Pearls of wisdom from comedy greats Lynn Ruth Miller and Lynne Jassem

Fringe performers Lynn Jassem (left) and Lynne Ruth Miller (right) Picture: Greg Macvean
Fringe performers Lynn Jassem (left) and Lynne Ruth Miller (right) Picture: Greg Macvean
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Take one Fringe debutante and one perennial performer and just let the advice (and the hilarious trips down memory lane) flow.

It should have been obvious. Having known Lynn Ruth Miller – Dowager Queen of Comedy, burlesque diva extraordinaire – I should have known that putting her together with Lynne Jassem, a native New Yorker comic/mime artist/tap dancer/physical comedian, straight off the plane from LA to make her Fringe debut, would leave little space in the conversation for me and my incisive questioning.

Picture: Greg Macvean

Picture: Greg Macvean

They are both tiny. I mean like teeny tiny ladies. Like two little comedy sparrows. But boy, can they talk. It was like putting magnesium and water together. But much, much funnier. Lynn Ruth, it transpires, as they enthusiastically go back to back, is the smaller. She is also the elder, at 83, by 13 years.

Lynn Ruth is sceptical when I say Lynne (or Lynne Two as she deferentially dubs herself) is coming from LA.

“You’re from LA?” she asks Lynne Two, with a hint of accusation, almost before she has a chance to sit down.

“I’m originally from New York,” says Lynne Two.

Picture: Greg Macvean

Picture: Greg Macvean

“You see!” says Lynn Ruth, wagging a finger triumphantly, “no-one is from LA!”

It transpires that both of them have “been about a bit”. Geographically, of course.

Lynn Ruth was born in Toledo, Ohio. “It was so hick-y. SO HICK-Y. I lived there for 40 years.”

She became professor of humanities at Toledo University. “I slept through my degree,” she says, “the average IQ was in single digits.”

Picture: Greg Macvean

Picture: Greg Macvean

She taught grade school and even had her own TV show on CBS.

“It was called The Little Playhouse, it was what was called then a hands-on children show.” There is a pause while we all decide whether to pursue the comic opportunity and decide against it.

“Then I married a gay guy,” she says. It didn’t last. “I looked him up and he married another woman six years later. But in Indiana in 1962 you couldn’t be gay.”

“Oh no!” agrees Lynne Two “They’d shoot you.”

“They shoot everyone in Indiana,” says Lynn Ruth. “I remember Hallowe’eners coming round one year to my neighbour’s and I am looking at him and he’s got a gun cocked!”

“Even in parts of California,” says Lynne Two, now back on the homophobia. “Where?” asks Lynn Ruth. “Gorman,” says Lynne Two with a grimace.

“Oh my God, Gorman!” says Lynn Ruth in horror. “All these people on dirt bikes,” shudders Lynne Two, “and I thought, OK, I’m a lesbian, I’m short and I’m Jewish. I got three things against me here.”

But she is made of stern stuff. This is a woman who taught dance in upstate Michigan. “I found this sweet boy and I told him just to bring me some marijuana so I could go hide,” says Lynne Two.

“I didn’t think they did pot there,” says Lynn Ruth (who has quite an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject). “They don’t,” says Lynne Two. “But he did.” She looks genuinely pained. “They had a tool festival … they were all wearing clogs.”

Now she lives in West Hollywood with her wife, who is a British doctor. And she loves it.

Lynne Two’s show is called From Como to Homo. “Como as in Perry,” she says, “and Homo as in me.” Lynn Ruth is entranced. “I was a Como-ette,” says Lynne Two. “There were six kids who sang and danced every week on the Perry Como show on live TV.”

“You knew him?” says a suddenly star-struck Lynn Ruth.

“He was quite stand-offish with us,” says the Como-ette. But, yes, she knew him. She did a fair amount of TV.

“My mother’s hand print is still on my back,” she says. “They were all the same, the pushy Jewish mothers – they hovered in studio.”

“My mother wasn’t pushy, my mother just hated me,” says Lynn Ruth. Lynne Two looks concerned.

“That’s the truth,” says Lynn Ruth. “But she was still a typical Jewish mother – it was all about food and how you look…”

“Oh my God yes,” says Lynne Two. “I wish my mother was alive now to see my long hair, she would have loved it.”

We all nod understandingly. “I had long hair when I was young,” she explains, “but when I was in San Francisco I had to look butch so I had the short hair … but I was never butch enough for those girls. My size is against me.”

Lynn Ruth is still mildly star struck.

“You’re a really big name… you did big time stuff,” she says, “I feel so small.”

“Have you ever heard of me?” asks Lynne Two.

“That is so Jewish!” says Lynn Ruth.

There then follows a litany of Jewish jokes, bounced between them, mainly involving Jewish mothers, husbands and suicide. I am sure one or other of the ladies will be delighted to regale you with some of them after their respective shows.

Lynne Two will be telling her story in her debut Edinburgh show. She hated ballet as a kid and had to be bribed with toys by her mother to attend classes. Then she discovered tap. Which she loved.

“I love dance,” says Lynn Ruth, “but I am a complete klutz. I took tap dancing classes in San Francisco and I was put in the children’s class.”

After tap, Lynne Two then discovered mime. “I studied with a woman in San Francisco and then moved back to New York when this company was ­auditioning for a new show. I did something about being stuck in a phone booth.”

“They don’t have phone booths any more,” says Lynn Ruth sorrowfully.

“They did back then!” says Lynne Two. “They hired me and that was it … I was on the road.”

“You are really experienced at showbusiness and I’m not,” observes Lynn Ruth.

“Yeah, but everybody knows you and loves you,” says Lynne Two. “I said to Sweet Venue that I was meeting you and they were like … Lynn Ruth Miller!”

Lynne Two will be found at Sweet Grassmarket. I enthuse about the venue and the shows there – Christian Talbot’s play and the magnificent Twonkey to name but two. “Who is Twonkey?” Lynne Two wants to know and I attempt to explain. “Could he be a potential Green Card?” asks Lynn Ruth. Twonkey, over to you.

We spend time teaching Lynne Two the correct pronunciation of Edinburgh and trying to persuade her to try haggis.

When it transpires that Lynne Two suffers “big time” from stage fright, Lynn Ruth imparts some words of wisdom … a sort of distillation of what all her years at the Fringe have taught her. “Just remember they put their knickers on one leg at a time just like you.”

l Lynne Jassem: From Como to Homo, Sweet Grassmarket, until 28 August; today 2:15pm.

Lynn Ruth Miller: This is Your Future, Just the Tonic at The Caves, until 14 August, today 9pm (venue change from 16 August, moving to Just the Tonic at the Community Project, until 28 August; 8:15pm); Lynn Ruth Miller and Larah Bross: Gran Slam, Stand Comedy Club, until 14 August; today 3:45pm; Lynn Ruth Miller, I Love Men, C Nova, until 29 August, today 6:20pm

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