Worst of a bad draw…

YOU don’t get much for free these days, so a show with a top New York comic, in which you don’t have to pay, must be a real rarity.

But Lewis Schaffer has been performing free shows for several years under the banner Free Until Famous. Apparently, he’s still not famous enough to charge yet.

DOING IT ALL FOR FREE – comedian Lewis Schaffer
DOING IT ALL FOR FREE – comedian Lewis Schaffer

“The idea that people will pay money in advance of seeing me is frightening”, he says, although there will be a collection bucket at the end when he brings his show to the Bellerby Studio at G Live in Guildford Friday week (July 24).

“I like it this way,” he adds. “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.”

Lewis was one of the top comics in New York City, until a short visit to London in 2000 went very wrong. Love and marriage took him from his beloved New York and gave him children, divorce and heartache in the UK.

Now trapped in Nunhead, a suburb of Peckham, Lewis Schaffer is making the worst of a bad situation…

So, what can you expect from his live show nowadays? “These shows are free,” he says. “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 that will absolutely love it. It may only be one person out of 200, but that person will absolutely love it.”

Even a free show doesn’t necessarily attract huge audiences. “Sometimes I’m getting a lot of people and other times I’m not getting anybody,” he says of his Free Until Famous tour, which follows his marathon ongoing London residencies and Edinburgh Fringe runs.

Lewis personally introduces himself to audience members at the door and returns to individuals throughout the show.

“I want them to see they’re dealing with a human being,” he explains. “I’m trying to see who my enemy is. I’m trying to get them to like me beforehand. I’m shaking their hands, letting them know that it’s going to be personal.

“It’s almost like a hostage situation. And they all know the hostage taker. So for an hour and a half they’re experiencing something together, even if it’s just making fun of the hostage taker.”

Schaffer also argues that the crowd appreciates a free show because they have invested time, if not money. “They’ve made the effort to come and they think ‘We have to stay, we can’t leave’,” he says.

“And at the end there’s invariably relief as they realise ‘Well, this wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be. We kind of enjoyed it.’”

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