Free until Famous: Lewis Schaffer’s never-ending comedy show in Soho
Every Tuesday and Wednesday in Soho, American comedian Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous. With over 250 performances, this is London’s longest-running solo comedy show, which started in October 2008. The hosting venue – the soft-lit and cosy basement of The Source Below – can fit in about 25 people and has its own bar where you can order your drinks to foretaste the show.
Schaffer – aged 54 – moved from New York to London in 2000. Now at the 18th year of his career, having gone through a few negative experiences, he has ironically turned them into deep inspiration for some of his best jokes.
“I thought this girl really liked me, so I followed her here, and got two kids later. That’s why I’m in this country. I’m not an immigrant; I’m not an asylum seeker. I’m not studying. I’m not working. I’m a hostage.”
To Schaffer – mike in one hand and glass of white wine in the other – everything is personal; with such a generous touch of sarcasm and black humour around the most assorted issues, the show often reaches such peaks of hilarious discomfort that you can hear some cry “Oh no!” and “Oh my God!” out loud from the crowd. Among all topics, his favourites are without a doubt sex and sexuality, countries and cultures but also history and politics, all in a unique, uproarious and unpredictable way.
His constant downplaying – even of his own talent and the show – alongside with his absolute lack of finesse, are at the heart of his comedy. This is topped only by the belittlement of the very audience, who after all, has gone to see a free show.
“You see the problem we have? You’re judging me, but I’m better than you are. Ok? So lower – in fact raise – your expectations!”
A few times Schaffer seems to turn a little too serious and embarks on rather gloomy grounds, only to abruptly end the anecdote by making fun of it too, which represents the funniest climax of his performance.
Admittedly, during the first half of the show Schaffer may sound like he is on a free flow that doesn’t have a precise ending point, simply wandering off and improvising without a real plan. However, towards the beginning of the second half and again at the end of the show, it becomes clear that the man is very capable of leading his evening to a success. This is mostly because of his ability to read his audience: already at the door, he shakes hands and asks your name and before you can even realise it, he’s cracked a couple of jokes and you’re walking downstairs with a laugh. He welcomes his guests, makes sure all are seated (tells off the latecomers), throws in a bunch of last-minute stools, manages audio and lighting, and even applauds and cheers himself all the way up the stage.
Schaffer also uses some of the people in the audience as props and keeps going back to them for more jokes, with the great result of it all getting funnier and funnier.
At times he even tries to involve the bartender, Stephano, who hides himself deep down the counter, making the whole scene the more hilarious. Schaffer’s comedy is sharp and never the same twice: Stephano – who has been working at the bar for several months now – is the perfect witness to that:
“Lewis is an awesome comedian; he has some basic material but always comes up with new jokes and ideas.”
To my surprise, the crowd was quite internationally mixed – people from America, New Zealand, Italy and Poland among others – but were all enjoying the show amid the majority English, who were without a doubt the most easily teased and amusingly attacked.
Whether you are looking for a great evening out that won’t be hard on your pockets, or you’re simply in need of an easy laugh, rest assure that with Free until Famous you’re in for a good quality hour (split by a ten-minute break, during which Schaffer stays in for a ‘normal’ chat – although I laughed even then).
As the title hints, the entry to the show is free, although at the end Schaffer will stand on the stairs equipped with a ‘give-only-if-you-laugh’ jar for contributions.
“I really respect Michael McIntyre…How much is Michael McIntyre? …Fifty quid? …I’m not saying I’m as funny as Michael McIntyre. But I’m physically closer to you.”
Photo: Courtesy of Lewis Schaffer
Map venue and other information about the show can be found here on Schaffer’s show website.