Rachel Pronger

Stuart Goldsmith: “I want that whoosh you get from making 2000 people laugh at once.”

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page
Stuart Goldsmith | Giggle Beats

Stuart Goldsmith

Stuart Goldsmith has an impressive resume. Over the past decade or so he has worked variously as a stand up, MC, street performer and actor (perhaps most notably playing the last human alive on CBBC’s Mission 2110). Plus he’s only just getting started. Since last year’s appearance on ITV’s “stand up X Factor” Show Me The Funny, Goldsmith has become an increasingly recognisable talent, juggling his usual appearances with preparation for this year’s Edinburgh show and a new series of podcasts. Chatting to me cheerfully over the phone, he also proves to be a requisite multi-tasker, giving me a thoughtful and thorough interview whilst simultaneously cooking some broccoli. Now that’s a renaissance man.

Goldsmith’s latest project is The Comedian’s Comedian podcasts, a series of detailed interviews with other comedians. Aimed at comedy professionals or serious fans, the podcasts offer a fascinating insight into the thought processes of distinctive talents such as Adam Bloom and Sarah Millican. The series was inspired by Goldsmith’s personal desire to explore his contemporaries’ methodologies. “I wanted to organise some kind of master class for me and other comics at my level” he explains. “I never went on a comedy course in my life. I’ve ended up in this job that I feel like I’ve never had any training for. I feel sometimes like I’m a surgeon but I’m improvising!” The first person Goldsmith approached was a personal favourite, stand up and writer Simon Evans. “I approached Simon and said ‘Look, would you be interesting in doing this?’ and he said ‘God, no, I don’t have anything approaching a methodology!’ But he said, ‘What I will do is I’ll have a chat with you, we’ll go for a coffee and I’ll talk to you about how I write.’ And that’s what we did, and I went away thinking ‘Bloody hell I wish I’d recorded that!’ And then I sort of ended up thinking ‘Hang on a minute…’”

The podcasts are fascinating for hardcore comedy fans because they come across almost like a training manual, a “how to get the funny” guide from famous names. Goldsmith is a self-confessed over-thinker and seems to revel in contrasting styles. “We all have different ways of getting to that funny, and not all of them have been written down and explored. And what I have found talking to comedians is a lot of them will go, ‘I don’t really have a system.’ And you’ll dig a bit deeper and it’s incredibly clear that they have a complete system that they’ve been doing for ten years and they don’t regard it as a system because to them it’s as natural as breathing.” Surely the process of making the podcasts has allowed him to pick up some tips and tricks? “I would love to tell you that of every single person I’ve spoken to I’ve taken their best ideas and I’ve converted them into a new super comedy work book; [but] in all honesty I’m busier covering the podcast than I’ve ever been and my own situation with writing is that I’ve always been very, very head lead…I’m definitely learning from them and there are definitely tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way. But if I ever had high hopes of this process leaving me as a kind of super comedian then I’m a long way away from that!”

Goldsmith himself clearly harbours healthy admiration for his fellow comedians. He can trace his love of comedy right back to primary school, when he became hooked on a cassette of the Hedgehog Sandwich album by the Not The Nine O’Clock News team. A typical show off at school, he progressed from Lenny Henry impersonations in the playground to “proper acting” at youth theatre, before realising that stand up “is a far greater type of showing off.” He clearly revels in discussing the mechanics of his trade, a desire to approach comedy analytically that is perhaps surprising for someone who started out in street performance, that most instinctive of art forms. Goldsmith agrees that performing for crowds of tourists in Covent Garden was a pretty extreme introduction to professional performance, “a baptism of fire, rain and dog”. Surely starting out in such a visceral environment must have prepared him well for the brutalities of stand up? “In some ways it really does” Goldsmith admits. “There’s certainly things that happen in comedy clubs that if you have a street performing background are absolutely water off a ducks back.” Nonetheless, this background can have its downsides as Goldsmith explains. “If you do it for too long it can be reductive because it’s all about getting a particular reaction, and trying to get paid and trying to impress and those things aren’t necessarily things that make good or interesting stand up comedy. It’s almost like street performing has its own mainstream in just the way that the stand-up comedy circuit does. And I think the temptation is to go out and be Michael McIntyre on the street, to be palatable and acceptable to everybody in order to make the most money. I don’t think that’s a good rule in stand up comedy necessarily. I think in some ways it gave me a huge boost and in other ways it possibly held me back.”

The curious disjuncture between Goldsmith’s personal idiosyncrasies and his noticeably affable and well adjusted persona (he admits that he is easily pigeonholed as a “circus-y guy who’s a bit sort nice and doesn’t like confrontation… and wears a fleece”) provides fuel for much of his material. His first solo show, The Reasonable Man, focused on the conscious attempts he’d made to feel unique. “I was desperate to be interesting and forced myself into a lot of interesting situations to prove to the world how bizarre and unique I was,” Goldsmith admits. “My conclusion really was that I was much happier just sort of having a shed, that my true self is a lot more boring and normal than that.” Yet whilst Goldsmith appears the epitome of normality in person, the creative career path would suggest a life far from average. “I suppose I’ve had quite a peculiar life in certain respects” Goldsmith concedes, “but even when you’re striding around Covent Garden in your underpants trying to get a show together so you can eat fire or whatever, even people who are doing these wildly exhausting supposedly interesting things also at one point or another introduce you to their mums and go, ‘Oh, this is Barbara, hello Barbara!’ We’re all kind of boring under it.”

