Interview: Lewis Schaffer
Lewis Schaffer began comedy in New York at the age of thirty six, thanks largely to a friend who ‘goaded [him] into it.’ In 2000, he moved to London, married, had children, and eventually divorced. Alongside radio work for Resonance FM, Schaffer has toured his critically acclaimed Free Until Famous show around the country for several years, and has a weekly residency at The Source Below in Soho. The result of Schaffer’s travels, it appears, is a stand-up who enjoys subverting social stereotypes and revels in his flaws as a comedian and a man.
“It takes me a while to get moving”, he admits. “I’m one of those people who thinks about things, then panics and worries, then finally does what he wants to do – but by the time I do it it’s too late. I do everything too late. I got married too late, I had kids too late, I became gay too late. Nobody wants an old gay man – I should’ve done it when I was nineteen. I’m coming out of the closet, by the way. I’m gay. I’m announcing it right now.”
Even off-stage, in the comfort of everyday conversation, the New Yorker seems determined to put on a show; but hidden under his cloak of irony there’s still an honesty to Schaffer that’s admirable. “I’m not hard-working enough to get work, and I’ve not been brilliant enough to get work without working”, he says. “When you’re brilliant you have to fight to put off work and I’m not. But when things are going well I can’t handle it. Carrie Fisher said she spends her entire life waiting for the other shoe to drop and then when it doesn’t drop she throws it down. I’m like that. I just get bored. I alternate between panic and bored. I’m used to living in chaos and it bothers me when there’s no chaos.”
Perhaps, then, Schaffer has found the perfect platform with his Free Until Famous venture, bringing the traditions of the Free Fringe nationwide. Instead of paying an entrance fee to his show, there’s a metal bucket at the end for contributions from audience members. Schaffer is at ease with the ever changing dynamics of Free Until Famous.
“The idea that people will pay money in advance of seeing me is frightening”, he says. “I like it this way. The audience can decide what I get, and if they have a really good time, or have some kind of emotional experience from the night, or have been moved and can still walk out the door without giving me a fiver or a tenner then they’re the losers and not me.”
On why he decided to forge a career as a stand-up comedian, Schaffer is again rather cynical. “Oh my God, that’s not the right question. It’s ‘What keeps you from getting out of comedy?’ Why haven’t I gotten out of comedy? People get into comedy. It’s easy to get into. Why haven’t I gotten out of it? People thought I was funny; I tried to be funny; I always wanted to be funny. I started comedy very late, when I was 36 years old, and that’s really late. I think I’m going to be famous but only after I’m dead.”
So what can an audience expect from Free Until Famous? Schaffer reveals all: “These shows I’m doing – they’re free. You can’t go wrong. Some people love Lewis Schaffer; that’s all you’ve got to know. I’ll tell you why my show is the best show: it’s just me. And if you like me, you will have a great time. There will be people that will come to see me this weekend that will absolutely love it. It may only be one person out of two hundred, but that person will absolutely love it.”
But it’s not all about Schaffer. He’s always keen to praise those in the industry who deserve their success: “The best comedians are the nicest people. Harry Hill, Michael McIntyre, Jimmy Carr, Sarah Millican; they’re all truly, deeply nice people…and that’s why I’m not famous.”
So, having performed his ever changing Free Until Famous show for several years now, does Schaffer really want the tribulations of fame? “No, I don’t want to be famous. I truly would not want to be famous. I’d just like to make enough money out of comedy so I can pay my bills – so I can pay the Inland Revenue and pay my mortgage.”
Such Small Portions also have a great interview with Lewis on their website. You can read it here.