met at a Dale Carnegie self-improvement course. Whether that session made him a better man may be a moot point, but Schaffer seems to have learned something from Carnegie about how to sell and demonstrate a feelgood message of empowerment, which he reaches at the end of the hour.

To get there, though, we are taken on a strange journey, full of twists and turns, tricks and misdirections. Is the story even true? It’s hard to be sure, given Schaffer’s rug-pulling style, but it illustrates a deeper truth, to coin a cliche, so no matter.

He cajoles, teases and downright insults the audience – small tonight; and he already knows half of us. He’s unafraid to turn the atmosphere weird, to make the audience feel uncomfortable. He’s the sort of man who will ask a deeply personal question on a first meeting, just for the mischief and the disarming audacity.

But while the intense 58-year-old is not one for idle chit-chat, he’s not one for formal performance, either. He talks to us on the way in, showing us to our seats and casually dropping one of his handful of sharp one-lines in a preamble. During the show proper, he leaves the stage to sit on the tables, getting intimate, as he launches those probing queries, and even get tactile with the front (and only) row. It’s a two-way street, too, and there are plenty of interjections which he humours, even if they contribute nothing but the illusion of real conversation.

Along the way he offers thoughts about the different things men and women want from relationships, which he mostly steers away from cliche, while questioning his sexuality and that of others.

The jokes don’t always land; sometimes because he seems too sincere for them to be signposted gags. And the converse is also true, he gets laughs from apparently straight lines because we don’t trust that he’s being honest. It remains a peculiar dynamic, and one he seems to enjoy the ambiguity of. And if you’re prepared to go with that oddness, you will too.

Review date: 18 Dec 2015
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Museum Of Comedy

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