It’s the first night of the Liverpool Comedy Festival! So to kick things off, Made Up headed over to the Unity to catch up with veteran performer Arthur Smith for a night of… well, comedy was just one part of his amiable, silly, but thoroughly enjoyable act. Crammed with one-liners, jokes as old as the Ark, anecdotes, namedrops, poetry, song, stupid props and comedy pants, Smith’s collection of stories and stuff was full of friendly charm and perfect for tonight’s audience, mostly made up of folks who knew him from his Radio 4 work.
That was the nice thing about it – close your eyes and being in a room with Smith was as comfortable and calming as sitting at home and listening to the wireless (never called it a wireless before. Must be getting old). Of course, there’s plenty to be said about paying to sit in a theatre with him too. His cool, experienced patter was welcome company. No nerves, no fluffing, no ums and ahs, with a mind full of all manner of comic material and wit, it all gushed forth as the comic lurched from subject to subject. He seemed to very much enjoy people, and speaking in front of them, and looked like a man totally at ease. In fact, it’s that cool calm that is utterly misleading in the end. It wasn’t until I was putting my coat on and getting ready to leave I realised he’d been effing and c-ing and – without giving too much away – making sure the show lived up to its name of Exposed throughout the evening. While I was musing what a gentle night of entertainment it had been, it dawned on me it had actually been very rude, daring, cheeky – but not shocking. The audience had been treated like grown-ups, which went a long way and says a lot about his humour. A hellraiser in his day, Smith’s maturity suits his act well, as his regular appearances on Grumpy Old Men testify. His material is consistently good – a few groans here and there and a few ancient gags that limp along – but he is modest in his delivery.
Yet and evening with Arthur Smith is not just about the funny. He has plenty of party tricks – he starts each half of the show with a Leonard Cohen number (unfazed in the second act by the microphone becoming unplugged and leaving him inaudible over the backing track, he calmy made like it was an electric razor), and regularly recited straight poetry at intervals. Of course there was a structure to the show, with its unusual musical interludes, but in between that there was warm, slightly anarchic feel to proceedings as Smith riffed – largely off himself, but there were big laughs when he invited a French teacher on stage to translate a joke to the audience. Ultimately, this show was a winner because of his willingness to go off the beaten track – he always had something up his sleeve committed to memory. Smith has an intimacy and rapport with his audience that must make each show unique, always the mark of a fine comic performer and a testament to a brain bursting with jokes of all shapes and sizes.