Funny in Falkirk: Elaine is number one dame for a laugh

Elaine C. Smith will be on stage at Funny in Falkirk
Elaine C. Smith will be on stage at Funny in Falkirk

Elaine C. Smith is one of Scotland’s best-loved actresses and comedy entertainers.

As well as headline roles in TV comedy series such as ‘City Lights’, ‘Naked Video’ and the award winning ‘Rab C. Nesbitt’, she is a favourite with theatre audiences, whether it is the annual panto at Glasgow’s Kings Theatre, or the tour of ‘Calendar Girls’.

Her appearance at this year’s Funny in Falkirk is certain to be a crowd-puller with fans keen to get to see this very amusing lady in action.

This week, she took time out from a busy schedule to speak to The Falkirk Herald about her career, female comedy acts and what makes her laugh.

How did you get into comedy?

By accident! I thought I was going to be a serious actress and singer, treading the boards in big American musicals but ended up as Mary Nesbitt, the Doris Day of Govan! But seriously, when I joined Wildcat Theatre Company they recognised a comic ability within me. I was able to get a good laugh out of an audience. It was when I was appearing in one of the Wildcat shows that I was spotted by Colin Gilbert, who was head of the BBC Comedy Unit. He offered me a part in the sketch show ‘Naked Radio’ which led to ‘Naked Video’, and that was the start.

Do you use real-life situations in your routine – and if so, how do your family/friends react?

Yes of course I do, because real life is actually funnier that anything you could make up. My husband reacts fairly well to the slagging he occasionally takes, as do my children. My dad, mum and aunties always took it as a huge compliment, saying even if I was poking fun at them, at least I was talking about them! Although when I did a routine in one of my first stand-up shows about New Year and our living room, my mother didn’t react well to the fact that I said we had swirly carpets and wallpaper. She chided me when I came off stage, saying we only had pattern on one wall and we had a real leather suite (or real plastic!) so I had to apologise to her for that!

What sort of venues do you like playing – you will be appearing at Falkirk Town Hall on July 29 which is quite a large hall?

I like all kinds of venues for different reasons. One of my best gigs was at Greenock Women’s Prison where I found audiences are brilliant when they can’t get out. You perform a slightly different type of show in different venues but generally if there’s a big audience front of house then I’m happy.

What’s your preference – live venues or TV?

I definitely prefer live venues. Over the years I have grown to love the interaction with a live audience. I like television and film but they are much more technical and are more mediums for producers and directors. Actors get to live more on a stage and I love that.

Do you think it is more difficult for a woman to do stand-up?

Yes, yes, yes, yes! A lot of television comedy is dominated by the male stand-ups. Very few women appear on the Michael McIntyre travelling roadshows and all the ‘Live at the Apollo’ shows. It’s become a bit like football in a way that women can go along to watch but we’re not really allowed to join in. I think it is much more difficult for women to have the confidence, particularly in Scotland, to stand up and be funny in front of a big group. That’s not to say it’s not difficult for men too, but men get away with not being very good at stuff a lot easier than women do throughout the whole of life. There are lots of mediocre male stand-ups out there but to get into this business many women don’t get the chance to even be mediocre. You’ve got to be exceptional to break through and there are some really talented female performers out there.

Who makes you laugh out loud?

Lots of people, but to name a few – Andy Gray (usually by accident), Peter Kay, Will Ferrell, Paul O’Grady, and the entire cast of the TV show ‘Modern Family’ make me laugh out loud. I have just been to see the movie ‘Bridesmaids’ and Melissa McCarthy had me and my sister laughing out loud in the cinema, it’s a long time since I have done that.