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THERE ARE many 80-year-olds with a nice line in humour. But Lynn Ruth Miller has taken her comedy further, swapping the bridge club for a career in stand-up. And the Brighton-based American has no qualms about regaling audiences with stories about sex for the over-60s and her two divorces from “nice Jewish boys” who had turned out not quite so nice.
Seventy-one when she embarked on a comedy career, the former journalist and proud daughter of a kosher butcher has since appeared on Britain’s Got Talent and performed on the Edinburgh Fringe. It is not unknown for Miller to shower audiences with sanitary products. “I should be in a home but I’m not,” she reflects. “I’m in a bar talking dirty.”
She was inspired by a short comedy course she took in San Francisco. “I had always been a great writer and was looking for something to keep me busy, so I signed up to do the course,” she recalls.
“There I was, 71, with no ego and just ready for a good time. I realised you can’t teach people to be funny. But what you can teach them is to present their funniness.
“At the end of the course I performed this set about mammograms and I had the audience roaring with laughter. I was hooked on making people laugh.”
She immediately began turning up to open mic spots to test out her new skills. “Of course at first everyone thinks ‘oh she’s old so she’s just going to be funny because she’s old’. Then they realise it is nothing t o do with my age. I’m not a gimmick.”
Currently preparing for her latest show at the Chelsea Theatre in London, she says there are perks to pursuing a career at pensionable age. “I can’t think of a better way to be getting old. And I’m travelling to my gigs for half the price.”
Taboo topics hold no fear. “I joke about sex all the time. I have a song about condoms and I do a striptease as part of the new show. Don’t worry, not all the way,” she adds reassuringly. “People think the moral gate closes after 60, but what do they think I’ve been doing for 80 years?”
Miller was first spotted by Britain’s Got Talent scouts when performing her show, Granny’s Gone Wild, in Edinburgh, having already done the US version of BGT, of which she recalls: “Piers Morgan is as horrible as you imagine and David Hasselhoff is lovely, as is Sharon [Osbourne]. I knew what to expect from the UK one. I knew I wouldn’t get far but I love the process.
“Simon Cowell told me I wasn’t funny but he laughed the whole way through. It is all pantomime and the UK audiences are the warmest I’ve ever met.”
She decided to move to the UK after being offered a show on new TV channel London Live. “I’ve performed in San Francisco, LA and even Vegas but now I’m living above a fish and chip shop in Brighton.
“I’m soaking up British culture and want to be near to the work I’m doing here in London and in Edinburgh. I’m totally open to meeting a nice English Jewish man. You’d think the limelight attracts the men, but they are all intimidated. They think if they go out with me they’ll end up in a set — and they are probably right.”
The comedienne will be performing another show, Not Dead Yet, at Edinburgh this year. “For me, being able to do this is a mitzvah,” she says. “Bubbas might be shocked by what I do, but it’s i mportant they know they have a choice, too. Getting older shouldn’t hold us back.”
There is Jewishness in all her work. “We have faced such tragedy as people and humour is the best way to get over that. We do it better than anyone.”
Lynn Ruth Miller