The conversational and controversial comedian
Get ready for Grumpy Old Men star Arthur Smith and his hard-hitting humour as the next edition of the Eden Comedy Club hits the stage on Thursday. Ramona Depares interviews the man who brings the laughs.
Bold, witty but also highly accessible to the masses, BBC2 show Grumpy Old Men laid down the standard for gripes about 21st-century living and the myriad pains it brings with it.
All in the spirit of raising a cynical laugh or two, of course. The bunch included names like Jeremy Clarkson, Bob Geldof and A.A. Gill and, heckling away with the best of them, was Arthur Smith.
Smith will be one of the stars at the Eden Comedy Club’s fourth live stand-up comedy show, together with Colin Manford – best known for his intuitive humour and storytelling skills – and Kevin Shephard, describedby BBC’s Linconshire as “a vibrant comedian who manages to packa 20-minute set with more quality material than many achieve inan hour”.
For someone who started his comedy career busking outside a pub in South London, Smith has certainly come along.
Today he is a regular at events like the Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival and, if the reviews are anything to go by, he certainly leaves a mark on audiences. His recollections of his earliest gigs are as funny as his one-liners.
“My routine went poorly until I recruited a French girl in hotpants who started a very sexy dance. Things suddenly improved... some time later I got a series of mini-breaks and, well, here we are. But I was never more thrilled than when I first sold a joke to a radio show and heard my name in the credits.”
Suspect girls in hotpants aside, Smith describes himself as “Radio 4’s bit of rough” and his humour as “grumpy, leavened with poetry and surprises... full of stories and gags”. But even in a simple interview, the man cannot help a touch of mischief to creep in.
He adds that we shouldn’t worry overmuch as there certainly “won’t be any nudity”. Well, that’s reassuring, I guess.
Smith claims to get inspiration from the most mundane of sources. Mortality, the endless absurdity of life, people and... pickled eggs. Pickled eggs? Yes, because apparently what makes good comedy is directly related to an awareness of “ludicrous weall are”.
Although he is known for the ease with which he keeps his humour topical and local to wherever he is visiting, it is Smith’s impressions of Canadian musician Leonard Cohen that really made him notorious. What’s the deal with Cohen?
“Well, I am a fan of his. I also think he is actually very funny. I have narrowly missed meeting him three times. I think he would like my groaning.”
Among his favourite comedians, Smith mentions BillyConnelly and Victoria Wood. But even here, he cannot resist throwing the name of British Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in the equation. Forgetting to continue the heckling for a minute, he does add in all seriousness that he cannot abide “shouty” comedians. How does he deal with when it is him who gets heckled it?
“I don’t mind a heckler. The most memorable heckle was definitely that day a man poured a pint of his own urine over me. But for the usual suspects I have some comeback lines, such as: ‘Nice to see the Bishop of Durham enjoying himself...’ I like my hecklersto have their say. Then I shutthem up with a caustic putdown, of course.”
Sounds scary. Should the audience expect harsh treatment? The answer is no. But theycan expect to laugh, be amazed and – somehow – to emerge“better-looking than when they came in”.
Just how Smith plans to achieve this feat isn’t quite clear, but I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.
As for what the comedian himself is expecting from his first visit to Malta, the reply is equally amusing.
“I expect a brass band and some funny looks.”
Well, I don’t know about the brass band as the banda is a tad out of season now... but I’d say the funny looks are a safe assumption.
Judging by the entertainment factor he manages to instil ina mere interview, so are theguffaws.
The Eden Comedy Club will take place on Thursday at the Eden Cinemas, St Julian’s. Call 2371 0100 or e-mail [email protected].
Stand-up comedy is notoriously cut-throat: what is the most difficult aspect?
Fending off the dozens of groupies that never appear.
And the scariest bit?
Stepping into the expectant spotlight with a whole new show.
Are your acts totally spontaneous?
I have material at the back of my mind but I like to react to things as they happen.
How do you cope with the constant travelling?
I am always buying toothbrushes.
Was comedy your childhood dream?
I had no idea what I wanted to be, actually. My mother told me if anyone asked, I should say “quantity surveyor”.