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Comedian Paul Smith: From Online Jokes to Gaming Arenas

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Comedian Paul Smith: From Online Jokes to Gaming Arenas


Ian Youngs,Entertainment and arts journalist

Hot Water Comedy Paul Smith on stage at Hot Water Comedy Club in LiverpoolHot water comedy

Online videos of Paul Smith roasting his audience members have made him a stand-up comedy star. He is now able to fill arenas and has just launched the UK’s biggest comedy club, at his home in Liverpool.

It can be common at comedy gigs to see the front seats visibly empty, avoided by punters who don’t want to be hassled.

Paul Smith’s early stand-up shows were no different. “People would come in and we really had to cajole them to the front row,” he says.

About five years ago that changed.

“When the videos continued [social media]there was this change almost overnight where people were like, “I want the front, I want to be in a video.” »

Attention-seeking audience members realized that a front-row seat could make them the star of a viral music video. The only problem was that Smith publicly mocked their work, relationship, or other distinguishing characteristics.

Liverpool Hot Water Comedy Club comedian Paul SmithLiverpool Hot Water Comedy Club

Smith began comedy in 2006 by taking a four-week stand-up course.

The staff now watches over those who are a little too busy. “If someone is too keen to be in front, we’ll probably put them in the back,” he says.

In addition to changing public behavior, the success of Smith’s videos also changed the course of his career.

His new tour is his biggest yet, a mix of theaters and arenas, lasting more than a year. Some fans have specifically reserved the front seats and are preparing for a banter battle.

“People have been mentally preparing for this for about eight months,” Smith says. “Most of the time it’s okay because I expect it.

“I’m really good at reading body language, so I know which people are expecting me and which ones aren’t.

“But sometimes people surprised me. Like a guy who pretended to be deaf for an hour. And it was, to be honest, very funny.”

Admission to Hot Water Comedy Club

The new Hot Water Comedy Club is located in the Blackstock Market development in Liverpool

Smith speaks at Hot Water Comedy Club in Liverpool. His dog, a cockapoo called Cyril, dutifully follows him everywhere and ends up nuzzling between us throughout the interview.

The club opened its new 589-capacity venue in a former transport depot just outside the city center last month and has been billed as the world’s largest comedy club.

“It’s number two now,” Smith says with feigned displeasure after discovering that the Laugh Factory in Long Beach, Calif., is slightly larger.

“So we are the biggest in Europe.”

Hot Water Comedy started in a nightclub in 2010 and is now at the heart of the new £7m Blackstock Market development. The club’s expansion went hand in hand with Smith’s success.

He started in 2006 by taking a four-week course in stand-up comedy – a radical solution to chronic shyness, he says.

“It felt like bungee jumping to build confidence. I was like, if you can do that, you can do anything. I never intended to do that. [as a career]”.

To his surprise, he feels strangely at ease on stage.

“I just became this different, larger-than-life person – and it’s quite addictive, that. So I haven’t been able to go back since.”

Hot Water Comedy Club Liverpool Paul Smith on stage at Hot Water Comedy Club in LiverpoolLiverpool Hot Water Comedy Club

Smith’s own family features prominently in his stories

He gave up stand-up comedy for a while after struggling to make a name for himself on the circuit for the first few years.

“I just had a bad time. It’s a pretty lonely job, acting, especially when it’s not going very well. Especially when you’re relatively new and you take a Megabus to London and then die on your ass for 10 minutes and get a Megabus.

“It’s become quite demoralizing. Lots of lonely hotel rooms. That’s why I have the dog,” he says.

When brothers Paul and Binty Blair started Hot Water, they persuaded Smith to host the open mic night once a week. It went so well that he ended up becoming a resident compere, which gave him plenty of opportunities to hone his crowd skills.

When Hot Water suggested putting the clips online, he was initially reluctant.

“I supported that,” he admits. “But yeah, they were right, and over the last five years it’s snowballed.

“It’s become this monster, this huge thing that can fill arenas. It’s crazy.”

“I’m not that tough.”

Smith’s interactions with the audience usually begin with an innocent “Hiya buddy, what’s your name?” » followed by “What are you doing?”

From there, it quickly escalates into a smear delivered with a smile. He is brazen rather than cruel. In any case, that’s how he sees himself.

People who stop him on the street often have the impression that he is more aggressive than he actually is, he said.

“It’s weird. People have this point of view. If I walk around town, people will be like, ‘Fuck my friend and say that about him.’ And I’m like, that’s not really what I do.

“I think people’s perception of me is a lot tougher than I actually am. If you watch the videos properly, I’m not that tough.”

Some of his victims might disagree, and Smith gives the example of a front-row member who said he wasn’t working because he had cancer.

To have troubles

This sparked a tirade from Smith about how the man was “selfish” for bringing up his illness – before a pause and an apology punctuated by laughter.

“I only did it because I could see his family laughing, and I could feel the energy in the room, and I knew it was a good thing to do in the room,” he says.

“When the clips come out, it’s weird because you’re removing a lot of the context from everything else in the show, and what was established before and after.”

Clips like that can get him “some trouble” when they are posted online, he said.

“When I watched the clip, there were a few people asking me, ‘Is this going to pass’?

“But if I know I did the right thing at the time, I’m OK.

“And with this one, I asked his family to send me a message: ‘This is the first time I’ve seen him laugh in a year.’ So I said to myself, if he’s okay with that, then we’re probably fine.”

The funniest city?

Smith’s own family is not spared either and features prominently in his stories. He says he presents his material to them first and says they also agree to be included.

However, it’s hard not to wonder what his children will actually think about some of the things he’s said about them and his wife.

“The stories about my wife, for example, even though they are quite open and explicit, she always wins. Which is true in real life.

“She’s pretty happy about it. I’m usually the butt of the joke in the story, in the end.”

Smith is the biggest star to come out of the Hot Water stable, and the likes of Adam Rowe, Jamie Hutchinson and Tony Carroll have also come through the ranks.

“Now I would go so far as to say that Liverpool probably have the biggest stable of comics in the country, or even Europe, if you were to build a team,” Smith said.

“I imagine a lot of London comedians would disagree with that. But if they want to fight, we’ll fight them.”

Again, this is delivered with a smile.

Paul Smith is on tour in the UK until June 26, 2025.

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