Elaine mines rich seam of humour in Fife
Elaine C. Smith might just take the title of the busiest entertainer in Scotland.
The North Lanarkshire comic can be found on television – either touring Scotland’s seaside resorts on Burdz Eye View or on the sitcom Two Doors Down – or on stage, doing panto, musicals, stand-up and sometimes even sharing her political views.
It’s no wonder she’d never had the time to do the That’s Fife Festival. Until now.
Elaine will be opening the festival at the Rothes Halls on Saturday, and it’s a return she’s eagerly awaiting.
“Fife is one of my favourite places,” she beams.
“When I came to Fife for Burdz Eye View, I did a show in Crail and the surrounding area.
“I always do gags about Fife when I’m there – it’s a great seam of comedy.
“I always say they shouldn’t have built the bridges…they should have kept them hemmed in – don’t let them out!
“There are also daft stories I’ve got about places in Fife, just because I know loads of Fifers.”
While many successful comics venture into the world of TV, Elaine did the opposite.
Following a spell as a teacher in Edinburgh she carved out a career on stage before transitioning to television, including her most famous role as Mary ‘Mary Doll’ Nesbitt in Rab C. Nesbitt, and then entered the world of stand-up.
“It was when I was acting, I would tell stories and sing,” Elaine said.
“I just thought I’d see how it goes. I just put together a show with funny stories and it became really successful.
“And I enjoy it – especially the big shows.”
Although Elaine cites Billy Connolly and Chic Murray as comic idols, she admits that she felt women were not properly represented in stand-up when she first started performing.
“As time went on I started to be inspired by people like Dorothy Paul and French and Saunders, and some of the American stand-ups,” she said.
“I love the sort of comedy about the madness of being human and for me, a lot of it is the madness of being a Scottish woman. I felt that voice was missing.
“I love it when young women come up to me and say ‘I do this because you inspired me’. I hope I’ve played a wee part in encouraging more women and different voices to get out there.”
Elaine admits that she plays up to the women in her audience – “I think you have to work a lot harder to please a woman; maybe that’s a sexual thing” – but that doesn’t mean they are safe from her jokes.
“I slag women for their madness,” she says.
“About our obsession with being thin and the way we judge each other and why we’re all a bit mad.
“An American friend said something great to me: ‘men are stupid and women are crazy, but women are crazy because men are stupid’.
“I’m not above it – I’m as mad as a brush.
“I’ve also got a bit about women judging each other because I couldn’t believe how many women would comment on what I was wearing and ask me where I got stuff.
“Now I’ve incorporated it into the act.
“I’ll stop singing and start going through my whole wardrobe, where I get my hair done, where I got my shoes, and, yes, I have lost some weight.
“The women burst out laughing because they’ve been sat there observing.
“Also, the amount of women that come up to me and say you’re a lot thinner in real life than on TV.
“What they’re saying is ‘I thought you looked fat on the telly’.
“I’m always amazed that they’ll say that before they say that they like my work.”
Elaine admits that she tries to have a message behind her comedy and says she gets most of her material simply listening to people and taking notes.
She said: “One of the stories I’ve got is about Pavarotti and it’s something a journalist told me.
“The only time security were called in during his world tour was at the SECC.
“They were brought in to ask the people to stop singing!
“For me, that’s comedy gold. I just know who the women singing along would be.
“It’s also that Scottish obsession with singing. And, of course, they don’t even know the words.”
Burdz Eye View offered Elaine the chance to tour Scotland, visiting sites across the country.
It gave her the chance to learn things about both Scotland and herself.
“I learned that I had adopted part of the cringe we have in Scotland about not being good enough,” she explained.
“There seems to be a whole stream running through our media saying ‘we’re not very good at stuff’. I don’t know where that’s come from.
“I was brought up thinking people with posh voices based in London are obviously much more intelligent than you.
“What I discovered going round Scotland is an amazing talent pool – really intelligent, weird, odd, daft people getting on with their lives in some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
“I’m not saying we’re better than everyone else – but we are just as good as.”
Elaine’s performance at the festival kicks off a packed schedule for the rest of 2017.
She’ll be visiting the islands for a new series of Burdz Eye View, filming a Christmas special and a series of Two Doors Down and then she’s back at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow for panto, her first appearance there for 13 years.
The work never ends for the busiest entertainer in Scotland.
That’s Fife Comedy Gala takes place on Saturday, with tickets costing £17 for adults.
Also performing will be Edinburgh Comedy Award-winner Scott Gibson, Patrick Monahan and Kevin Quantum.