INTERVIEW: Arthur Smith | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Official Grumpy Old Man and Night Mayor of Balham Arthur Smith heads to Newcastle’s Northern Stage on Saturday 3rd December, toting jokes, poetry, and possibly a naked lady or two…

What inspires you as a comedian?
The world at large and its absurdity, and everything around that really.  I’m inspired by books I’ve read and poems, pictures I’ve seen. Generally speaking I’m inspired by the Dadaists, who were the first people to stop taking anything seriously and really take nothing seriously too much.

Tell us about the forthcoming tour
I’m doing various different things, one of them is doing a few gigs. I’m also incorporating a bit of my show I did in Edinburgh called Mindlessness: A Beginners Guide, which is where I teach people how to relax with some towel folding. It’s a bit of a pastiche obviously. People will be sent away relaxed and with a better view of life leaving the endless bullshit, going forward into an inspirational new landscape.

So what would be the essential tenets of mindlessness?
I teach acceptance. I, for example, accept that I’ll probably end up in panto. What else? I forget. Oh yes, always focus and concentrate. Wear ridiculous clothes and a man bun if you can manage. I’m too old for a man bun.

What can people expect from the Newcastle show?
It depends where the show is. There will be some anecdotes from my book [My Name Is Daphne Fairfax], there’ll be some stand-up and considerations of the world. I shall be looking to find out more about Newcastle. I’m really more of a Mackem you know, my father’s from Sunderland, so I spent a lot of time in Sunderland in my time. I rather like it I have to say. Not that I can understand what they’re talking about.

I may actually, by the way, have a naked woman in the show at some point. I’ve got a friend up there we do a gag when she walks across the stage naked. She’s a life model for a living. There will be some surprises I think.

So you’re familiar with the area?
I’ve had some fun in Newcastle. I remember one time I did a gig years ago and I offered a bloke a fiver to jump in the river and he did! I always have a good night out in Newcastle, even at my age. I love Newcastle. I’m not just saying that. I like South Shields, some nice restaurants.

Do you have any amusing tour anecdotes?
I always like to speak to the audience. I was reminded of a show I did in Swansea, I was in a review company and we were doing a show in the precinct to advertise a show. A woman shouted out ‘Why don’t you go back to London and leave us all alone?’. I quite often tend to meet someone I was once at school with or when out with for two days in 1978, but I obviously fail to remember who they are. One of the things of getting old is that there’s a larger and larger amount of people that you once met.

It’s the bullshit, the clamour, the noisiness of the world that I rail against most

Do you get to see of a city when you’re touring? What do you enjoy doing?
I’ll probably be going back to Sunderland. I quite like a walk along the river, I like the BALTIC. But really I’m a flaneur, I walk the streets and observe the world in the manner of a 19th century French poet. I’m always highly amused walking around Newcastle at midnight there’s always young women tottering over on their heels and lads fronting up to each other, it’s all very entertaining. I’m a flaneur, so I’m on the edge observing. Buggered if I’m going to a nightclub anymore.

What was the last thing that made you laugh?
I’m amused at my own concept actually, I’ve decided to build a wall around Balham and I’m not letting anyone in. I’ll be whatever I want to be. I’ll declare myself President or something. I’m a night mayor, I don’t do days.

How did the Night Mayor of Balham title come about?
I just declared myself Night Mayor of Balham. No one complained so here I am. Balham is an amorphous place, it doesn’t really have any administrative boundaries – there’s not an MP or an official mayor. So I’m the mayor. I’ve got a chain and everything.

What rules would you pass then?
I don’t actually have any legislative powers. Mainly I just go around giving a pound to the bloke under the bridge and waving to people who seem to know who I am.

Are you actually a grumpy old man?
I’m certainly prepared to be grumpy if they pay me. It’s very easy to switch on the grumpy meter at any point. There are aspects of the world that really I find disagreeable, shall we say. I’m no millennial obviously. I go on Twitter but Facebook is just an excuse for people I’ve been trying to avoid for 20 years to get in touch with me. If you sit down with 16 year olds they just stare limply at their phones and of course, now there’s lots of things to be angry and worry about, and if I can get laughs out of that then why not.

What annoys you most?
It’s the clamour of everything, the bullshit. I could pay some young bloke with a beard 200 quid to teach me meditation or I could just go and have a sit in my garden. It’s the bullshit, the clamour, the noisiness of the world that I rail against most. People’s utter self-belief, when we don’t know nothing, and every day we realise we knew even less than we didn’t know yesterday. As Socrates said.

Why should people come to your Northern Stage show?
Come on, get out of the house you lazy bastards, I guarantee there will be laughter – and I do some poetry, the Radio 4 audience is catered for as well as the ne’er-do-well.




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