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Lewis Schaffer: Bigger and Blacker - Fringe 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Jay Richardson

I’ve been told that if you caught this show at the beginning of Lewis Schaffer’s Fringe run, you’d have been watching a very different, much less focused hour. Bigger and Blacker was intended as a provocative title, with the brash but brittle New Yorker appropriating some of Chris Rock’s swagger or the calm assurance of Barack Obama.

And he does cloak himself in their confidence. But instead of extending the open hand of statesmanship, Schaffer has lately been persuaded to try the clenched fist of aggression. Foregrounding his spat with Edinburgh Comedy Awards supremo Nica Burns and the fallout over the fake press release he sent out claiming he was the prize’s new sponsor, he appeals to his audience for commonsense over a fairly innocuous stunt, then threatens violence against his persecutor. He’s obviously developed a taste for it, because having never punched a man in his life, he recently found himself lamping two in the Gilded Balloon bar after one of them smashed his mobile phone. 

After his opening half hour was spent bitching about the world, his Jewishness and everything else – any contentious, wince-inducing line followed by his swift, catch-all catchphrase that it’s OK for him to make the joke, because the holocaust never happened – the sudden shift from inadequate loser to vengeance-bent alpha male is electric.

Schaffer looks like he’s still savouring the blows as he recalls standing up for himself, relishing the sensation of his knuckles connecting with hard bone. Suddenly, he could be rock, the body language as he jumps off the stage and wades into the crowd as potent and as punchy as his delivery. Hell, he could be Rocky.

That’s not to say he spends his whole set grandstanding. After a typically dicey opening ten minutes in which it looks like he’s going to die hard and slowly, he finds his rhythm and batters through a merciless stream of gags that marry wit and finely-tuned writing with frequent offensiveness.

A woman takes furious umbrage at his questioning of Princess Diana’s virtuousness, yet he generously sweet-talks her round to laughing with the logic of his arguments in a textbook display of how to handle a heckler. Not that he doesn’t have cause to regret it though, as she now takes such a shine to him that she demands he relate how he came to these shores, forcing him to digress momentarily into old material.

Still, despite his many trials and tribulations, some of which he finds time to reiterate, this is a tour-de-force performance from a comic who’s been on the ropes but definitely come back bigger and bolder, connecting bang on the funnybone.

Review date: 29 Aug 2009
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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