The birth of new comedy talent and the death of an amazing British eccentric

Zuma Puma hosted last night’s Lost Cabaret show

Zuma Puma hosted last night’s Lost Cabaret

I went to see Zuma Puma’s weekly Lost Cabaret show last night, definitely one of the most consistently weird shows in London.

One member of the audience – Jeff – let out that he had been off work for seven weeks due to stress. He was rather withdrawn and shy. He ended up – of his own accord – stripping his shirt off and dancing on the stage.

Weird is the word. And Lost Cabaret manages to be consistently weird every week I have seen it, thanks to MC Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott. Last night her mum was there from Canada. I can see where she gets her charisma from.

Jeff, Jody Kamali & Zuma Puma’s mum last night

Jeff, Jody Kamali and Zuma Puma’s mum shook it last night

Lost Cabaret is the sort of show people (including, sometimes, moi) forget when they say comedy acts are not as bizarre and eccentric as they used to be.

Sadly, yesterday was also when I found out via a report in Chortle that The Amazing Mr Smith had died last Sunday.

His body was found at the bottom of a 100ft cliff at West Bay in Dorset.

There is a showreel of his eccentric acts on YouTube.

He was never widely known but, as Chortle reported, he toured America five times, as well as appearing in shows in Holland, Germany, Norway and Jordan.

Mr Smith’s audition  in 1987

Mr Smith’s 1987 audition for Jonathan Ross

I first saw him when I auditioned him for The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross in 1987. He would have been 39 then; he was 65 when he died last weekend. So it goes.

His birthday was on April 1st and, in the mid-1990s when I was working in Prague, I sent him an unsigned birthday card on the basis he did not know I was in Prague and he would wonder who had sent it. We talked and met after that, but there was never any mention of the birthday card. Why would there be? For some reason I now wish I had told him I sent it.

Derek Smith was a quiet man – a research scientist when I first met him. But he would get up on stage and play The Blue Danube on 32 condoms or have the entire audience sing along to the theme tune of The Dam Busters while someone spun a propeller attached to his nose or perform Also Sprach Zarathustra – the theme from 2001 – by stamping his feet on the floor.

Scots performer Alex Frackleton, now living in the Czech Republic, told me yesterday:

A rather shy, gentle man with propeller on his nose

The rather shy, gentle man who gave sound advice

“He was a lovely man. Unique. I met him at a folk festival.

“I was performing my Ballad of Michael Malloy poem – it is 36 verses long and it takes about 5 minutes to perform. Afterwards, he came up and introduced himself as Mr Smith. I thought that was a bit eccentric at the time but I’m a kinda live & let live kinda guy, so what the hell?

“He told me I should do the sounds of the environment around the poem. So the screech of the brakes of the taxi, the nee-naw sound of the ambulance, the hissing sound of the gas when they put Michael Malloy’s head in the oven – all these sounds should be conveyed as part of the poem, part of the canvas I was painting on stage (his words).

“I told him I wasn’t musical, couldn’t sing nor play a musical instrument to save myself and he told me that it didn’t matter because I had vocal cords and no-one said I had to sing or blow a trumpet! I am very sad to hear about his death.”

Writer and film producer David McGillivray told me:

Mr Smith in the recent Vimeo mini-documentary

The Amazing Mr Smith at home in a recent Vimeo mini-doc

“I saw him in Crouch End. He was completely different from all the other acts on the bill. I said to my partner, Let’s book him and he agreed. We ran Stew’s Cabaret in Hackney in the 1980s. He was a delightful eccentric.”

TV producer Danny Greenstone said: “Ah, a shame indeed. What a lovely fella he was… And how brave, too, to have graced Game For A Laugh more than once…”

Club-runner Steven Taylor told me: “He did a gig for me and was very funny and a thoroughly good chap. A gent.”

And Derek was a gentle man. Immensely likeable.

There is a 6’30” mini-documentary film about him on Vimeo by his friend Alan Deakins, although Derek mostly stays in character as Mr Smith.

In the mini-documentary, he says:

“Stand-up comedians these days at these alternative comedy clubs: they’re really worried that other people are going to steal their material. I don’t have that worry. Anybody could do this. Anybody could do my own act, but they don’t, do they?.. It’s nice to be able to make people laugh, isn’t it, really? You stand there and you’ve got a hundred people or so in front of you, all laughing, and that’s quite a nice feeling.”

R.I.P. Derek Smith – The Amazing Mr Smith.

So it goes.

The 7 minute audition tape (with very bad sound) shot when I first saw him perform is on YouTube

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics

One response to “The birth of new comedy talent and the death of an amazing British eccentric

  1. Oh dear. I met him when he did a bit on Prove It, now lost in the mist of time, and was a nice, harmless sort of soul. RIP

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