Innes McQuillin

Edinburgh Fringe review: Lewis Schaffer, Success Is Not An Option

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

On the way in, the man himself was waiting with a handshake and his thanks for coming. He repeated the process on the way out. It was a nice touch. What happened in between was controversial, provocative, shocking, tasteless and hugely, hugely funny.

Loud music, cheers and whoops bled in from the show next door. But the distraction faded as soon as Lewis Schaffer began his set. He’s a forceful presence, right there with you, working from the front row, engaging with the audience.

The show is ostensibly about Lewis, a 57 year old New York Jew transplanted to London, and his life as a struggling comedian. From there, he ventures, or more accurately rambles, repeatedly way beyond where other comedians fear to tread.

Lewis’s take on the current conflict between Israel and Gaza is a case in point. In lesser hands it would be a car crash: with Lewis it’s a car crash with laughs.

Diversions into audience participation maintained the momentum and Lewis remained in total control. He scored heavily on the audience laugh-o-meter all through his set.

With such edgy material, every sense tells you not to laugh – but laughter is an involuntary act. You laugh, feel bad about it, then laugh again at the sharpest of sharp lines. That said, I did wince at one line that for me crossed over from acceptably tasteless to tastelessly unacceptable.

Amazingly, there’s no sign of artifice in Lewis’s set and it’s tempting to believe that it’s all off the cuff. However, something this accomplished comes only with hard work and a touch of genius.

Not for the easily offended or politically correct, there’s no one quite like Lewis Schaffer on the comedy circuit. It was a pleasure to watch a master at work.


Date of live review: 20 August 2014, Heroes @ The Hive

Click to read all our Edinburgh Fringe reviews so far.