Friday, 14 December 2018

Variety is the spice of life for this grumpy old man

VARIETY entertainment is ripe for a resurgence, according to Arthur Smith.

VARIETY entertainment is ripe for a resurgence, according to Arthur Smith.

The comedian’s latest show The House Of Fun, which comes to the Oxford Playhouse on January 23, will see him introduce an eclectic mix of stand-up, magic, cabaret, sketch comedy and more.

Among the more eccentric acts on the bill is Slapper, a glam and punk inspired rock band whose show incorporates surreal props, outrageous costumes and avant-garde lyrics.

Also appearing is offbeat magician and mind reader Pete Heat, who boasts a lengthy list of celebrity endorsements including Wayne Rooney, Elle MacPherson and Pixie Lott.

The evening will be headlined by Hal Cruttenden, best known for recent appearances on Mock the Week, Have I Got News For You and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow among others.

He will be performing new material with support from fellow stand-up David Whitney and comic duo Shirley and Shirley.

Arthur, a performer of almost 40 years and a regular contributor to the BBC’s Grumpy Old Men and The One Show, was asked to compere the night by its creator Ben West.

He said: “I wanted to do it after seeing far too many gigs where there was an endless stream of young male comedians with trendy haircuts talking about w***ing.

“I thought the format was a throwback to the era of variety and even the early days of alternative comedy, or alternative cabaret as it was initially known.

“There are a lot of brilliant acts out there who are a bit too wild for the parameters of mainstream television or panel shows though a lot of them end up doing that. It’s something a bit different. Every act is going to be a surprise in some way and you won’t quite know what’s coming next.

“I’ve only done one show so far so it’s all quite new and exciting. I think it went well and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it but I suppose I would say that.

“The only downside was that someone broke into my dressing room and stole a glittering costume and a talking penguin, which I’m hoping won’t happen again.

“I think variety is about to become trendy again; there are all sorts of interesting cabaret acts out there from singers and magicians to speciality artists.”

Although the internet has given budding comedians a new platform, Arthur said success in the trade still depended on being a skilled performer.

He said: “It seems everyone in the world is a stand-up now but a lot of them are quite unimaginative — they all try to be a little bit like someone off the television.

“In some ways the internet has made it easier because anyone can upload a video but that isn’t the same as doing a live act, which is a very different proposition. It’s a big leap up to be there, in the moment, in front of hundreds of people who’ve paid you to entertain them.

“This show is very much a live show and it would be no good having someone on it just because they’re on YouTube.”

Arthur, a long-standing Labour supporter, said mainstream comedy had become less political than it was when he began his career in 1977.

He said internet star Daniel “Dapper Laughs” O’Reilly, who was recently forced to apologise on Newsnight for making jokes about rape, would “never have got anywhere” three decades ago.

He said: “Back then you either loved or hated Margaret Thatcher and we were all against her.

“I think there’s since been a bit of a reaction against the perceived ‘right on-ness’ of that era so you have comedians like Jimmy Carr making rape jokes.

“Comedy is definitely more right-wing than it used to be.”

However, with the likes of Russell Brand calling for political revolution, he said there were signs of that spark returning.

He said: “I think by and large his campaigning is a good thing rather than a bad thing.

“He’s a bit idealistic and I don’t agree that people should stop voting because that’s a hard-won right and if you don’t vote it opens the door to all sorts of nutters. Democracy isn’t perfect but it’s the best way forward.

“People say he’s a hypocrite because he’s wealthy but that doesn’t diminish what he’s got to say.

“I do know that one time, when I was presenting the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year awards, he apparently had his way with a young lady in my dressing room so I’ve always wanted to congratulate him for that.”

The show opens at 7.30pm and tickets are £16 (£14 concessions). Visit or ring 01865 305305.

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