The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

Andy Smart

Comedian who delighted audiences with improv riffs and ad-libs at the Comedy Store in London

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ANDY SMART, who has died from a heart attack aged 63, was one of the country’s most gifted practition­ers of improvised comedy and a long-standing member of the Comedy Store Players, the troupe that set a bench-mark for the form at London’s eponymous stand-up club.

Live comedy often has an ephemeral quality, and improv, especially, is written in the sand. Smart told an interviewe­r in 2020 that he could not remember the myriad riffs and ad-libs he conjured in the half dozen or so games in the Players’ bi-weekly show – shifting character, attitude and parodied genre in response to audience suggestion­s.

Compared to the more gladiatori­al form of stand-up that prevailed at the venue in its early days in the 1980s, this was benign entertainm­ent and Smart was in his element participat­ing in its campfire communalit­y. Joining as a regular from 1995, he conspired with original member Neil Mullarkey, plus Josie Lawrence, Lee Simpson and Richard Vranch, to make the place crackle with warmth.

While some performers with a bent for improvisat­ion are household names, assisted by television exposure – Eddie Izzard and Paul Merton being obvious examples – Smart was one of the scene’s undersung heroes. But he helped to cement the Comedy Store’s staying power, and in 2010 it was accorded a Guinness World Record for the longest-running comedy show with the same cast.

“He’d always say yes to everything… whatever the scene required,” Neil Mullarkey recalled. “He’d play a courageous captain, a villainous coward or a beautiful princess.” In a 2019 memoir about his early years and youthful exploits hitch-hiking, A

Hitch in Time, Smart wrote simply: “I’ve never planned a career – it’s just happened, by being optimistic and making the most of each opportunit­y that life throws up.”

The oldest of three children of Keith, a civil engineer, and Shirley, Andrew Keith Smart was born in Portsmouth on June 16 1959. In 1961 the family moved to Farnboroug­h and Smart was educated at Cove Manor and Farnboroug­h Grammar, staying on when it became a sixth-form college.

He was fond of larking around, and his education was not marked by academic prowess: “I ended up with three A-levels in geography, maths and biology – D and two Es,” he admitted. But he discovered a love of drama – and getting attention. In the lower sixth he played the jester Trinculo in The Tempest, eliciting a laugh by shouting “man overboard” at the start.

After flunking a degree in geography and drama for failing to hand in his dissertati­ons on time at Notre Dame College, Liverpool, he lived a bohemian life in the city, trying his hand as a performanc­e poet before writing and acting with a theatre-ineducatio­n company.

But it was his wanderlust which set him on the circuitous path to entertainm­ent. In 1982 he mastered the art of juggling oranges in Biarritz and Pamplona (where he braved the running of the bulls) and developed a busker’s patter. In 1983 he had a stint as a street entertaine­r, drawing crowds in Covent Garden, first miming to songs as part of a double act called Soft Shoe Shuffle then, with Angelo Abela, sending up circus stunts as Circus Berkus, before moving on to parodying films under the new name, the Vicious Boys.

In 1984 they won the Time Out Street Entertaine­r of the Year award. They did runs at the Edinburgh Fringe and were invited to provide the on-board entertainm­ent after Virgin launched flights to New York. In 1985 they got their own LWT show, Wake Up London, and they went on to provide the comedy on Get Fresh,a Saturday-morning broadcast for younger viewers (also LWT). Their most notorious appearance was on Channel 4’s The Tube when, pretending to be a Great Dane, Smart licked the aghast face of host Paula Yates.

Smart performed at 40 consecutiv­e Edinburgh festivals, his solo shows including one about marijuana, The Dope

(1998), and he demonstrat­ed his acting skills there playing a juror in an acclaimed 2003 staging of Twelve Angry Men.

He travelled to comedy festivals across the world with regular trips to Ireland and the Altitude Festival in Austria.

Richard Vranch, a close friend, paid tribute to his love of sport – “the more dangerous the better ... He presented TalkSport’s coverage of the annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match in Ashbourne and the Cheese Rolling at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester­shire. He was a dedicated fan of Farnboroug­h Football Club, travelling the country to watch them play and provide commentary.”

Smart’s memoir recounts brushes with death and injury as well as colourful incidents while hitching, including waking up in the home of the Liberal leader David Steel – who cooked him breakfast – and daring to hitch to and from Ben Nevis (and climb it) within 48 hours. .

He lived for the next laugh and moment of maximum improv bliss: “When from absolutely nothing it comes together into a massive rolling wave of laughter… you soar on the emotion of a collective magic.”

Andy Smart is survived by his partner Judith Powell, a daughter, Grace, born in 1993 to the actress Victoria Willing, and a son, Joe, born in 2001 to the voice artist Laura Shavin.

Andy Smart, born June 16 1959, died May 16 2023

 ?? ?? Undersung hero: ‘He’d play a courageous captain, a villainous coward or a beautiful princess’
Undersung hero: ‘He’d play a courageous captain, a villainous coward or a beautiful princess’

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