With three decades of performing under her belt, Elaine C. Smith draws labels like ‘national treasure’ and ‘Scottish institution’. As she takes her place on the stage, she seems bedecked, or perhaps armoured, with those accolades – as well as an indecent number of sequins. She swaggers to the microphone and launches into her number with the confidence of a much-loved relative telling a favourite story at a family party, like a prodigal auntie returning.
Smith may not be breaking new ground politically, nor moving her medium into a radical new age, but her audience had fun.
Smith’s identity forms the substrate of her act, and her experiences of life as a Glaswegian Scot at home and abroad are spun into a seamless flow of humorous anecdotes. From the 2007 attack on Glasgow Airport to this summer’s Commonwealth Games, the watershed moments in her homeland’s recent history are treated with dry and critical humour, though endlessly nuanced with genuine warmth and affection for the country and its people.
Smith fleshes out her act with a few good-natured jabs at the natural enemies of the working-class Glaswegian – the Posh, the English, the Edinbourgeois – and a plea for serious reflection in the run-up to the referendum, which if not outstandingly insightful was markedly sincere. Her humour tapped into a pre-existing network of ideas and stereotypes that might have alienated spectators without a reasonable knowledge of Scottish culture, but from the sound of it there weren’t many of those in the audience.
She wrapped up her number with a rousing comic rendition of Wives and Lovers, an appallingly sexist tune her own mother would have chimed in to. Smith’s brisk dismissal of the song reminds us that she’s not just a funny lady: she has been fighting the good fight for years for recognition in a field that’s still not as open to women as it should be.
Smith may not be breaking new ground politically, nor moving her medium into a radical new age, but her audience had fun. Her apparent enjoyment of the evening was infectious, and the audience roared with laughter at every punch line, no matter that they saw each one coming a mile away.