Date Of Birth: 16/06/1959
Former street entertainer Andy Smart was once part of a double act with Angelo Abela, called The Vicious Boys, who in the mid-Eighties appeared on various TV shows including The Tube, Saturday Starship and the Six O'Clock before they were given their own LWT show called Wake Up London.
In 1985 Janet Street Porter asked the Vicious Boys to provide the comedy on Get Fresh a two-hour live outside broadcast every Saturday morning, and they went on to present American Football coverage on Channel 4.
The next three years were spent touring, including many trips to New York and two runs in Australia, but the duo split up in 1990. Smart then began a new career as a stand-up.
He has performed at 20 consecutive Edinburgh festivals, including solo shows in 1993 ( Look Back At Danger) and 1998 (a paean to marijuana called The Dope) and he has been a permanent member of the Comedy Store Players improv team since 1995.
Mike Myers with the Comedy Store Players
You’d be forgiven for thinking that The Comedy Store Players are as old as London itself. It’s not such a stretch of the imagination to picture Guy Fawkes taking time out from stock-piling his sulphur by popping over to Piccadilly Circus to watch Neil Mullarkey pretending to be an Argentine cross-dressing cross-country skier trying to unblock a gutter with an ironing board. In Pyongyang. And Jack the Ripper allegedly loved Richard Vranch’s impression of a thimble.
Alas, the comedy collective have in fact been going for just 26 years and the sweaty throngs in The Store on Sunday night witnessed a performance like no other: a rare, unbilled, return from one of their original members- Hollywood funny man Mike Myers.
Myers’s Wayne’s World and Austin Powers creations alone have grossed almost one billion dollars (say it in the voice) worldwide and his most recent pay packet was reportedly $10million for his voice in Shrek 3 - a role he could’ve performed in his underpants. Or dressed as a thimble.
But on Sunday night in London the unassuming Canadian rocked up off the street in a Joy Division T-shirt and jeans looking for some off-piste action. He looked less like a multimillionaire movie star and more like, well, a Comedy Store Player. Sporting a pleasant centre parting, trademark curtains, and cheeky beer gut, the 48-year-old appeared in jovial spirits throughout and his mere presence seemed to spark a celebratory charge among the Players. There was a lot of love in the Store... just don’t mention The Love Guru.
It’s often been suggested that The Players are so in tune with each other that their improv performance can often seem a bit too polished - and, because of this, some of the biggest laughs come when they’re purposefully trying to catch each other out. So no prizes for guessing who was at the receiving on this occasion. Indeed, they constantly threw impossible song themes, which no one else could deal with, straight at Myers. He fended them off by singing, perfectly on cue: ‘This is how you treat A GUEST!?’
As the Guest, Myers himself excelled; when his laughs came they were the biggest squeals of the night. His Last Gas Station before the Desert and Mind The Gap routines with Josie Lawrence and Neil Mullarkey respectively were delights, as was his bionic arm skit, which saw his arm sprout back and forth depending on the multiple flashback scenes.
This was no chore for Myers- being funny comes naturally to him- he could’ve spent the whole two hours farting the Canadian national anthem and the audience would’ve still lapped it up.
And though he wasn’t quite as consistent as one or two of the other Players, he was still strikingly adept and quick-witted (watching him attempt to squeeze the blood from a blood orange with his robot arm was as funny as anything else all night) and there’s no doubt that he’d be an even better ‘improviser’ had he been doing this every week since 1985 but, well, he’s been somewhat busy conquering Hollywood.
What of the trusty Players themselves? Richard Vranch’s impressive display makes you wonder why he was so wasted as the musician on Whose Line Is It Anyway? Neil Mullarkey gave a commandingly charismatic display as the alpha-male ringleader and Myers’s BBF. Suki Webster, while very capable, struggled to escape her role as the Token Girl. Andy Smart, resembling a science teacher who takes his work (read: chemicals) home with him just seemed happy to be there, and was very good, to boot. Wearing the snazziest pair of brogues seen on a London stage this year, Phelim McDermott was a revelation, injecting proceedings with a very welcome offbeat surrealism – think David Lynch meets Mr Bean. But the standout was Josie Lawrence - churning out a flawless performance, she was the one whom the others turn to to bail them out of a sticky spot. She was never lost for words, noises, or lyrics and rather resembled that annoying kid in the school play who knows everyone’s lines.
It’s true that no Comedy Store Players show is the same, with or without Myers, but you’re guaranteed the laughs no matter what the bizarre context. Five minutes of Phelim McDermott mumbling a completely nonsensical, made-up language (he was supposed to be a Peruvian landscape gardener obsessed with pissoirs on mountain tops) contained more laughs than an entire Michael McIntyre DVD.
The only segment which fell flat was the ‘Guess the job’ round - it was too long, too strained, just too much of a one-trick pony with increasingly tenuous puns and, ultimately, not funny enough. That is to say, it would probably still be good enough for a commission on BBC3.
But, then, the whole nature of this show is throwaway. It exists only in its time; there is no script, the narrative is conjured up on the spot and largely forgotten thereafter. But that’s fine, because for those two hours in The Store it is a complete and utter treat performed by an improv group of unparalleled quality and standing. And a chap called Mike.
Just a quick word about the audience, who seem to think it their mission to be as funny as the Players: FYI it’s probably not the first time the Players have heard ‘gynaecologist’ or ‘taxidermist’ being suggested as jobs. Hearing such tiresome bellows from the audience on a weekly basis is surely enough to make Mullarkey and Co. contemplate packing this improv lark in and getting themselves real jobs. Like a gynaecologist. Or a taxidermist. Please don’t.
And Mr Myers, please feel free to return to The Store whenever you so desire; even if it’s to fart the national anthem.
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