Interview with Lynn Ruth Miller
Is there such a thing as being “too old” to try out a new dream? Absolutely f**king not! And this week’s astonishing interviewee is living proof of exactly that. Lynn Ruth Miller is the world’s “oldest performing comedienne” and this August she has come to take the London Underbelly by storm.
1) One of the first things to come up about you, is that you started stand-up comedy aged 71. What attracted you to it?
I took a class in San Francisco intending to write about it, and discovered I have a talent for creating my own jokes!
And have you always been funny?
I have always been able to tell canned jokes and I have always come up with smart remarks that got me into trouble…
2) What was it like getting into the live comedy circuit? Were people welcoming or dismissive or… something else altogether?
It was like trying to get into a private club where no one wanted me. People were totally dismissive, but always very polite. After all, I was old enough to be their grandmother! No one took me seriously but the audiences. I am from the old school that believes that talent and hard work can get you everywhere and I have discovered that this is not true in stand-up comedy. That’s why I branched out into cabaret, where I am not beating my head against so many walls.
3) Originally from Ohio, you now live here in the UK, do you find you have to tweak jokes for a UK audience?
UK audiences have a beautiful sense of humour, they have been wonderfully accepting of me. I adore them.
And do you think certain aspects of your comedy have been more successful on one side of the pond than the other?
Funny is funny. The only thing I alter is local references - for example, Sainsbury’s here in the UK is Safeway in the US. My topic is ageing, and it’s a universal thing everyone fears.
4) How do you go about creating your shows?
I try to make them reflective of the world I lived in, and the preconceived notions I now have to fight. I am a writer so I love writing new shows. I am about to do another on how to age in this society with all its limitations and still pursue a dream.
5) What’s your process like? Do you sit down and think and plan out material, or do hilarious things just pop into your head while you are in the shower?
I usually pull from my past and try to relate it to now. I plan very carefully. I outline a trajectory and then create something around that plot line. If it is an hour show, I want it to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and I want to leave the audience with something to think about.
6) If you could only save one of your shows in an imaginary fire, which would it be and why?
They are all my darling babies - I would not know which one to save. You’ve given me a Sophie’s Choice!
7) I imagine you are a huge inspiration to many of the women – and men! – who watch you perform. Do people come up to you to tell you so a lot?
Yes, and I tell them the way they age is always a choice. They can do even better than I have, if they are willing to put in the work.
8) What are you hoping your work inspires in your audience?
I am hoping that the ground breaking I am doing now paves the way for everyone who is of a certain age to be able to pursue a new career or start a new life without the static I have encountered. If it had not been for Joan Rivers and all she did to make a place for herself in the comedy world, I would not be where I am today, and I am hoping to do the same for seventy, eighty, and ninety-year olds who follow me.
9) What was your experience like on America’s Got Talent?
It was lovely. They treat you beautifully. The trick is to remember you are trying out for a TV show, they are picking not just the winners but the losers they will feature. I got to Wednesday of Las Vegas Week - the Top 4 comedians. It was a memorable experience. However, my rejection had nothing to do with my talent, they were trying to make a good and interesting show.
10) You must have shed-loads of great on-stage stories – can you tell us one (or more!) of your favourites?
I think one of my favourites was in Edinburgh. I was changing clothes in a broom closet and a very young man was supposed to help me hook my bra. He was so embarrassed he literally turned purple, and I told him it is never too early to develop the technique!
Another wonderful one was when I won the TO&ST Award back in 2013 (I think!) I never expected to win such a prestigious award, and the prize - 2 weeks performing at Soho Theatre in 2014 - is a highlight of my career. Nothing so far has topped that one.
11) What is the best piece of unexpected advice you’ve ever been given? And what was the worst?
Betsy Salkind, another established comedian, told me: “Lynn Ruth, if you want to succeed in this business, you will have to make your own shows. You are too unusual to fit into the mainstream.” And so I have.
The worst was from Don at the Comedy Store, who told me I was not any good because all I talked about was being old. Since comedians are supposed to talk about their lives, there is really nothing else I can talk about!
12) Can you tell us a little bit more about “I Love Men” – what can people expect and why should they come see it?
“I Love Men” is the story of my fruitless search for a partner in life, and why I finally realised that I was on the wrong mission. What I really needed to find and understand was myself. It is a testimonial to people the world over that they are unique individuals and have the right to chart their own course in life. Social mores are no more than guidelines that no one need follow if they feel uncomfortable. If you want to live the good life, you must create it for yourself. After all, the only person you need to please is yourself. Once you do that, then you will be able to please others.
- Best-loved venue you have ever performed in? PHOENIX ARTS CLUB
- Dream emcee/on-stage comedic partner? DUSTY LIMITS
- Top 5 favourite comedians ? STEPHEN K AMOS, TIFF STEVENSON, PHILIP WANG, ANDREW WATTS, PHYLLIS DILLER
- If you weren’t a comedian, what would you be? A WRITER AND A PAINTER
You can see the luminous Lynn Ruth tomorrow night, performing “I Love Men” at the Underbelly. Get your tickets here.