Part of the Humourology series
Season 2, Episode 12
Arthur Smith – The Mayor of Mirth
Writer, Radio Host, and Comedian Arthur Smith discusses how he made a career out of comedy. From humble beginnings as Captain Hook (age 7) to the Legendary (Self-Appointed) Mayor of Balham, Smith recollects on his comedic career on the stage and screen.
Listen, enjoy and subscribe where you get your podcasts
Paul Boross is joined by Comedian, Radio presenter, and award-winning writer, Arthur Smith for a conversation on comedy. Smith shares stories from his decades as a legendary performer and writer. The two discuss stage presence, the power of humour to bring people together, and living in the moment all while reminiscing on a comedic career on the stage, screen, and airwaves.
“It’s just a question of creating an atmosphere where people feel comfortable, making a little joke, and that in turn will bring them together.”
Smith knows that whether you are on stage or in the workplace, humour can unite people. Join us this week as Arthur Smith looks back on a legendary career of bringing people together with a laugh, only on The Humourology Podcast.
Follow him on Twitter
Visit his Website
Follow him on Linkedin
Follow him on Facebook
Hosts & Guests
Read the podcast
Sometimes we prefer to read rather than listen, so here is a full transcript of the podcast for you to enjoy.
Click to see the transcript of the podcast
Arthur Smith on the Humourology Podcast
– I think there’s no doubt that if you can see the humorous side of things you can get through life rather easier than if you just are dooming about everything. Because essentially I think that life is absurd. As Albert Camus said, “The realisation that life is absurd should not be an end but the beginning.”
– Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business, sport and entertainment. Who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock, and puts up punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts.
– My guest on this edition of the Humourology Podcast is the self-proclaimed Mayor Of Balham. In addition to his possibly made up political prowess, he has built a cracking career as a comic writer and presenter, both on stage and screen. His alternative stand-up roots and routines have been rightly lauded as legendary, having stormed clubs and theatres all over the world, from the Edinburgh Fringe to the Hackney Empire. His stage play, “An evening with Gary Lineker” written with Chris England, was nominated for an Olivier Award and was adapted for television. He himself has also well adapted for television, making memorable appearances in “Red Dwarf,” “Have I Got News For You,” and “Grumpy Old Men,” just to name a few. When he isn’t leaving physical audiences in stitches, you can hear him on the airways in shows like Radio 4’s Loose Ends, Excess Baggage, The Smith Lectures and Arthur Smith’s Last Hangover. It’s not often that our show is blessed with such mayoral majesty. Arthur Smith, welcome to the Humourology podcast. ♪ I am the the Mayor of Balham ♪ ♪ Oh, yes, I bloody am ♪ ♪ I am the Mayor of Balham ♪ ♪ I bloody, bloody am ♪
– That’s my lovely song I wrote for myself. over that.
– That’s beautiful.
– You’re not certainly that convinced.
– No, but you and I go way back, so I was hoping that I could be more convincing than that. Talking of way back, the Jesuits, which I know you’re keen on, say, “Give me a child of seven and I will give you the man,” was the young Arthur Smith humorous, funny?
– Without being immodest, I would I say, yes, I was. I learned early on that humour was sort of my thing and it could make me popular. ’cause I remember particularly when I was about, I was about seven I think, at primary school and our teacher announced we were going to do a version of Peter Pan and I was really excited by this. And I went home and wrote my own version of Peter Pan, which is obviously unperformable, but she said, “Well, all right, look, you can, we won’t use your script, but you can play any part you want.” So I went for Captain Hook obviously, and then I was determined to frighten everybody in the audience, the parents and the kids. So I came on with my coat hanger hands that my mother had fashioned for me, shouting and being really scary, or I thought I was, and everybody started laughing. And the scarier I tried to be, the more they laughed, at which point I think it was about then I kind of realised, “Oh, yeah, maybe, actually this is quite good, people laughing it’s quite good, I like this.” And there on in, I was always trying to… making jokes and I was some were quite rude about my friends looking back on it, I was almost a bit of a bully, although the person I bullied most is now one of my closest old friends, so perhaps that doesn’t count. But yes, I know that making people laugh was a way of making yourself likeable. I think, who is he? Victor Borge said, “The shortest distance, Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” And I think that’s true because if you meet somebody, you don’t speak their language, but you sort of make a funny noise and do that or fart or something and they laugh, then you have a connection, even though you don’t know what they’re saying, and they don’t know where you’re saying.
