Perthshire-based farmer Jim Smith first took to the stage as a stand-up comic in 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. Although farming remains his number one passion, he uses his rural experiences to make people laugh and takes the countryside to many towns and cities.
With his range of regional accents, characters, puns and impressions based on living and farming in rural Scotland, Jim Smith has enjoyed a sold-out stint at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with his ‘Farmed and dangerous’ show.
The Perthshire farmer uses a varied range of characters, accents and impressions, with the occasional sheep-based pun, and tells tales of living and farming in rural Scotland.
Performing recently at the Oxford Farming Conference, he shares his views on many subjects, including Young Farmer dances, tractor envy and Beetle car racing in the local village. Here, in his own words, he recalls how his hobby is now a professional sideline.
“I started off by performing in and writing sketches for Perthshire Young Farmers annual pantomime and east area cabaret performances. But after retiring from YFC, I still had a passion for it, so I applied to the Stand Comedy Club for a five-minute slot at its weekly beginners’ night five years ago. Thankfully, the crowd laughed in all the right places, so it is just went from there.
It took a couple of years from being casual to being asked to perform at venues. It is like serving an apprenticeship; you have to prove yourself. A lot of my early gigs I was doing the middle unpaid, or low paid, spot, but I moved on to becoming a support act and now, occasionally, headlining.
The comedy world is a bit like farming, so word spreads if there are a few new acts on the scene. Once promoters had seen me, I was fortunate enough to start and get booked on a regular basis."
“Anything at all can give you an idea for a funny joke or sketch. Farming itself is so easy to make fun of, as there is always things going wrong and it is full of funny, real-life characters.
I tend to keep the farming ‘in-jokes’ if I am just doing a rural gig, but I concentrate more on rural life for my comedy performances in Glasgow or Edinburgh, because you have to be able to tell jokes which people understand the background to.
As much as I enjoy performing to farmers, I am always aiming to develop more mainstream material so everyone can understand it, because this is where the mass market is; in the cities and towns.
But keeping a rural theme at the core means I have a USP, which is very handy.
I can be inspired by something I heard on the tractor radio, or a funny story I heard at the market, but it is usually when I am doing fairly mundane farm jobs my mind tends to wonder on to comedy and ideas, so I always carry a notepad with me.
Rural life is funny as it is isolated and totally opposite from city life, but exaggeration is the key when building a picture of where I live, so it is bleak, desolate, there are only 10 people at my school and I am related to them all, stuff like that.
Of course the countryside is not really like that, but you can make anything up to make it seem funnier."
“I jot down ideas in my notepad, then I will sit down, try and sketch it out, then expand it.
Once I am happy with it, I will drop a new bit of material into a routine and see how it goes. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes bad, but it is good to try several times, as different audiences react to different material.
Practice is key, so I might take a few attempts to perfect a routine, either by adding or taking out certain words. It is a bit like forging a horseshoe, you have to keep hammering it out, then sticking it back in the fire until all the impurities are out.
You have to try and be as confident as you can, even if the gig is not going well. I have learned to keep writing and try to write something new at least one night a week.
Just because you have a half decent 20 minute routine, does not mean you have made it.
The best piece of advice I have heard in comedy is to try and write at least one joke a day, as just spending half-an-hour a night before bed trying to write something really pays off. Even if most of it is rubbish, there will be one gold nugget in there somewhere."
“I do not have any pre-performance rituals. I just try and get to the venue a good hour beforehand, have a look and see what the crowd is like, maybe go over some notes. After a gig, I like to try and sit in the crowd and learn from watching the headline act, then get feedback.
I used to be really nervous, but I am not too bad now, although having a little nerves is always good. Once I am on stage I am fine, as usually there are three or four other comics all feeling the same before they go on.
I just think to myself it is a privilege to be able to do it, and if the gig goes well, it is worth all the worry.
My most memorable performance was on the final day of the Edinburgh Festival in 2015, where I got to do an hour to a sold out audience at the city’s Comedy Club.
My most challenging gig was an amateur football club ‘brunch’ fundraiser on a Sunday afternoon. It was in front of 200 men and it was hell, but a great learning curve.
I think it was the fact they were not really caring about my rural backround and I could tell by the first five minutes they did not warm to me, so it was a tough half hour.
My proudest moment was reaching the final of the ‘So you think you’re funny’ new act competition at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014.
I was thinking about giving up stand-up, but I won my semi-final heat and made it to the final and, although comedy should not be about winning awards, it was a real shot in the arm for me in terms of confidence and encouragement to keep going.
I wanted to get better and better and it was definitely a turning point for me."
“Farming is my number one priority and always will be. It is my life and passion, so I want to grow the business and improve it, as well as make it more efficient.
The comedy started out as a wee hobby, but now it has developed into a decent sideline, bringing in a bit of extra income.
It fits in well with farming, as it is mainly at weekend nights. Plus, being in Perthshire, I can be in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen within 90 minutes.
There is no grand plan, but I just want to keep writing and getting better and see what opportunities turn up, as you never know who might be watching in the crowd. It is a great feeling to be part of the Scottish comedy circuit.
I think there is huge potential in using the internet for showing funny clips where you can sell yourself to a massive audience and I will definitely like to do more of it."