‘My comic debut was as Hook’

Arthur Smith comes to The Cellars.
Arthur Smith comes to The Cellars.

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As seen on TV’s Grumpy Old Men, Q.I., Have I Got News For You and more, Arthur Smith is one of comedy’s elder statesmen and reportedly turned down a lifetime achievement award from the Perrier Award organisers in 2005.

We caught up with him ahead of his Cellars show to find out more.

When did you realise you were funny?

During my performing début and my greatest theatrical moment at Southwark Park Primary at the age of eight.

Miss Marshall announced that our class was to do a production of Peter Pan. Inspired, I went home that evening and wrote the show.

Next morning I presented the script proudly to Miss Marshall who proclaimed its brilliance.

God knows what I wrote (of course he does. He knows everything), but it was certainly unperformable.

Miss Marshall told me this gently but deflected any disappointment by offering me whichever part I wished.

Rejecting the eponymous hero on the grounds he was too effete, I chose the role of macho baddy Captain Hook.

My big entrance, snarling and brandishing my coathanger-hook, frightened the fairy girls and squaws on stage but produced big laughs in the audience.

On a roll, I left the stage and began to terrorise individual spectators.

Now I was laughing and so were the squaws, the fairies, Peter, the lost boys and Miss Marshall, and it felt very fine indeed.

No doubt I had distracted from the thrust of the narrative but the people gathered in that hall were happy, however briefly, because of something I had done.

I observed how the sound of shared laughter united people in a loud, visceral moment and I have sought it out ever since.

What would you be if you weren’t a comedian?

I would probably have been a teacher, which is in many ways the same as being a comedian except that you have to get up earlier.

Name three things that make you laugh.

1. A vain man falling over or suffering similar indignity. This is because I am human.

2. Misunderstandings which lead to a surreal shift in one’s perception.

3. An old lady delivering a massive fart without embarassment because this is the pleasure of age.

Tell us a joke.

A man says to the doctor: ‘I can’t say my “ths” or “fs”.’ The doctor says: ‘well you can’t say fairer than that.’

Who’s your biggest hero?

Saint Cuthbert because he gave it all up to sit on a cold island by himself contemplating and eating raw onions.

See Arthur Smith at The Cellars at Eastney on Wednesday in a Cellars Comedy Club special event. Tickets cost £19 on the door from 8pm or £17 in advance from (023) 9282 6249. After the first 60 allocated seats have been sold, limited standing tickets will be sold for £16.