– I think that’s 100% true, and I used to love Victor Borge, it was–
– For those of our listeners who don’t know him, they go look him up on YouTube.
– A hilarious dead pan with the piano and–
– Yeah, absolutely brilliant.
– He was Danish wasn’t he?
– He was Danish, yeah. And by the way, he was a big hit in America as well, which was always surprising to me that he stormed it over there as well. I was recently listening again, because it’s one of my favourite bits of radio ever, of your Radio 4 Extra show about your dad, Syd. And I’ll have to say, and this is absolutely true, I was talking to somebody who works on the podcast, Emma, and she said it had me in tears and it was the most beautiful poignant, moving, warm and funny bits of radio she’d ever heard, and I completely agree. Your dad sounds like an amazing character. And you’ve just said at seven, you realised you’re funny. But he was funny, wasn’t he? So was there some kind of genetic mix in that?
– Well, I don’t know if these things are genetic, but certainly he valued humour, and he had loads of funny stories, particularly about being a policeman on the beat that he used to tell. And he loved lots of old jokes, I learnt a lot of old jokes from him, which I rejected in my early years, but these days I’ve come round to loving them again. Yes, my father, he was a copper and he used to joke though with the people that he had to arrest, even though he didn’t really want to arrest anyone, because he’d been in the war and he’d been a prisoner of war for 2 1/2 years, he ended the war in Colditz Castle, the castle, the place that became famous as a board game subsequently. And he definitely prized humour, and he was very proud of me when I started making it in the world of comedy. And he used to come to the shows and be very encouraging. So, yes, I think there’s no doubt that some families prize humour more than others. And I think those that do probably will have a happier time of things.
– Well, I think that’s true, and if it is valued and prized and children are praised for doing it rather than giving a cuff around the head for it, probably would do it. One of my favourite bits of the show, Syd, is when you tell his Gina Lollobrigida story.
– Oh, yeah.
– Which I’ve just would… if you don’t mind, I’d love you to share for our audience.
– I will happily do so. So a man is washed up on a desert island with a Italian film star and a great looking woman, Gina Lollobrigida. And it’s just the two of them, and they find food and water and shelter, and eventually they end up sleeping together. And one day the man says, “Gina, would you mind if I drew a moustache on you and called you Frank?” And she said, “Oh, okay.” So you drew a moustache and he said, “Oh, Frank, you’ll never guess who I’m shagging.”
– Still one of my… it’s such a great gag, It’s the perfect gag, and perfectly told, it was absolutely–
– Well, I’ve got plenty of me dad’s old jokes if you want to fill out the time.
– I will please, feel free at any time that one presents itself to you. We could just do Arthur Smith’s dad’s old jokes Humourology edition.
– That’s right.
– Yeah, we could do a separate podcast.
– Yeah, actually, it’s not a terrible idea, is it? You’ve probably got hundreds to be honest with you. So what makes you laugh, Arthur?
– Ears. Aren’t they ridiculous? Slapped on the side of you head, sort of weird, funny, flat and fleshy things. They’re ridiculous, ears. I mean, most people you could say, you could recognise your partner from a mouth, or a nose, or her eyes, but not from ears, they all sort of look the same and they’re stupid. And actually I’m annoyed by ears, I’ve change my mind. Ears, what the hell was going on with you? That’s why I put this on to cover mine up. Everything potentially makes me laugh. Not everything, but, I mean, I think there’s no doubt that if you can see the humorous side of things, you can get through life rather easier than if you just are doomy about everything. Because essentially I think that life is absurd, Is it Albert Camus who said, “The realisation that life is absurd should not be an end, but the beginning.” And being alive is a ridiculous thing, and one of the great consolations of the sadness of life is laughter. And I always think it connects us in some ways. ‘Cause if you think about it, it’s such a funny sound, isn’t it? I always think, it’s the closest we come to, sounding… we sound like chimpanzees when we laugh, who are, of course, our great ancestors. Although I’m not sure if animals have a sense of humour, but humour is one of the things that makes us human. And therefore, I mean, you look at someone like Donald Trump, and patently he’s like a failed stand up to me, and I think if he managed to be successful as a standup, we wouldn’t have had all this trouble. But he’s someone with no sense of humour really, like Mrs Thatcher I kind of think that the people who I dislike politically are those probably with no sense of humour.
