Manchester comedy veteran Smug Roberts is getting into ‘Rocky training mode’ ahead of a mammoth 24-hour gig marathon across the North West for Comic Relief tomorrow.
Smug, whose extensive television credits include appearances in Phoenix Nights and Mrs Brown’s Boys, will kick off the tour at Manchester’s Frog and Bucket and continue to play a further 19 venues across the time period.
The 54-year-old, aka Andy Robert Wilkinson, will then return to the same venue for one final gig on Saturday February 28 and is aware that the manic schedule could take its toll on him.
He told MM: “I need to get myself into some kind of physical shape before I start – I think I’ll be eating fruit and porridge for the next few days.
“I’ll make sure I say my goodbyes to the family before, just in case.
“This tour’s a stab in the dark but it will be alright because I love it.
“On Sunday I think I’ll just spend the whole day in my bed – I should be able to guilt trip my family into helping me out and getting my food and Sunday papers.”
Recent events have made Smug all too aware of the dangers associated with extensive live performing.
Smug’s friend and Phoenix Nights co-star Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during the opening night of Peter Kay’s residency at the Manchester Arena.
The comedian wasn’t at the event, but his daughter Nicole and son Josh were both there.
Smug said: “Ted’s a lovely bloke and a smashing man so I’m just happy he’s up and running again now. Me and Ted are the same age and I’ve known him for almost twenty years.
“It was a horrendous event really. He was all mic’d up and they had to do the clichéd ‘is there a doctor in the house?’ and they basically saved his life on stage.
“It was all a bit Tommy Cooper but thankfully it didn’t end all Tommy Cooper.”
Smug’s tour will see him play in a range of venues across the North West, with confirmed venues including house parties and cafes in places as far afield as Blackburn and Bolton.
He’s hoping to do a gig for the homeless and he’s even looking for churches and mosques that can host a gig.
Whilst also raising money for a good cause, the gigs also mark twenty years since the comedian was first spotted by BAFTA-winning Royle Family star Caroline Aherne at the Frog & Bucket comedy club in Manchester.
Smug isn’t worried about running out of material after recently discovering that he has 98 different comedy premises in his repertoire. None of the twenty gigs will be quite the same.
“The set will always organically change because it’s got to, hasn’t it? You’d get bored if you did the same thing every show,” he said.
“I’ve been known throughout my career for mixing things up and I’ve never done the same set twice; you always want to be interacting with the audience and getting a vibe from them.”
The challenge and intimacy of the small venues on the tour is also something that Smug relishes.
“I’m not the only person in comedy who prefers a smaller room,” he said.
“I did an arena tour with Mrs Brown’s Boys but I get much more of a buzz trying to nail the small room because it’s a bit looser and a bit freer and you can play with it a bit more.
“I’m not going to lie to you, if someone came to me tomorrow and offered me an arena tour I’d take it obviously, but nothing compares to the intimacy and buzz of the club.”
Although mega money-generating arena tours are still the order of the day in contemporary comedy, Smug thinks comedy will eventually ‘implode’ and go back to its club roots.
“My view is that comedy comes in cycles,” he said.
“I’ve noticed a trend because of the recession and cuts: these days the big gigs aren’t as big as they used to. Only a few years ago you just had to go on Live at the Apollo and you would have made it.
“Now’s it different and it’s not as easy to make that big jump.”
Smug worries that this has led to some substandard comedy.
He said: “You can really tell when people are just entering comedy as a career move. That was never the case in the past because you were lucky if it were just a part-time job in the past.
“People still love comedy but there’s not as much money around anymore. Even people who are running comedy nights as part of bars are struggling, so you can imagine what it’s like trying for those venues trying to survive on door receipts alone.
“A lot of people these days only want to see people off the telly and they’re not brave willing to try a new unknown act.”
But Smug still thinks this is a good time for young comedians to enter the profession.
He said: “You’ve got to just do it –keep your job and do it on the side because you love it.
“Find your own views and say what you want to say and everything will come from that.”
Organisers who want to host a Red Nose day gig should contact: [email protected]
Image courtesy of John Kelly via YouTube, with thanks.