**INTERVIEW** Paul Smith
St David’s Hall
Friday 10 January 2020, 8pm
SECOND TOUR-DATE ADDED DUE TO OVERWHELMING DEMAND!
DUE to overwhelming demand, hilarious Scouse comic Paul Smith has added a second Following tour-date at St David’s Hall on Friday 10 January 2020!
His first Cardiff show on Saturday 14 September now has only single seats remaining, but please check with our Box Office on 029 2087 8444 and keep a close eye on our website and social media for any late seat releases.
Over the last 12 months alone, Paul has rapidly established himself as one of the UK’s biggest selling stand-ups on the circuit by winning Liverpool's New Comedian of the Year competition and headlining an unforgettable gig at the M&S Bank Arena.
Paul is a familiar face as the resident compere at the Hot Water comedy club, and always has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.
Neil Collins chats to Paul Smith about how he became a social media phenomenon, but discovers that his meteoric rise is not as quick as quick as some people may think…
You’re returning to St David’s Hall on Saturday 14 September 2019 and Friday 10 January 2020 after the success of last year’s Hiya Mate show. Do you have any particular memories of that night?
That was the first time I had performed in Cardiff. It was earlier in the tour last year, and the first gig of the tour I’d done outside Liverpool. I was a little bit worried about it to be honest. It’s such a nice big hall and I was thinking “How am I going to take to this?” And I had a heckler! Well, it was less or heckle actually and more of a persistent disturbance, but whoever was the lighting tech on the night was a genius because he managed to pop a bulb on over this guy’s head and that was the end of it!
It was pretty full, and it was a good night. I was pleased with that as I was on the same night as Ed Sheeran in the (Principality) Stadium!
Why is the show called Following? Is it following your recent rise to fame?
Yes, loosely based on that. You have to choose the tour titles quite early on in the process, so I try to pick an ambiguous name that won’t force me down any particular route. But yeah, the show is based on the last year of my life – what I’ve been doing, what’s happened, how things have changed as well as some stuff about the missus and the kids!
How does your missus react to the jokes about her in your shows?
She understands it’s exaggerated, so she doesn’t mind! There’s been some things I’ve said in the last year or so where I’ve had to sit in the house with her and try to explain – I’ve had to take her out for some nice meals!
2018 was a whirlwind year as you went from the smaller 1,000 capacity room to headlining the 11,000 main room at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena and you recorded a comedy special for Amazon. Describe those 12 months for us…
There’s no better word than “whirlwind” really, and it was a bit of a shock to me. I’ve been doing this for 12 years. I was settled where I was really and was the host at the Hot Water Comedy Club in Liverpool. Then the Club started putting videos online and it just kind of escalated from there to the point where I went from no one knowing who I was to people recognising me on the street. It was mad!
I’ve seen a photo of you looking around the empty Arena before your gig. Were you bricking it?
(Laughs) I’m not gonna lie, I was! Well, maybe not quite bricking it, but it’s a big place. I was like that when I came to Cardiff though as that was the biggest place I’d done up to that point. These places are huge compared to Hot Water where the rooms hold 175 and 320. They’re so small and compact that when you get into these big, cavernous places it takes your breath away especially when you go to the back of the hall or look out from the stage. At that Arena show, there were more staff working there that night than people at the show I’d done there the year before!
Your previous tour was called Hiya Mate, which is your greeting whenever you chat to the audience and you’ve been known to go to the pub with them afterwards. Unlike a lot of comedians though, I wouldn’t say there’s any cruelty involved and the audience genuinely seem quite relaxed with you.
Yeah, I’ve been quite lucky in that people tend to let me get away with a lot of stuff. I’m not threatening, which I hope comes across. There’s a fine line, but I try to not hurt anyone’s feelings or pick on anyone. I try to be your best mate, but still take the mick out of you I suppose – that’s what I’m aiming for.
In saying that, what’s the best heckle you’ve ever received?
Not one that I can say here! I always get asked this and what I would say to people trying to get into stand-up and doing compering and a lot of crowd work is that a heckle isn’t something you should worry about massively. You see some comedians slamming hecklers, but I never think you should really go after them with any kind of aggression or anger. I find if you give them enough rope, they’ll hang themselves anyway. Not going after them with anger tends to defuse the situation, and they end up looking a bit stupid – which isn’t that difficult!
You follow in a long line of Liverpudlian stand-ups? What makes Scousers such funny people?
I get asked this a lot too. Scousers are naturally witty people, but I don’t think it’s just Scousers. I think any sort of working class, port towns have it. It’s anywhere where you have a mish-mash of people coming together for work like the docks in Liverpool and it’s the same in places like Glasgow, Newcastle and Bristol. If you have a lot of people who come together for work and have to get along with each other pretty quickly, taking the mick out of each other seems to be the quickest way to make friends and build mutual respect. There’s a lot of cities that have the same kind of wit.
Who would be your biggest comedy influence?