– So that’s the barrier to entry for you, is actually that–
– Well, I guess, I mean, I get on with people without much of a sense of humour. But, yeah, I think one of the things that ties you with your friends is a shared sense of humour, no doubt. And if someone hasn’t got a sense of humour, I don’t really know what to say to them. But I think everyone has to one degree or another.
– Well, that’s interesting that you think everyone has. I mean, we obviously worked together for many years in places like Jongleurs and the Comedy Store and all, and Edinburgh and places. We’ve all seen people fail to be funny ’cause all the open spots. Why do you think people fail to be funny?
– Well, probably everyone fails to be funny when they first go on the stage. I can think of plenty of examples. Eddie Izzard, for example, for quite a long time, everyone’s said, “Oh no, Eddie Izzard’s on.” But then almost overnight, he found his voice. I heard a story about Jack Dee. I don’t know if it’s true, And I think it was a similar one with Les Dawson ’cause Jack used to do stand up. I mean, really, he was doing it all right, but not that well, and then he decided to give it up. At which point, but he still had a few gigs left. But going along with that sort of our ‘I’m sick of doing this’ attitude suddenly that was the voice that was his, and he started getting much bigger laughs. I think it’s a question of some people were hopefully stand ups when they start, but become quite good. And it’s just a question of finding your own unique voice, and that takes a time in entertainment.
– Well, I remember Jack because we were all playing the Comedy Store and he was doing open spots and he was basically happy Jack–
– For quite a while.
– And then you’re quite right that finding that voice. And I think that’s one of the things Kim Kinnie, who used to run the Comedy Store always used to say–
– Yeah, dear Kim.
– Yeah, always used to say, “You don’t know who you are, or what’s your voice, what’s your attitude?” How long did it take you to find your voice?
– Well, not that long in stand up though, because I’d already spent… I’d already done five or six years in a review company, where we did, where it was sketches but more often than not, I would begin to start doing monologues by myself. So, the first time I did the Comedy Store, I died on my arse. But then six months later, it actually closed down by then briefly, and I started getting off to do emceeing around little clubs in London and pubs. And I found myself, through that and talking to the audience and only doing little bits between acts, somehow that shot me forward. And so it was the way, I found my voice eventually, and it wasn’t too long a journey. And I’d been in a band as well. I was the lead singer of a band. And I used to do funny introductions to the songs, and inevitably the introductions got longer than the songs. So I’d spent, the key is stage time, that the more time you’re on stage, the better you will eventually become. If you still dieing on your ass after two years, give up.
– Oh, really? But, I think I’ve heard you say that if you’ve never died on your ass, you’re not a comedian.
– Yeah, I think every comedian must’ve done that, has a terrible gig where you just, and then you had to walk past everyone on the way out, and they’re all looking at you thinking, “Bloody hell who are you?”
– But the worst thing–
– But that’s part of the pleasure when you don’t do well, ’cause you think, “Oh yeah, that’s good.”
– But the worst thing is that, when you have to walk back into the dressing room, and all the heads go down–
– Yeah, yeah–
– And you just know–
– Never mind, mate, yeah.
– But you had, I think, one of the hardest jobs, and you were, I’d say between five and seven people could compere well. Then you were right up there as being brilliant because you had the hardest job. When somebody died, you had to pick the audience up. What’s your tips for actually doing that?
– Well, one thing is, in a sense you have to register with the audience. You both know that that person died It’s no good coming on and saying, “Hey, wasn’t that great? Brilliant, give a round of applause,” ’cause they’re not going to buy that. I used to have a line I’d stolen from an Anthony Powell novel. I used to come and say, “Well, I think we can say, the least we can say about him is that he’s a reflection of the endless,” oh, damn, no, I forgot the fucking line now. Now I’m dying on me arse.
