Lewis Schaffer was born in Brooklyn but then moved to Brockley. Or, to be precise, to Nunhead, which hasn’t got that alliterative ring to it but is close by in SE London. Lewis had done stand up comedy in New York and continued that line of work once he arrived here. ‘I first visited in 1975 and was shocked at the poverty of the place. I moved here permanently in 2000 and now I am broke,’ he tells me in an attempt at a joke, or an admission of his comedic talents, writes Michael Holland.
‘People used to say I was funny,’ he says in his New York-Nunhead accent that differs from the Mean Streets meet Goodfellas movies inasmuch as he sounds as if he is going to cry at any moment rather than make you an offer you can’t refuse. He continues in his woe-is-me whine: ‘At least I would try to be funny; a friend goaded me into going up the Comic Strip and auditioning.’ He ends the story there so I’m guessing it didn’t go well.
Schaffer says his early comedic influences were ‘the insult comic Don Rickles, screaming Sam Kinison, and egotistical Al Lubel… I could watch Englishman Stewart Lee all day, and I wish Patrice O’Neal wasn’t dead…’ There was a respectful pause for the deceased by the man who campaigned hard to save the woodlands in Southwark’s cemeteries, even going as far as chaining himself to a JCB. ‘I remember Bill Burr when he wasn’t that funny, so never rule anyone out,’ he concluded.
In London Lewis has had his own shows in various places: There was the legendary ‘Free Until I’m Famous’ show in the West End where he would perform, pass round a hat, then take everyone to the pub to spend whatever was in the hat.
He has a regular radio show on Resonance FM (104.4fm) every Monday at 6.30. He invites someone in to interview but it often ends up as 30 minutes of chaos that can either be funny or chaotic. Straight after he hosts an open mic evening in the Kings Arms, Newcomen Street, Borough, that has uncovered some excellent new talent. And on Sundays Schaffer can be found performing in The Nun’s Head, SE15, as part of their regular comedy night.
Lewis has been a regular at the Edinburgh Fringe and due to his unpredictability he has become almost a must-see show there. He summarises thus: ‘The shows have upset some people, however, I have managed to make cancer, strokes, and Alzheimer’s funny occasionally.’
I wondered how his comedy had changed since he arrived on these shores: ‘I used to be a straight joke teller in the New York style, then I was, what you could call, a “chaos comic” – where I was putting on performance pieces. Now I just try to make a point in a funny way.’
The point he is trying to make now is ‘about how I discovered that I have diabetes, and that everyone has diabetes and we are all going to die of it, and how we’ve been lied to about it.’ That seems about right for Lewis Schaffer.
How is his health these days. He swears by a plant-free, animal-based, low carb diet that he says has ‘cleared up my psoriasis, the wart on my hand is fading, I don’t have swollen hands or feet anymore, I am sleeping without my CPAP sleep machine and I am on half meds for high blood pressure. Also, my gums have stopped bleeding, and my heart rate is up – It was at 38 bpm. I could go on but this is a family newspaper.’
So that’s the show folks and in previews it is the best thing I’ve seen him do in the years I’ve been following this American in Nunhead. Go see him in the borough, or take a trip to Scotland. He’s famous but still free.
Lewis Schaffer is Mr Diabetes is on at The Laughing Horse, 32b West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DD from August 1st – 25th. Times: 7.30pm. Admission: Free. Phone: 0131 662 1757