Interview

Stuck In A Lift

Laura Smyth doesn’t want you to freak out if you see her on the street

The teacher turned stand-up talks awkward fan encounters, horrible bankers and the problem with scallops


Whether she likes it or not, Laura Smyth is a bit of an inspiration. A few weeks after she decided to quit her career as a teacher to take up comedy, she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Far from letting it beat her when she was at her most vulnerable, Smyth took it as a sign.  

“What followed was a mastectomy, a second surgery for clearing the lymph nodes, six months of chemo, three weeks of daily radiotherapy and the overwhelming dread that I had left living my dream too late,” she wrote in The Guardian – then handing out life advice from the height of two years in recovery and a fast-risen comedy career that had already seen credits on Live At The Apollo and Frankie Boyle’s New World Order.

@thatlaurasmyth

What going through cancer did to me. Taken from my @BBC Radio 4 show ‘I Don’t Know What To Say’. Available now on BBC Sounds. Thanks to everyone involved. #fyp #fypシ #radio4 #cancer #breastcancer #cancerfighter #cancersurvivor #comedy

♬ original sound – Laura Smyth

But with great advice comes great responsibility – and a massive influx of new fans all reaching out for a chat. “People just think they’re my mate now,” laughs Smyth, “They come up to me after gigs and they start off, ‘oh, I didn’t tell you…’, and I’ve never seen them before in my life! That’s the impression they get from my comedy, and from what I do.”

Not that she doesn’t enjoy it. Also handing out advice on the best beaches to not visit in Kefalonia before we start talking, Smyth seems naturally at home in her new role as a self-help guru, using it to fuel her debut tour, Living My Best Life

“I’m aware of the emotional admin of sharing in the way I do,” she says. “And you don’t make things that connect with people if you then ignore the people trying to connect back. But the main thing people ask me about is changing career later in life, and I think we need more of that. A little bit of curiosity and a little bit of bravery is often all it takes. When I was first thinking about doing comedy, if someone told me I’d be onstage at Hackney Empire doing my own tour I probably would never have started it. But when I was a teacher there was this Eleanor Roosevelt quote on the wall of the classroom, and it said “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. I used to roll my eyes at it, but I think I get what she means now. Answering the ‘what if’ question moves mountains.”

Before Living My Best Life starts its UK tour, we got stuck in a lift with Laura Smyth to ask the important questions. 

How to perfect the art of office gossip with Laura Smyth | Live At The Apollo - BBC

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with? 

I think it’s anyone that could turn it into a bit of a laugh. The person who makes me laugh more than anyone else on the circuit is Suzie Preece. But… then I’d also like to be stuck in a lift with Beyoncé. I think I’d just like to meet her in a sort of reduced circumstances situation. See how she’d cope coming down to our level. 

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?

Anyone who dominates. A big businessman, or someone like Joe Rogan. I’d be fascinated to meet him, but I’m not good with people that want to dominate the room. Especially when it’s a really small room. 

What’s the weirdest interaction you’ve ever had with a famous person?

Well I actually was stuck in a lift once with Zoe Ball, in the Harvey Nichols lift, but this was years ago and she didn’t do anything weird at all. I guess it’s the time I met Micky Flannagan. I’m a big fan, and I was sat near him at a John Kearns show at Soho theatre once. They had cabaret seating and he was sat pretty much on the table next to me, and I did this big embarrassing double take when I first saw him. He just did this face… It wasn’t impolite, but it was basically just a look of “don’t fangirl me, I’m here for a night out”. It was like a subtle sort of gangster type move. Very cool. I’m not good at hiding stuff that goes on in my face. 

Do you see people having those reactions to seeing you now?

Oh yeah, someone screamed at me once. I was in Balham, getting ready for a gig, and I was on the phone to my sister when this woman saw me and literally screamed when she saw me. I jumped out of my skin. And then she sort of realised what she’d done – she had this moment of ‘oh, you’re a human? You’re not someone that I just consume on TikTok or something….’. 

Laura Smyth: Waist Not Want Not | Online Exclusive | Jonathan Ross’ Comedy Club

What was the last gig or show that you went to?

