Arthur Smith Live At Warwick Arts Centre – 17/10/10

There’s fun all over before I’ve even made it to the Warwick Arts Centre.

Conceding that yet again this will be an event I will be going to on my own, I gear up and strut to the nearest bus stop. Twenty-five minutes later, the bus hasn’t arrived. People wait patiently, but for me, I have one hour to go before the show starts. I backtrack the route to Pool Meadow Bus Station to see if I can find any evidence that these buses are even running on Sundays. There’s my bus, parked up, with two fellow drivers having a chat in it.

I hustle on and get charged a £1.50 fair, only to find I haven’t got any silver in my wallet, and the driver doesn’t give change. Thus, it ends up being a £2 trip. Sitting at the back as the bus takes off, I realise that they might not be selling tickets on the door. This night has quickly become hap-hazard. ‘Adds to the fun’ I tell myself in an ultra-cool manner. The bus pulls up at the stop I was at previously – passengers board the bus and look at me like I’m some nutter who backtracked the bus route just to guarantee myself a seat.

Thanks to some friendly passengers, I’m able to establish just when I’m supposed to be getting off – the bus may not actually go in to the Warwick University grounds. Actually, the university is more like a small city. The bus spends ten minutes navigating the university roads, and I try in vain to remember running through it in the marathon earlier this year (though to be honest, after ten miles, I wasn’t exactly admiring the scenery). The woman sitting opposite me happens to be working at the arts centre tonight, and quickly guides me to my designated stop, and through the grounds to where I need to go. Lucky break!

They are indeed selling tickets at the door, and what’s more, I find out Mark Kermode is coming to the place soon, complete with  meet and greet. Being as I am only one person, I happily choose my seat – the lone empty seat on row three, right at the front, between two couples. Travelling solo has it’s advantages!

AND THUS, the show actually begins… but a little late. Another comedian is doing a show in the arts centre tonight, but apparently he hasn’t turned up. The show is delayed fifteen minutes, so that his audience may join us, to see Arthur Smith perform his current stand-up tour. Then, a familiar voice echoes around the theatre:

“Apologies for this folks, apparently the comedian next door is stuck on the M6, so we’ve allowed his audience to join mine… unfortunately, there’s this chap in Birmingham who hasn’t turned up either, so if you’ll just bear with us for an hour…”

Anyone who didn’t laugh was clearly unaware of what they were in for. Arthur Smith – poet, author, tv personality, singer/songwriter, failed rock star and comedian, struts onto the stage following his own vocal welcome. Now in his fifties, he caters for an audience slightly older than myself – his crowd generally look mid-thirties or higher. It is asserted at one point that aside from myself there is only one other student in the room. Typically, as a result, some of the material goes straight over my head.

Arthur Smith starts out steady, in his slow-paced and oh-so-grumpy way, and continues at the same pace throughout the entire show. His set is made up of readings from his books, recitations of his best poems (which were indeed quite good, I have to say), a few songs, a few theatrics… and his famous Leonard Cohen impersonation. The songs are of course the strange ones – his two songs are humourous, and not long enough to induce the dreaded awkwardness of waiting for the song to end so the actual jokes can resume.

“I hate going to supermarkets nowadays and not being able to find things. Back in the day, you ask a nearby staff member where the cornflakes are, and he’d say ‘Down that aisle, on your left.’, which is fine. But nowadays, you ask where the cornflakes are, and the spotty little youth is more likely to say ‘Follow me, I’ll show you.’. Now you have to do the walk of shame, with other customers shaking their heads when they see you. You lower your head in misery. ‘I don’t know where the cornflakes are 😦 ‘ ”

It is clear from the start that this man is, much like Nick Owen, here to recite and reflect upon his past experiences. His book – a virtual memoir of his days – becomes the central structure to his comments on days gone by, which make the set feel rather personal and somewhat genuine. Every now and then, however, he caters for my particular audience – that is, the ‘grumpies’.

“Politicians annoy me. Those prats who say they had a joint, but they didn’t inhale. What bloody use is that? That’s like buying a hamster and not shoving it up your a*se!”

The reluctant and rather embarrassed laughter of the aging audience makes Arthur confirm that that is as ‘low’ as his material goes tonight. He stays true to the promise – this is not really about provoking outrage, or indeed any form of extreme response from the audience. However, early into the second half, Arthur drops his trousers, to reveal pants adorned on the front with a painting of the crotch of Michaelangelo’s work ‘David’, claiming that it is both outrageous and educational at the same time.

In occasional spouts, breaking up his own trip down memory lane, come streams of fast-paced jokes, including past experiences with brass bands, confrontations with Yorkshire men, his annoyance at lawyers and the legal system, and his feelings about air travel. At certain points, the set is stopped altogether, whilst Arthur Smith delivers some more retro-jokes, which inspire some nostalgia, even for me:

“Old jokes, the old ones are the best. FOR EXAMPLE: Man goes into a doctors. After about two minutes, the doctor says: “I’m sorry sir, but you’re going to have to stop masturbating.” “Oh no!” The man cries! “Why?” “Because I’m trying to examine you.” ”

As the set goes on, you begin to get the feeling that Arthur Smith really is being himself. He seems to be enjoying himself, and is all too happy to interact with people on the front row. He doesn’t insult the audience, and he isn’t racist or sexist. His humour is rather innocent by today’s standard, yet funny nonetheless, and to be honest, rather refreshing. He sends himself up for the most part, and I increasingly get the notion that he’s doing his own thing. He isn’t out to make any points, or provoke any major notoriety. It was almost as if his show was as much for him as it was for us, yet not in a selfish way. It was a happy show – despite the content, it was rather lacking in bitterness or pessimism.

“I was at St Pancras station a few days back. A man comes up to me and says ‘You’re a star!’. I was like ‘Welllll, not really, haha!’ The man says ‘No, no! You’re a STAR!’. I nod my head a little in embarrassment ‘Well yeah, I suppose, I’ve done this and that…’. The man stares at me gone out, then says ‘Eurostar?’. ‘Ah’ I say, feeling miserable once again. “Platform B, down there on the right… f*ck it, follow me, I’ll show you…’ ”

During the break, I grab a coke, and the second half pretty much imitates the first. Loads more jokes, several personal and rather ‘deep’ poems, and another song. He says that some of his jokes are so old that they actually reside in the British Museum… and that the Greeks want them back. I appreciate the joke, remembering my own jaunts to the place. Arthur finally shuts down his performance after a ninety-minute run, offering three pieces of advice as his encore (which makes his finale three points higher than Dylan Moran’s). The grumpy set has been played well, and has left a rather optimistic atmosphere that allows the audience of middle-agers to leave on a happy note.

“Two dwarves pull two women, and take them upstairs to their rooms. They have two adjoined bedrooms, funnily enough. The first dwarf gets on top of his woman, but can’t get an erection. He lies awkwardly on top of her, whilst next door he can hear ‘One… two… HUH! One… two… HUH!’ Eventually, both women leave. The dwarves meet up to compare notes on the night’s events. The first dwarf says: “That was a disaster. I couldn’t get an erection.” The second dwarf says: “Mine was even worse – I couldn’t even get onto the damn bed!” “

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