– Oh, yeah, “He’s a reflection of the infinite variety of the human personality.” And people used to sort of laugh. And I’d sort of put the person down without being too unpleasant. I mean, you could come on. I mean, as I remember, Malcolm Hardee would probably have just come on said, “Well, he was shit, wasn’t he?”
– Yeah, oh, God, we were talking to Jo Brand about the whole Malcolm Hardee thing and the Tunnel Palladium. And we had all, did you have any experiences at the Tunnel Palladium that you remember?
– Well, quite a few. I played the opening night at the Tunnel Palladium.
– [Paul Boross] Did you? which was, for those you didn’t listen to Jo, he was a kind of pub stuck in the wasteland by gasworks by the Blackwall tunnel. And yeah, was MC’d by the legendary Malcolm, who had spent five years in prison and they just didn’t give a shit about anything in a way. Well, I remember, I was on last, no, I was on second and the act on before me were friends of mine and someone had thrown a bottle on the stage and hit my friend, and I came on and did two gags that were really like my best gags and then said, “Well, if you think I’m doing anymore, if you chuck glasses at people, fuck you.” And I walked off rather self impotently. But as you remember, often the heckling was so brutal there, but the shows quite often only ever lasted 20 minutes anyway, ’cause everyone had been booed off immediately. Did you have bad one, did you have any there, Paul?
– Oh, yeah, well, both Morris Minors And The Majors and the Calypso Twins played it. And actually generally did pretty well. Because actually they would, you didn’t know whether they were going to like you or not like you, but we stopped playing it when we went onto racist heckling, when me and Ainsley were going on one, and we thought–
– Oh, dear, yeah.
– “No, it’s gone too far.” And I remember Ainsley going up to Malcolm. And as you know, cause you know, Ainsley very well as well, Ainsley was really angry.
– Yeah, rightly so.
– And he got Malcolm by the wall “We’ll be having all the money here, Malcolm,” And Malcolm was like shocked and, “Well, yeah, of course, of course. Dah, dah, dah everything.”
– Yeah, yeah.
– Because it was horrible. But they were, I mean, they were, they had like this group think, it was like they all got together and discussed–
– Well some of them did as I understand and they used to practise heckles.
– ‘Cause there was one time, there was one guy used to heckle in Latin. The others seemed to understand. It was quite a novelty.
– Yeah, it was. So talking about heckling, should a good comedian or anybody, I mean, not everybody on our podcast, we’re comedians. Obviously people who have to make speeches at weddings or business on everything, should they welcome heckles? Because I think you and I agree that everybody should welcome heckles ’cause it can actually make the thing go better.
– Oh, absolutely, yeah, ’cause you’re only engaging with the audience. I mean, I’m not sure everybody, yeah, if someone’s doing racist heckling, then I think they’re just got to be thrown out or something. But, oh yeah, another thing about that is that people know that this is genuinely spontaneous, this is not something you’ve written down, although there are anti-heckle lines obviously. Actually I heard… Although sometimes the heckles can be just too brutal. I was doing a gig a while back with this guy, I won’t say who he was, but he was even older than me and he wasn’t doing terribly well. And suddenly a woman’s voice rang out from the audience saying, “Excuse me, I think you really need to think about the way your life is going.” she says, “It’s not just your act is shit, so is the whole point of your existence.”
– Yeah, oh God.
– Yeah, I mean, some heckles you just have accept and walk off I think.
– Was it the old Glasgow Apollo one, where it was Mike and Bernie Winters. And Mike and Bernie Winters were on. And Mike Winters used to come on and do a little bit of a, “Hello, how are you?”
– And everything, and then Bernie would put his head around the curtain and Mike was dying on his arse and the Glasgow Apollo audiences were like just silent, and when Bernie put his hand around the audience somebody in the audience just goes, “Oh, fuck there’s two of them.” Yeah, I’ve heard that story, and I think I heard that story about “Morecambe and Wise.”
– It was the Glasgow Empire, that’s for certain.
– It’s one of apocryphal stories, isn’t it?
– Yeah, yeah. Well it probably did that to someone somewhere, or I don’t know.
– So what was your favourite heckle and a heckle put down as well? I mean–
– Well, I used to have a couple of put-downs. I used to say if someone was there, Isn’t it nice to see the Bishop of Durham enjoying himself.
