My Comedy Hero: Angela Barnes on Victoria Wood and Linda Smith

Winner of the 2011 BBC New Comedy Award and Edinburgh Fringe favorite chooses her comic idols

In 1990 my mum took me to a show at The Strand Theatre in London that changed everything. I was 13 years old and had never watched live comedy. We were a comedy nerd family: I grew up with Radio 4 comedy programs, Monty Python, The Two RonniesFawlty Towers, etc. But on that night, my mum and I went to see Victoria Wood, and it was totally electric.

I was already a huge fan of her work: As Seen on TV was essential viewing in our house and the ‘Channel swimmer’ sketch remains one of my favourite pieces of television ever. But to see this huge personality in the flesh in front of me, take a theatre full of people and hold them in the palm of her hand was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I was hooked on live comedy from that moment forward.

I realised that not only does a great comedian tell jokes, but they also make you laugh and cry and bring you right into their world and reflect your life back at you through this incredible prism of comedy. It was literally breath-taking, and I felt I had witnessed actual magic. Still, it never occurred to me that a comedian was something I could be. How could it? Victoria Wood was untouchable. Besides, she was an all-rounder, a brilliant comedian, and actress, and she could write perfect comedy songs. The musical gene has totally passed me by, and my singing is so bad that when I do it, we don’t get a harvest.

It never occurred to me that comedy was a world someone like me could be invited into until I heard Linda Smith’s voice on my radio. Growing up with Round the Horne and The News Quiz etc, radio comedy was a world full of those ever so clever men with their ever such witty words and didn’t seem to be for the likes of a state school girl from Kent. But Linda came along and suddenly an accent and cadence I recognized came at me, and it was really bloody funny. Linda took no prisoners and did it in the most accessible, brilliant way. Simultaneously spiky as hell and your mate down the pub.

The world is a much less funny place without these two incredible women in it. I’m so sad that I never got to meet my comedy heroes. I was at a party once and Victoria Wood was there, but I just couldn’t bring myself to be another gushing fan going up to her not knowing what to say. I regret that decision now.

And I believe that if she were still here, Linda and I would sit together on The News Quiz, happily slagging off our home county of Kent and giving what for to those in power. I’m so sad that never happened, but I am very proud to be involved with Loving Linda, a gala event that raises money for Target Ovarian Cancer in Linda’s name, and keeps the absolute magic that was Linda Smith alive.

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