The letters he didn't open...

Comedian Lewis Schaffer looks into family estrangement in the show he is bringing to Shoreham's Ropetackle on Wednesday, February 7 at 8pm.

Lewis Schaffer
Lewis Schaffer

Behind it is a remarkable story which will be revealed on the night, but one which he is understandably cagey about revealing in advance.

“When I moved to England in 2000, my mother sent me a series of letters that I didn’t open. She sent them to me from New York… and I didn’t open them until last year. Why didn’t I open them?”

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When he finally did, the opening became a work-in-progress show in Edinburgh, with Lewis opening a letter a day: “It was more like a performance-art piece. It was more like self-help… or so some people were saying. But it was a chance to finally look at those letters.

“My mother passed away in 2011. She sent the letters in 2001 and 2002 and 2003 and 2004. I did have contact with her during those letters, but I didn’t open them. I just didn’t read those letters.

“My mother was a character. She was like Joan Rivers or Judge Judy. She was like Ruby Wax. She was Ruby Wax… And in many ways I was close to her and in many ways I was not. Perhaps I was so close to her that I didn’t need to read her letters. I am not a man of mystery at all, but what I did was very mysterious. It was just like ‘Why didn’t I open those letters?’ But I opened a new letter each day in Edinburgh. People were crying. Some people thought I was a bad child. Other people thought she was a bad person. Other people just thought that this is what happens.

“Last year I was going through some rough things with my life with my children. I have got kids who are teenagers now and I was feeling a bit estranged from them and thinking about whether I am being a good parent to them. I just noticed these letters when I was tidying up, and I saw these 22 letters and I just thought ‘That’s an Edinburgh show.’

“But I didn’t realise what a Pandora’s box I was opening. At times it was incredibly painful and horrid. Some of the letters were not easy at all, where my mother was threatening to kill me and my father or where my mother sends me a letter by accident that she meant to send to someone else, explaining all her pain and loneliness.

“I am completely relieved that I have opened them now. It has closed a door. It has ended a chapter. It was brought some resolution, I think. I had issues with the way that I treated my mother. I thought I was bad to her, but after I read those letters, I didn’t feel anymore the guilt that I had felt towards her.

“Last year I was in a really bad way psychologically. I don’t know whether it was because I wasn’t sleeping or because of the sleep apnoea machine. And I was depressed. I was given antidepressants. I thought I have to do something or I will die. But now I am in a much better place.”

And from it comes this latest show, one in which he aims to find meaning and humour in a family tragedy...

This event is free admission but still ticketed. You still need to book your place. A voluntary collection will be made at the end of the show.