– I used to say it sometimes. And then I’d say, “I remember you, I shit you yesterday,” or something. It was getting a bit there. And then there’s, I remember another incident when I was in Edinburgh and I was in the audience at Late’n’Live, which you may remember.
– Oh, God, I do well.
– It sort of started midnight,
– And nearly everyone was drunk. But I was in the audience and there was, the actor who was on, I found him slightly objectionable. He said to someone, Errr, “does you mouth bleed once a month” or something. And I remember telling him, “That’s not very good.” Anyway, and then I started heckling him. I can’t remember what I said to him. I was getting quite big laughs. And he said, “Oh, yeah.” I mean, he didn’t know who I was. He couldn’t see obviously with the audience. Said, “Oh, yeah, you think this is funny? You think this is easy to you, doing a stand up? Why don’t you try coming up and having a go.” So I said, “All right.” And then I did about 20 minutes. I remember another incident where, it was at Jongleurs, and there were these bunch of blokes and were obviously pissed. They were out together and they’d been heckling all night. And then right at the end of the evening, I said, “You had been a right pain. So I think the least you could do is come up here and give us a song. So what about ‘Lion Sleeps Tonight?'” And I wasn’t really expecting this to happen. Do you remember ♪ Aweem away, aweem away ♪
– Aweem awake, aweem awake.
– And I said, “Come on, I’ll start you off.” ♪ Aweem away ♪ And then they even started doing it. And then they did all come up on stage. And then one of them stepped forward for the opening line. ♪ In the jungle ♪ He had the most beautiful voice. And they did this sensational version of it. I mean, it turned out they were actually a choir.
– They were all in the piss. It was just the most astonishing end to an evening as they sang Lion Sleeps Tonight. A bunch of unruly drunks suddenly turned into this glorious choir.
– One of the things I always talk to people about, especially in business is about listening.
– Yeah, that’s crucial.
– Yeah, but you spent your life on stage doing it. But what you’re doing is you’re really listening. And if you get a quiet heckle or somebody says something funny, actually you’ve got a microphone, you repeat it.
– And then you get the laugh.
– Yeah, you steal the laugh off them. And also you should be able to control the situation. ‘Cause, A, you got a microphone, B, the lights are on you, C, you’re probably slightly less drunk than they are.
– So you should be able to ride with the moment. And sometimes, I mean, there are comedians who just improvise all the way through and just talk to the crowd, which is a brave and often wonderful thing to do. People like Dylan Moran and yeah.
– Well, it’s a high wire act at that point, isn’t it really?
– And people love that. I mean, comedy is so great when it’s on that sort of it could go either way.
– That’s why improv is really so popular. And the Comedy Store Players are still going into their 60’s now.
– Well, exactly. And you and I have both guested with them over the years.
– That’s right. Yes, yes.
– But did you find that, because I always, I mean, I loved it. And I think you were at the same time when Mike Myers was doing it with us and taught us all–
– Oh, yeah.
– The games in the afternoons and things like that. And I loved it. But it was the one thing that scared me more than anything else in comedy. If I could be on stage, or have a guitar, or know where I was going, it was like a safety net. And I think the Comedy Store Players call it comedy without a safety net.
– Yeah, yeah.
– Did it frighten you?
– But as you say, there are techniques. I mean, I didn’t realise that when I was speaking early on. I mean, if someone says something to you, you have to essentially agreed with it and expand upon it. Don’t ever say no, that’s the key to improv. You just got to go with the flow.
– ‘Yes and…’ is the thing.
– Yes, right.
– And you built on that. So you’ve always looked, because a lot of our listeners, their number one fear is public speaking. So you’ve always looked unbelievably comfortable on stage. Is there anything you can share that might help people to, to feel more comfortable?
– Well, listen, like you say, try and be comfortable in yourself. Have a couple of things up your sleeve if need be, but respond to the nowness of the moment, I think. I understand for most people, yeah, public speaking is absolutely terrifying because everyone’s looking at you. But if you just can try and be yourself as natural as you can to listen to people, even if you’re nervous, which you probably will be, just try and forget that and just focus on the moment that you’re up there doing that.
