“I’ve got to the age now where I’m seriously thinking about what I’d like to come back as.” So says Lynn Ruth Miller at the start of her stand-up show, Granny’s Gone Wild. Miller is 80 years old and in the thick of a 12-night run in the louche basement of Soho Theatre in London.
For an hour every night she stands on stage telling jokes wearing a white babydoll nightie and white high heels. She strips down to these in her opening number, tossing aside her fur stole and gold dress before prowling into the audience to sit on the knee of a man in the second row and to steal another’s glasses. “I look better like that, right?” she purrs, not missing a beat. In a later number she tosses incontinence pads into the stalls, as if they were roses.
Miller, born in Ohio, based in San Francisco and currently living in Brighton, England, began her stand-up career nine years ago, when she was 71. A journalist and writer, she came across San Francisco’s Comedy College while surfing the net for jokes to tell at her book talks. She enrolled, thinking it would make a good story – “The idea amused me immensely. I’m Jewish. You’re either funny or you’re not funny” - but she soon discovered she was a natural. At her end-of-course exam, she performed a set about having a mammogram. “And I brought the house down. I thought, ‘Oh my god, where can I do this again?’”
Since then she has built up a fine set of wry stories and songs - about drugs, love and not being able to cook - delivered in a vampy growl. There are plenty of jokes about being ancient, but also about bulimia, internet dating and her abusive ex-husband. It is not all Complan and hip replacements, not by a long chalk. And it is delivered with a life-affirming confidence that is hard to resist. “Doing comedy has changed the way I think about myself, and my body”, says Miller. “Do I feel old on stage? No! I don’t have time to.”
Miller is one of a number of late-blossoming comedians on the circuit. Not old-timers like Ken Dodd, 86, and Barry Humphries, 80, who carry on pulling in the same crowds they did when they were half their age, but newcomers who have found the confidence to take to the mic in later life. Last year Marc Lucero, 61, won the second Silver Stand-up award at Leicester Comedy Festival.
Before becoming a comedian he worked on a swimwear stall at Petticoat Lane market, then he saw George Carlin on stage in Vegas and it “changed his life”. Now with a mane of grey curls and grizzled beard, he delivers sharp routines about everything from Saga magazine to cocaine. “It has been a struggle. The scene is dominated by 20 to 30 year olds and has been for years”, he says. Based in Kensal Green, north London he now gigs three or four nights a week, all over the country. “I would like to keep it Home Counties but I’ll go wherever. I’ve just got a Senior Railcard so I’m trying to do gigs I can get to on the train.”
At Soho Theatre, Miller’s audience comprises men and women of all ages. “The only people who do not like me are men in their mid-twenties and people over 70. Because I’m making fun of them. I loathe going to care homes. They find me offensive there. This one time I tossed out an incontinence pad and one lady grabbed it and said, ‘I’m keeping that.’”
Last year she did 250 gigs and she tries to fit in at least two or three a week, often getting home in the small hours. How does she keep fit for the stage? “I stay away from salty foods, and I walk my two little dogs every day”, she says. “I’m going to carry on until I die. Or until I can’t remember the set I’m doing.”
Lynn Ruth Miller, Soho Theatre, London to Saturday, then touring (ww.lynnruthmiller.net); Marc Lucero plays Showcase Coventry on Saturday and performs ‘George Carlin Saved My Life’ at Leicester Square Theatre, London on 17 May (www.marclucero.co.uk)
The great Monty Python build-up starts here. With just three months to go until their live shows at The 02 in July, Eric Idle has announced the first merchandise, a re-release of Monty Python Sings, remastered and with five new songs alongside classics such as the “Lumberjack Song” and “Spam Song”. One track will be released for free on YouTube, no doubt hoping to emulate the success of the last novelty hit song, Ylvis’ “What Does the Fox Say”, which got 366million hits. A single will follow in May and the album after that.
Merchandise is an increasingly lucrative sideline for mega stand-ups. They have the catchphrases, all they need is something to print them on. At Miranda’s O2 show last week, branded bobble hats and “Such Fun!” t-shirts sold like hotcakes and Jack Whitehall catered to his young fanbase at Wembley this week with Jack Wills-style grey marl sweatshirts featuring his signature and newly minted maxim, ‘Get it wrong. Gotta be strong’. Expect lumberjack style t-shirts and parrot keyrings to do well come July.
What I Watched
The Claudia O’Doherty Experience
At The Invisible Dot, London. A fantastic night of young talents - Eleanor White, Mae Martin, Alfie Brown and Alistair Green - all hosted with pizzazz by the irresistible Claudia O’Doherty.
In the Arcola Tent, London. Key has replaced the on-stage bath of his last show with a bed and it makes for an intimate, sometimes sinister hour of comedy. There are poems about owls, anecdotes about threesomes and awkward audience flirtations. A dreamy evening from a comedian who is at the top of his game, and clearly enjoying it.
On BBC2. It’s great to have Ian Fletcher and his folding bike back and there were plenty of delicious small touches in the first episode of the BBC sitcom about the BBC. But is it too much of an in-joke? And why wasn’t there more of the amazeballs Siobhan Sharpe?