I went to see Kieran Hodgson. I’m a huge fan of his bad TV impressions. And I kind of cannot believe what he can do, in terms of taking you on this yarn and acting out every character along the way. I found that absolutely brilliant, and I was really inspired by it. It’s not quite stand up, because obviously he’s an actor, and there’s very little spontaneity, but he was just so brilliant and funny. 

You write for TV as well – scripting the latest season of Bad Education – is that a very different skillset? 

It is, but I personally also I feel like producers and commissioners should trust comedians to bridge that gap where we can. It doesn’t always have to be all about the plot, and if you can do it in stand-up, you should be able to do it in a sitcom as well. 

What’s on your rider?

One of my best mates has a husband in a band, and she was so disgusted by my rider. The first time I did a corporate gig I was like, “can I just have Coke Zero please?”. She was like, “for the love of God! One litre bottle of Jack Daniels, vodka, the works. Especially for corporate gigs – they can afford it!”. But there’s always lots of fruit in in dressing rooms and, as a parent of young people, I always clear that out. The thought of that going to waste… honestly. 

What did the 12-year-old you imagine you’d be doing now?

Oh, I think the 12-year-old me would have liked to have been an actress. I think she would have seen herself maybe being a presenter or an actress. Yeah, I don’t think she had any idea that she’d end up being a single mum and then a teacher for 10 years before she bloody well got around to doing it! So she might be annoyed that I took so long, but I think she’d be chuffed to bits. 

What kind of presenter did you want to be back then? 

Well that was when MTV was huge. But I also remember being able to stay up late for The Word, so you’re talking Amanda de Cadenet and Paula Yates, and then everyone on The Big Breakfast ­– Johnny Vaughn and Denise Van Outen… I did the Sarah Cox show recently and I’ve never been more happy to not be disappointed. She’s better than you can even imagine. And stunning.

Comedian Laura Smyth On 'Minding Her Business' In Lockdown | The Lateish Show

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given?

I mean, I hate all unsolicited advice and I shirk it all the time. Anytime I’ve been given advice on my stand-up and I’ve tried to employ it, it’s not felt right. But I think the one I’ve had the most was being told not to leave my teaching  career. I left just after the pandemic and everything felt really shaky, but I just knew, I just had to hand in my notice. Everyone told me to keep the day job or work part time, and that was the worst advice that I’ve been given. 

Which film have you rewatched the most times? 

I think it’s either When Harry Met Sally or My Cousin Vinny. But it might also be Strictly Ballroom if I’m being honest. That film is just perfection from start to finish. Nobody does comedy like the Australians. Apart from New Zealanders. The Castle… Muriel’s Wedding… They nail the absurdity of it all. That idea of taking nonsense seriously. Actually, I also watched Napoleon Dynamite again last night and I’ve probably watched that 100 times as well. And The Commitments. And Friday

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

I worked all one summer for Royal Bank of Scotland when they were making their offices on Bishopsgate, I got this temp job where I had to put the security tags on all the new computers and phones. You had to sand it, prime it, glue it, stick it and log it. And this was across floors and floors and floors of offices. There were some floors that still had builders on them, and some floors where the bankers had moved in – and I remember holding armfuls of all this equipment and constantly having the doors dropped on me by these smarmy banker types, like I was invisible. It was just an exhausting job. Just unpacking phones and polystyrene all day, covered in glue. It was miserable. 

Do you have any superstitions?

I always top up my lipstick before a performance, no matter how thick it is. I’m always freaked out if I haven’t done it. And I always write out my set too. I’m convinced I won’t have a good set if I don’t do that. Magpies always get me too. I’m always relieved if I see a second one. I always have to salute or do the chant or the little rhyme.

What’s your most controversial food opinion?

My most controversial food opinion is that scallops can go f*ck themselves. Are you a white fish or a shellfish? You’re just hitting somewhere in between and you’re not all that. Same goes for lobsters. Trumped up prawns. 

Not a fan of Masterchef then? 

Oh god, the stakes they create on that show… “It’s a simple meal, but if it’s not done perfectly…”. Yeah we know. They’re trying to do it perfectly. That’s what the show is. Also the idea that food somehow has to have a story, that it can’t just be delicious… The Great British Menu is a scourge on society. I don’t want to learn anything. Be delicious. Be funny. No one wants to hear about your dad.


Laura Smyth starts her debut tour, Living My Best Life, in April – running across the UK until October. Find tickets here.