– Yeah, I agree. ‘Cause the first chapter in my first book, The Pitching Bible, was called It’s All About Them. And I think people who do this really well, like yourself, who would think, you are actually invested in the audience, not in your own head, if you know what I mean?
– You allow the unconscious mind to do it. Like when we’re having a chat or if we meet for a coffee or something, we don’t come with notes, do we? And go, you know–
– Well, in a way that’s what comedy is, an improvisation. Is just you’re not reading notes when you’re talking to someone. You’re right, it’s a conversation and you’re quite happy doing it. If you can get that degree of self-confidence when you’re on the stage, that’s the key to it.
– So is it essentially a trust exercise, whereby you are trusting that something will come? Because usually what stops people is, “Oh, fuck, I don’t know what to say.”
– [Arthur] Yeah.
– And we’ve all had that moment. At which point you have to put your attention somewhere else. Do you think people generally, in more workplaces laugh enough? Is humour actually enough, or is it being sort of taken out of work places, and this is now serious? And do people laugh more back in the day?
– Well, I speak as someone who’s never really been in workplaces that much. So I can’t really comment. I mean, I’ve never sort of been in an office and surrounded by other people in the office. But I imagine that must be one of the things that would be good for an office that binds everybody together. If you’ve got lots of communal jokes and if something terrible happens, well, we’ll had a bit of a laugh instead. I don’t know, what’s your experience of that, Paul?
– I just think, I think there’s a lot of hierarchy that stops humour. And so therefore when you get a hierarchy, people don’t want to play, and tease, and chide. I think the word I’d like to bring back, which nobody uses anymore, I think is gentle chiding.
– Chiding, yes.
– Yeah, I think that’s where the life comes back into a workplace is when people can chide and play and do that. But if you’ve got a boss who’s very much on the hierarchical system, like the old Frost Show Sketch of I look down on him.
– Yes. Actually I did some corporate Zoom a while back. And I have this joke where I’d pick out a name. I mean, I usually got the name before or sometimes I just make it up. And say, “Is there anybody here tonight called Paul?” Yeah, we won’t say you Paul. “Is there anyone here tonight called Danny Pauli?” And then say, “Yeah.” I say, “So Danny, some of your friends had come up to me tonight. They’ve asked me to say, I think you’re a bit of wanker, mate.”
– And I did this, where I did it with the boss as the wanker. And I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve noticed I haven’t had another booking from him since. Well, I’m sure when we got away with it if it was someone lower down the hierarchy, probably.
– Yeah, but isn’t that indicative of a corporate culture though? Because I’ve talked to a few people, who when they’ve done corporates, and actually I don’t think it was Jo Brand who was saying, “If the boss can take a joke, it’s generally a good sign that it filters down into other people.” Have you found that?
– You’ve done the hundreds of corporates over the years, haven’t you?
– Well, I don’t really do so much anymore. I think I’m a bit too wild for most corporate gigs. So if anyone wants to book me for a corporate gig, here I am.
– well, you won’t go far wrong
– ‘Cause I’ve said that some of those haven’t gone well. Well, I remember I did one, what was it for? I did one where it was a bunch of car sales. I remember a did a load of things about how I hate cars, which looking back on it was probably not a very good idea.
– If I asked you to write a business case for why humour should be more for everybody in businesses, this could be in offices, it could be in factories, it could be anything. Why do you think it’s actually useful as a tool, and to convince people?
– Well, I don’t really know about business, but there’s no doubt that humour is something that will always bring people together. And obviously, I mentioned earlier a workplace, if everyone is enjoying each other’s company, then they’re going to be much more productive, I imagine. So, yes, I would cultivate humour. Well, some people are quite shy and you have to be gentle with them. But even in the shy, shy people are often the funniest when you give them a chance. So it’s just a question of creating an atmosphere where people feel comfortable making a little joke, and that in turn will bring them together. That’s what I’d say.
– So it’s a culture, basically create a culture. But do you think, I mean, things like creativity are more enhanced by humour. Because it goes back to what we were talking about, the Comedy Store Players and having a set of rules, if you like, that allow you to play, to be creative. And if you are going, somebody says, “I hope we can land this plane properly.” And you go, “We’re not in a plane.” It shuts everything down.