That’s a tough one…I used to love watching Dave Allen and if you come and watch my show, you’ll see that I can take a lot of inspiration from him. My stories are long-form, and I tend to put a lot of detail into them and they’re quite slowly told. Quite an old school influence, but it would be Dave Allen.
What comedians are you into at the moment?
I’m at Hot Water Comedy Club pretty much six nights a week, and we’ve got some of the best acts in the country. We’ve got Carl Hutchinson, who I absolutely love. We’ve also got a character comedian called Milo McCabe. He’s got one called Troy Hawke. He’s absolutely unreal. If you get a chance to have a look at any of his videos online I would recommend that. There’s such good acts everywhere. If you go to The Glee Club in Cardiff, you’ll see great stuff every weekend.
Do you get much grief as a Scouse comic in Manchester?
No, not really. It’s happened once or twice, and it seems to be outside Manchester. One of the funniest memories I’ve got from when I was just starting out in comedy was when I was doing a gig in Saddleworth, which is just outside Manchester and I took a bit of a heckling and John Bishop was closing. That was the first time I’d met him, and I learned something that night in crowd work. I destroyed them for half an hour for picking on a Scouser! I think the animosity is generally friendly though.
How much does your persona onstage differ to the real-life you?
A lot, but it depends what mood I’m in. I’m a lot more confident onstage, so I wish I could be “him” sometimes. I say things onstage that I’d never say to people in real life. I think people can be a disappointed when they meet me away from a gig in that they might be expecting me to start picking on their mates. I’m like “No, I’m just shopping!” I’m naturally quite a shy person. That’s how I started really by pushing myself to do something.
You first learned the ropes after embarking on a comedy course at the Royal Court Theatre. How were those early years honing your craft?
You’ve done your research! It was a comedy course with a guy called Chris Cairns. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s still a mad experience doing a comedy course, but definitely worthwhile. It doesn’t really teach you to be funny as it’s not really a teachable thing, but it gives you a path into doing your first gig because that’s the hard bit.
Were you just dipping your toe in, or did you harbour real dreams of being a stand-up comedian?
No, I was a graphic designer at the time and I used to go to the comedy club. I used to get their emails and one said “Do you think you’re funny?” I was just messing about at work saying “I could do that”, so I signed up for it and immediately regretted it! I was a shy person and I thought if I could do that, I could do anything. I only had the intention of doing it once, and I was dreading it. The gigs are quite an addictive thing though, especially if they go well.
Surely it must be terrifying to start off with though?
It can be. The first gig I did was in a theatre holding 300 people. That’s a massive place to do your first gig at. It can be scary when you do a gig in a pub to about 10 people when they’re looking straight up at you. The first few years are tough and hard work.
From there you were crowned best New Comedian of the Year in Liverpool in 2006, and reached the semi-finals of the So You Think You’re Funny and the Leicester Comedy competition. What are your memories of those?
So You Think You’re Funny was the first time I’d actually died – that was a bad gig! That was a lesson in that Americans don’t understand jokes about areas of Liverpool. It was one of those where I was thinking “I need to broaden my material here!” At the time it hurt. Leicester was great, and a good competition. The nerves always got to me a little bit at competitions though.
You’ve been on the stand-up circuit for 12 years, but do you find a lot of people think you’re an overnight success due to your meteoric rise to fame last year?
Yeah, definitely people down in London. There was a time when I was gigging around quite regularly, but I never enjoyed the travelling side of it. Then I got a residency in Liverpool and around that time I had a family, so I stayed here. People know who I am, but hadn’t really seen me apart from when the videos came online, but it does seem like I came out of nowhere to some people.
Tell us a little bit about Hot Water Comedy Club and how it got started…
It was two brothers, Paul and Binty Blair who started it in Liverpool in 2010. It’s weird because I think I’ve been there since the third gig there, which is when I started hosting it for them. It was a chance meeting, and I hadn’t gigged for about a year. I’d taken time out, so I was planning on doing just this one gig, but I turned up drunk and couldn’t remember my material so I had to do crowd work! It went well though, and they asked me to host more for them and it got popular and went to Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
A year down the line we ended up with two clubs, and they’re the best ones in the country. The brothers who run it are very different. Paul has got an incredible eye for marketing and does the social media, and Binty built the club and has got a real hands-on love for comedy.
What do you put your huge success in recent years down to? Your videos on Facebook are hugely popular – sometimes with over 100k views – and you’ve got nearly a quarter of a million followers! Plus, viral marketing helped sell 20,000 tickets in Liverpool alone in 2018!
It’s been social media without doubt, and I would say the majority of it has come from Facebook and YouTube. Those videos going online have changed my life, and it’s changed Hot Water too.
I think I’ve got the most material online of any stand-up in the world. There’s about 60 hours on there, which is ridiculous because when I’m at Hot Water six nights a week I’ve got to do crowd work as my stuff online is so well known. People seem to binge and binge watching my stuff and they come up to me and quote what I’ve said – it’s been life-changing!
PLEASE NOTE: Under 14s must be accompanied by an adult.
Parental guidance advised.
Tickets are £20.50 (plus an optional £1.50 postage fee).