James Rampton on comedy

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The Independent Culture
Arthur Smith is an accomplished playwright: An Evening with Gary Lineker, which he co-wrote, ran for ages in the West End and was dramatised for TV. He is also a pretty nifty performer: in his knockabout Arthur Smith's Hamlet, which played in Edinburgh and the West End last year, he comes on stage, smokes a cigarette "formerly known as Prince", and announces "It is my intention to do to the play what the character himself longed to do to his mother," before reading out excerpts from Frankie Fraser's memoirs and comparing Laertes to "Vinny Jones with an O-level".

But perhaps his greatest skill is as an MC. Compering is an underrated art. You have to be funny quickly - but not so funny as to detract from the performer you're introducing. Along with Mark Lamarr, Smith (right) has become the best in the business at warming up an audience without stealing the thunder of the rest of the bill.

He will be displaying these talents again at the Hackney Empire tomorrow night, when he comperes a bill featuring West Ham lager lad and new Gagtag contributor, Phil Jupitus, and the scatalogically-stunning Perrier Award winner, Jenny Eclair. Smith returns on Saturday week to introduce the adorable Alan Davies, and the reliable dead-panner, Hattie Hayridge. On at least one of these occasions, it is to be hoped Smith gets the chance to prove that the old ones are the best by asking, "Whatever happened to white dogshit?".

Tickets (pounds 6) from the Hackney Empire, 291 Mare St, London, E8 (0181- 985 2424)

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