We’re barely five minutes in and already Lewis Schaffer is asking who’d rather go next door to see Paul Currie which, he admits, sounds like much more fun. As he goes silent and the raucous noise wafts in from our neighbours, you’re left wondering if he’s actually being serious. In short, if you’re looking for a light-hearted, all round fun evening then Schaffer is really not going to be for you.
Most of the hour is spent with Schaffer bemoaning his “terrible” show and career. Before we’ve even settled in he has basically decided that tonight is a washout. The previous night didn’t work, nor the night before, nor the night before. We’re starting to see a pattern.
This is a style of anti-comedy that Schaffer has worked on solidly for 22 years. His whole career has been built around antagonising his audience, bemoaning his lack of success, and generally making the experience as uncomfortable as possible. One woman finds herself the object of Schaffer’s affection as he relentlessly attempts to woo her. It turns out later that, surprisingly, the audience member Schaffer picks to focus on never really enjoys the show.
As an art form you can’t fault it. He’s getting exactly the type of reaction he’s going for. Everyone looks awkward and put out. In terms of deliberately making people not enjoy themselves, Schaffer hits the nail on the head with sensitive jokes about Gaza, women, gays. And then he brings up Robin Williams, which is interesting because he draws bigger gasps of disapproval from this than mention of dead babies moments earlier.
The main question you’re left asking is “why?” Why do this? Why choose to commit so much to alienating your audience? For reasons only he may know, Schaffer has resigned himself to this self-sabotaging, joyless character, who doesn’t blame people for not turning up to his show in this underground bunker. He sits in the audience talking to us like some sort of therapy group. Although described as a comic, and clearly a talented one at that, Schaffer has apparently chosen to do everything in his power not to be funny, which is often funny in itself but mostly just plain awkward. He seems happy enough to moan about his lack of opportunities, about how no one comes to see him a third time. He asks a man who’s been to see him twice if he’ll be back. The man says no.
It’s no surprise people leave Schaffer’s shows confused, wondering why they endured this hour of apparent self-pity. Why is the act so self-defeating? Is he really getting fulfilment from this? In a way, it does play to certain expectations you may have of a stand-up comedian. Accept it as a piece of performance art that wants you to loathe it, and you might have an easier ride.