This disconnection between appearance and reality is a running thread through Goldsmith’s work. This year’s Edinburgh show, the bluntly titled Prick, has already attracted bemused press coverage after the festivals organisers refused to feature the show’s name uncensored in their publicity materials (so if you’re looking for it over the summer be aware it’s now officially referred to as Pr!ck). This bizarre censorship is ironic, given that this is a show preoccupied with bourgeois hypocrisy. “I think it’s applicable to a lot of nice middleclass people like me. We all give ourselves permission to do things that we know are wrong but we do them anyway because we sort of think, ‘Well it’s me, isn’t it? Fuck ‘em!’ Like there’s an awful lot of nice middleclass people who sneak into McDonalds for a dirty burger and don’t really let it impact on their conscience despite the fact they know how bad the mass production and mass farming is for the environment.” Typically however, Goldsmith chooses to work with candid personal anecdotes rather than sweeping political statements. “Prick is all about my self-interest, it’s all about my selfishness, my narcissism, my hypocrisy… it’s about me revealing and trying to deal with the dark little corners of my personality.”

Indeed Goldsmith’s stand up is characterised by a combination of a likable stage presence and striking personal honesty. As well as unflinchingly analysing personal failings, he also frequently explores his kinky sex life. Does he draw a clear line between anecdotes that are funny but should remain personal and comedy fodder? “Yeah I do, I do…I think in the early days no one watches you, you perform to a couple of hundred people at a time and there’s no sense of permanence so you can be as honest as you want. But I’ve had one or two experiences recently when a fan has taken an interest in me and, in something that they might have written to me or emailed me, they’ve revealed that they know quite a lot about my life. And funnily enough I’ve felt myself going, ‘Well how do they know about that? Oh well of course they know that, I’ve talked about it at 500 different gigs.’ In terms of details about myself, I think I’ve always pretty much considered that I’m fair game. I wouldn’t want to give away details of what my girlfriend likes on her toast, but at the same time I’m perfectly happy to open the window on me because I’m the butt of the joke.”

Recently Goldsmith has been steadily raising his profile, increasingly headlining club nights and playing larger venues. He has also become increasingly recognisable, partly due to Show Me The Funny. Goldsmith has mixed feelings about the show, particularly the tendency of television to pigeonhole the performers. “I think it certainly pigeonholed me and a lot of other comedians because the nature of that show is that whatever they said they were trying to find, the mechanics of the show lead them to aim to find the most versatile comedian. And I think of it in terms of music. If you imagine someone who can sing gospel, and also rap, and also Country and Western, and Blue Grass, those people don’t tend to be superstar singers, they tend to be lounge singers because versatility is not the same thing as excellence.”

I wonder if Show Me The Funny’s unavoidable tendency to cast Goldsmith as simply a nice guy act might have encouraged a bit of a backlash on his part, but he remains ambivalent. “Oh I see what you mean, it pigeonholed me as a nice guy and now I’m doing a show called Prick? Yeah, well maybe, maybe. There’s other facets to my personality, but I can’t escape the fact that I’m basically nice and approachable. [But] Prick is more a reaction to a lifetime’s work of being nice and approachable and secretly feeling guilty about my hypocrisies. It’s more a reaction to my 34 year life than a three month experience on telly.” Yet for all his reservations, Goldsmith is ultimately positive about the show’s influence. “It really made me write. It made me realise that if you sit in a room and shit yourself for eight hours you can really write a strong five minutes worth of starting points, which means in two weeks you can write an Edinburgh show. Whether that’s good or not I don’t know, but it made me realise that was a possibility.”

Given that he’s already tried so many different types of performance I wonder if Goldsmith has any big ideas for the future. Does he harbour a burning desire to headline the Apollo, or write a sitcom? For the first time in the interview he seems almost lost for words. “Well I, God, yeah!” he laughs, “I’m loving stand up. I did Bright Club at the Bloomsbury Theatre, which was rammed and I improvised for five minutes around the theme of getting the audience to all have sex with each other…that was so much fun. To be comfortably improvising in front of hundreds and hundreds of nice people in a nice theatre; that’s really my ambition, to do more of those sorts of things.” He pauses for a moment before furtively adding, “If anyone wants to offer me the part of Doctor Who along the way I will gladly take it!”

But dream role aside, it’s clear that for now Goldsmith’s heart lies, reasonably monogamously, with stand up. “What I want to do is play big rooms, and I want to play them well and I want to get the whoosh that you get from making 2000 people laugh at once.” He pauses once more, before concluding, with an uncharacteristic glint of steely ambition: “And when I’ve got that, I want more of that.”

More details on Stuart Goldsmith’s Fringe show, Prick, can be found here. His podcast, The Comedian’s Comedian, is released bi-weekly on iTunes. The next instalment is tomorrow, but thanks to Stuart, Giggle Beats’ readers can listen to it a day early. His guest this week is Sarah Millican: