Lewis Schaffer: America, The Greatest Country In The World, By The Greatest American Living In Peckham

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

So, some loudmouth, cocksure Yank delivers an hour of nationalistic all-American rhetoric, simultaneous belittling the Limeys as a bunch of fags and drunken slags, alongside a patriotic Star-Spangled Banner…

The glory of Lewis Schaffer’s hard-hitting diatribe is that he doesn’t feel the need to put the quote marks of irony around his aggressive insults. We’re grown up enough to know that he’s only messing with us – and, after all, who does the Brits down better than the Brits themselves?

Well, Schaffer does a pretty good job of it, delivering a supersized portion of harsh, angry and downright offensive one-liners, that just happen to be hilarious – if not exactly guilt-free.

He’s as New York as pastrami on rye or steam rising from manhole covers; and is well-versed in the American stand-up discipline of delivering punchlines hard and fast, undiluted by British reserve. He sometimes confuses repetition as an oratorical device and repetition simply for its own, time-filling sake, but when he’s on a roll, the great lines flow.

But although he’s American – did he mention that? - he’s also lived in the UK for the best part of a decade, so has acquired some good insights on our national psyche, not to mention the measure of our self-deprecatory humour.

Interwoven with the bam-bam-bam of faux-arrogant putdowns is his personal story, of coming to the UK in expectation of comedy superstardom and a lasting, happy marriage. Well, now divorced, living in Peckham, South London, and playing a tiny, dank, Edinburgh cave, it’s fair to say life didn’t quite pan out how he wanted.

So while the best jokes come as he prods away at the national characteristics – or simply a good old-fashioned self-targeting anti-semitic jibe – the narrative comes from his own journey. He can be egotistical and vulnerable, almost at the same time.

Both aspects run hand-in-hand for about two-thirds of the show until, like most US foreign policy, he loses his initial gung-ho enthusiasm for the endeavour, and things start to fall apart.

The show peters out to nothing, and the brisk momentum he worked so hard to build up dissipates. It’s an anticlimactic end to what was building to be a strong show, which is never far from controversy – thanks to his ‘shock and eeeuugh’ policy, to extend the already burnt-out military metaphor.

Perhaps by the festival’s end he’ll have fixed that difficult third act – but even without it, there’s still a hefty share of memorable jokes to be savoured from this uncompromising Yank.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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