‘Blimey, it was all going off…’ Comedian Arthur Smith on being in York during the floods

‘If I’m playing a late-night club in London I would probably do material that I might not to do in York’… Arthur Smith brings comedy to York Lit Fest. Photograph: Andy Warrington
11 Mar 2016 @ 12.32 pm
| News

Unlike most of his fellow Londoners, Arthur Smith didn’t watch the York floods unfolding from the comfort of his living room. He saw them up close.

Arthur, who is about to return to the city as a star turn for York Literature Festival, witnessed the devastation at first hand.

“My sister-in-law lives in York with her family so I have a bit of a connection with York,” he told YorkMix.

“And I love York. I’m looking forward to going there and seeing them all.

Arthur Smith, York Lit Fest

Grand Opera House, York

Sat Mar 12 @ 7.30pm


More details and book tickets

“I’ve spent a little time there. I was up there at Christmas. Blimey, it was all going off then, wasn’t it, with the flooding?”

It’s a sight he is unlikely to forget.

A great big lake

“We went for a walk and I remember seeing bits that were normally fields and houses now just a great big lake.

“I went and looked at it, it was more like a kind of tourist thing for me, but the trains oddly weren’t affected so I got home all right.”

Talking on the phone while having a “coffee and a fag in Soho”, and he says he might bring the experience into his Grand Opera House show.

“I’ll no doubt riff a little around the subject of York.

“I’ll have to make a flooding joke now I think about it… And maybe a Richard III joke because I was in Leicester recently, and they’ve gone crazy for Richard III. They wanted him back in York of course.”

More than just gags

As this is a York Lit Fest gig he won’t be doing a straight comedy set. “I still do some stand up and some gags but I’ll also do some poetry and might read the odd bit from my book. It’ll generally have more of a literary, Radio 4 feel to it.”

He inherited his love of words from his mum, and has a lifelong love of poetry.

Among his favourite poets are York-born WH Auden, and Wendy Cope – who appears at the Grand Opera House just hours before his own show, which has Arthur starstruck: “I’ll be like a belieber meeting Justin Bieber!”

Comedy CV
Early star of the alternative comedy scene which emerged in the 1980s
Radio credits include Loose Ends and Excess Baggage
Contributor to TV’s Grumpy Old Men
Wrote An Evening With Gary Lineker
Wrote and performed Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen
Hackney Empire New Act compere

Eight more questions for Arthur

Are northern audiences different from those in the south?

I do a little routine – a Yorkshireman is like a Scot with all the generosity squeezed out of him! In a way it’s more about age, how an audience is divided. If it’s over a certain age I’ll be a bit more Radio 4 shall we say. If I’m playing a late-night club in London I would probably do some material that I might choose not to do in York, and vice versa.

You do a lot of work on the wireless – why?

I far prefer radio to telly. Radio is much purer. And words is really my thing than visuals. I’m not known for my miming and dancing. Having said that I’ve decided to do some dancing in the new mindlessness show, but don’t worry there’ll probably be no dancing in York.

Have you ever considered reality TV?

A couple of years ago I was asked on Celebrity Come Dine With Me. At the time I got this phone call I was in Toledo in Spain looking round the Spanish Inquisition Museum of Torture at some of the devices. The one I was looking at the time was designed to lacerate and then rip off a penis.

I got the call and I thought, ‘mmm, what would I rather do here – spend four nights in a row with Peter Stringfellow, or rip my own penis off?’ And really there was no contest.

How has comedy changed since you started?

When I started out, when we were a few scratchy comics hanging around the scene in London, the mainstream was people like Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson. And these were people who did ‘jokes’ principally, not any kind of observation.

It was full of a lot of racism, sexism and homophobia. And we were in a sense cleaning that out, making it unacceptable to do that sort of material. In an odd way it’s coming back a bit now.

In one way it’s gone back to being more of a right-wing establishment thing, which it had been prior to the alternative comedy days.

You’re a big Labour Party man: what do you think of the current leader?

I’m pleased in so far as I can come on stage and say ‘Good evening, I’m Jeremy Corbyn and get a massive laugh’ – which I’ll probably do in York now I think about it.

By and large I’m in favour of Jeremy Corbyn, although I’m not in favour of a Labour Party that can’t become a government, That’s the dichotomy. And I think a lot of people are caught in that.

Where are you on Brexit?

Probably a stay-in. I think of my father who was a prisoner of war and he was very much in favour of it for political reasons. Partly that we’re better off together rather than fighting each other and starting world wars, which is what happened 70 years ago.

Generally speaking, there’s a lot of Little Englanders about. The fact of where you’re born isn’t as significant as the fact that you are a human being. George Bernard Shaw said patriotism is the conviction that you’re country’s the best because you happen to have been born in it.

You’re known as one of the Grumpy Old Men: what are you grumpy about at the moment?

I’m in the large and rather dull band of people who are slightly appalled at the way everyone’s always looking at a small piece of metal all the time. I worry about the effects of that. And giant corporations taking over.

And for balance, what makes you optimistic?

We haven’t had a world war for 70 years. And you don’t get Noel Edmonds on prime time TV any more. They’re about equal in my mind.