– Yeah, but if you are in a plane, then you’ve got to land it properly, then that would probably be slight, well, I don’t know. Even then it might be . It might be a little bit funny even if you were in a plane.
– Oh, yeah, but allowing the culture and the atmosphere to go, I think one of the things that you have perfected, well, you had it from the start, but is an attitude of warmth.
– Yes, well, I hope so.
– ‘Cause even when you’re taking the piss, it’s done with love, isn’t it?
– Yes, I mean, that’s one of the things about stand up, is status. Some people deliberately play low status, which is, “I don’t really know what’s going on.” And then other people play high status, sometimes it sounds more like that, where you’re sort of telling people about the world, but the key is then is to listen to everyone else and to recognise that you don’t really know what the fuck you’re talking about, necessarily. ‘Cause in the end none of us do.
– No, well, that’s true. But then that’s, is that the ability to laugh at yourself as well?
– Yes, yes, you have to be able to do that. I think if you don’t do that, then you might come over as arrogant. And the key is to recognise your own weaknesses, even if you’re trying to tell people about the world. I mean, I’m a bit of a Plato man who said, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing,” and, yeah, it’s like I punch my opinions out there, but I don’t really know, because we’re just such a tiny little specks in the immensity of universes, that what the hell do we know, really? Nothing. So let’s have a laugh, and enjoy ourselves while we’re here.
– Wise words. Why are we drawn to people who make us laugh so much? What is that compulsion?
– Well, I suppose it shows an understanding of the absurdity of life, and that always brings people together. Although having said that. I mean, like Donald Trump again. He’s not at all funny, and yet people worship him. Although I don’t think he’s being. I mean, he tries to be funny, but it’s always just so awful. So I’m not sure if he is a denial of that point of yours, but humour is what brings us together in the end, from wherever you are in the world. Every country, every human has some element of humour. And even if you don’t know, if you look different, your skin colour is different, you speak a different language, you’ve never been in the same place together, but humour can still bring you together. That’s all I’d say.
– Yeah, no, I think it’s very important that people understand that you are going to make yourself more employable, more attractive, by finding the funny.
– Well, that was one of the things that I learnt early on. That’s one of the reasons I went into stand up, because I was more attractive to women, if I’d been entertaining them on stage in front of a large crowd, than if I was just sort of sidling up to them from shifty obscuration, which had sort of been my early technique. Yeah, laughter is good for making people like you. And if they’re funny too, then you like them.
– Yeah, and I think is it also intoxicating, in a sense?
– Oh, yeah, ofcourse. I mean, it’s catching, isn’t it? There’s nothing funnier, is there? Than when someone corpses on the radio or television, then the other people start laughing along with them. I mean, it’s infectious, isn’t it, laughter? So in a way that say belching isn’t. Yawning might be actually. If everyone in the room starts yawning, you probably would too, maybe. I don’t know about that. But laughter is the thing. I mean, it’s an involuntary thing, laughter. Like belching, or farting, or, but we don’t pay to go into rooms to get people to make us belch or fart, do we? But we do pay you to make us laugh.
– Yeah, and does that become like a drug? Because I think it does, you see. I think once you’ve had that high, I think you really are addicted to it in a certain way.
– Yeah, but that was one of the things, a lot of comedians find it very hard during the pandemic, is you just miss, they were laughing with you or at you, you miss the exciting moment on stage. I remember one very funny moment, one time and I laughed a great deal, was when I was doing a version of Hamlet in Edinburgh years ago in the mid ’90s. And it was kind of a comic version, but not entirely. But I’d done two try outs before I got to Edinburgh, which had both been a fucking a disaster. And so then, but then I went on stage, the first show at The Pleasance in Edinburgh, and they were critics in the audience and various people I knew and I was terrified, but it actually went really well at the end. I mean, I took me applause. Went out the back and I slipped over and fell on a banana skin on my arse into a puddle. And I don’t know if anyone ever had actually fallen on banana skin before, but I thought, well, this is hilarious, and I just laughed and laughed and laughed as I lay there with the banana skin stuck to my ass.
– Yeah, it’s a lovely image. We’ve now come to the part of show that we like to call Quick Fire Questions, Arthur.
– Oh yes, okay.
