9 June 2010
By Michael Holland
Just as Quentin Crisp found his spiritual home in New York, so a New Yorker found his spiritual home in Nunhead. Comedian, raconteur, radio show host and full-on American Lewis Schaffer lives and breathes Nunhead, heading up a campaign to rename his little part of the borough Nunhead Heights to reflect his Brooklyn Heights background, but ultimately to 'raise property prices in this area before I sell,' he tells me.
I heard about Lewis Schaffer from another American domiciled in Nunhead and was intrigued enough to make arrangements to meet up with him. As he let me into his home he was on the phone telling his ex-wife (Who he talks about constantly) that the man from the South London Press was here to interview him.
I quickly put him right on that one and tried to get the interview under way. No chance. Before anything else he wanted me to hear his theories on the future of football, which included wider goals to create bigger score lines.
Schaffer is a comedian who doesn't take a day off. Trying to get him to be serious is like asking an unlicensed pit bull not to rip your poodle to bits. He jokes constantly, answering my question about what keeps him in Nunhead with: 'Gravity'. After a while of this it is not hard to deduce that his persistent flippancy hides a whole gamut of insecurities, issues and dark secrets; wanting reassurance on everything from the tea he made me, to how funny he is and if he looks right for the photos.
But I'm not here to psychoanalyse, I'm here to find out about the man.
Lewis fell in love and married a Brit and moved to this country about nine years ago. The marriage didn't last but there are two children that he is close to and it is them that keep him here - as well as gravity.
He has performed stand up comedy all over the land and told me he regularly receives '4 Star' reviews, or 'two 2 Star reviews' he jokes. And that is as close to any truth I will get today. Schaffer has a regular comedy gig in Soho, does various shows around the south east and a little research showed me he won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in Edinburgh recently.
I wanted to know about his radio show on Resonance FM - The Voice of Americans in Nunhead - but it was hard to nail him down to relevant information.
Schaffer seems to be channelling Woody Allen through a coked-up Robin Williams via a suicidal John Belushi in a non-stop gush of truth and non-truth, gag and cow crap. I picked up that the show is as manic as he is himself with spots on the weather in Nunhead, the history of Nunhead and up to the minute Nunhead information: 'John in Nunhead has just had a loft conversion'.
On his show he likes to bait the British in his own inimitable way. Now he was baiting me with some put-down-the-British stuff but I wasn't biting.
He declaims on the great history of Nunhead but didn't know how it got its name; talks incessantly about the underground reservoir, the wonderful parks, the cemeteries and being sheltered from the elements by One Tree Hill, Forest Hill and a Peckham tower block, yet nothing seems to have a point.
I had a list of questions and looking through them now I don't think Lewis answered one properly, yet he told me his age three times (36, 42, 52) even though I never even asked; and with his impossibly black hair it was difficult to choose one from the three given. I felt like a test audience of one for his new act; he was experimenting with a stream of random thoughts that may or may not end up in his show, and with a gig coming up next week - that he tells me he is not prepared for - I think he needs to get working a bit harder and not rely so much on the ad-hoc, ad-lib, improv he seems to go with.
Lewis wanted to take me on a tour of his beloved Nunhead but it was pouring with rain and I had a pie-mash lunch date I wanted to get to, plus I wasn't sure if I could stand much more of the gag-frenzy irrelevance that Lewis Schaffer is. He is a lot of fun but only with time restrictions.
I listened to a podcast of the show when I got home and found it a Brit-baiting, manic, improvised half hour of Nunhead news. Lewis Schaffer's comic berating of his environs comes from a deep love of the place he lives in. He is a little bit shock-jock and close to anarchic with his mocking of his Peckham and Dulwich neighbours, and if the show was a phone-in he would get plenty of irate callers who had risen to his bait. And that is what's good about it.
Radio link on Facebook -
Voice of Americans
Voice of Americans with Lewis Schaffer of Nunhead: Resonance FM 104.4 fm, Monday 10.30pm
Tues & Weds 8pm The Source Below, 11 Lower John Street, W1 (Free Admission)
RAILTON ROAD SE24,
Leasehold, For Sale
TEA TRADE WHARF SE1, £1,295,000 , For Sale
TOWER BRIDGE WHARF E1W, £550 , per week, For Sale
PROVIDENCE SQUARE SE1, £1,600,000 , For Sale