– [Announcer] Quick Fire Questions.
– Who’s the funniest business person, i.e., non comedian, that you’ve met?
– That I’ve met? Barack Obama.
– Oh, really? When did you meet Barack Obama? This is a story I want to hear.
– In my imagination.
– Oh, I see.
– But I thought he was really funny. And that was one of the things about Obama. He’d even dance well, couldn’t he?, well, not that. I’ll give you another one. The funniest I’ve ever is probably my partner, Beth, who just endlessly makes me laugh when I’m not in the doghouse obviously.
– Beth is very, very funny. What book makes you laugh?
– “Diary of a Nobody” by George Grossmith.
– What film makes you laugh?
– Quite a few. Well, what’s the famous one about the band? Geez, I’ve forgotten the name.
– “Spinal Tap.” Yes, “Spinal Tap.”
– “This Is Spinal Tap.”
– Yeah, “This Is Spinal,” I’m sure I’m not the first to have said that. I though that was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
– Oh, it is still genius. I’m friends with Mark Bedford from “Madness,” and we would go out for long lunches where there will just be every line from “Spinal Tap.”
– Yeah, ooh, I want to go and watch it again in a minute.
– Oh, yeah, no, it is brilliant and worth catching again. Taking a shift to the other side and going to a different direction. What is not funny?
– Death is… well, unless it’s someone you really hate. But, no, I shouldn’t say that. Death isn’t very funny.
– But death can be funny, ’cause you just did a gag about it.
– That’s true. I suppose it can be funny not if it’s your own, or someone who’s close to you. Or maybe your own death might be funny. Maybe that’s the last thing that happens just as you drift off and your consciousness goes, you’re in a great big hall of laughter. That’d be a nice thought.
– That’s good. Yeah, no, I like that. What word makes you laugh?
– Yeah, kipper. It’s got a K-P-P, and it’s a funny fish. And I laugh when I hear the word kipper.
– It is funny. What sound makes you laugh?
– Well, a fart obviously. I mean, that’s one of the great pleasures of life. I mean, some people never really get beyond that. I mean, when you were about eight farting used to be the funniest thing, but it never really stops being funny. I mean, if some world leader does a fart unexpectedly during something, just everyone would find it funny. I don’t know why, but farting is funny.
– Trump trumping would probably be.
– That would go viral.
– Yeah, that would go viral, man.
– Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
– Probably funny. Especially since I meant to be a comedian, not an academic. But it’d be nice to be both, but, yeah, probably funny.
– But don’t you think that in order to be funny, you have to, you’ve known most comedians that come from Britain in the last 40 years, aren’t most of them quite clever as well?
– Well, it depends what you mean by clever. But, yes, I suppose they’re quite adept at thinking and ’cause you have to be, there’s this degree of cleverness that’s involved in writing funny material, yes, no doubt. So, yeah, all right. Then I’d like to be funny and clever.
– Okay, you’ve got it. And finally, and I’m hoping this will be one of Syd’s gags, but Desert Island Gags, you can only take one joke with you to a desert island, Arthur, what is it?
– Oh, let’s go with this one. So, no, should I do that one? No, I’ll do this one. Two balloons get married and have a little baby balloon. And they all sleep together in bed and it’s lovely. But eventually baby balloon gets a bit too big and his mum says, “Sorry, you’ll have to sleep next door now.” So he goes in next door and he’s lying there one night, and he misses being in with mum and dad. So while they’re asleep, he sneaks back in between them. But he lets a bit of air out of his mom, and the out of his dad, then out himself. And then they’re all lovely. But he wakes up in the mornings and find his mother is furious. “Look what you’ve done,” she says, “You’ve let me down, you’ve let your father down,” and then everyone could fill in the last punchline, which I always think is a nice thing. “Most of all, you’ve let yourself down, yey!”
– Yeah, brilliant. As ever, brilliant, funny, and so joyous to be with Arthur Smith–
– Lovely to speak to you, Paul.
– Arthur Smith, thank you so much for being on the Humourology Podcast.
– Cheers, Paul.
– [Announcer] The Humourology Podcast was hosted by Paul Boross, and produced by Simon Banks, music by Steve Haworth, creative direction by Les Hughes, and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.