The comedy gods smile on Roberts

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BEING in the right place at the right time is an expression that could have been coined for Smug Roberts.

When he took part in an open-mic night in Manchester in 1995, the 47-year-old comedian could not have imagined that he would have the good fortune to bump into a leading TV comedian as well as one of the city's most famous musicians.

After stepping on to the stage at The Frog And Bucket comedy club, Roberts was distracted by a familiar face in the front row.

"I just decided to chance my arm," says the comedian, who headlines at Jongleurs this weekend.

"But just as I was getting on stage, Caroline Aherne (aka Mrs Merton) stood up to walk out. I said, 'Where are you going?' She sat back down and said, 'Oh, nowhere'.

"I had a disposable camera in my pocket and asked her to take a picture of me. So the very first picture of me performing on stage was taken by Caroline Aherne."

Fortunately for Roberts, both Aherne and her then husband, former Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook, were instant fans.

Before long, Aherne had helped set up Roberts with an agent and only six weeks later he was playing his first one-man show – with Hooky himself performing in his backing band.

"I've just been dead lucky," says Roberts, reflecting on a career which has since seen him appear in major TV shows, as well as a film, star in four series of Radio 4's The In Crowd and even secure a recording contract with Warner Bros.

In 1998, the comedian released Meat Pie, Sausage Roll (Come on England, Gi's a Goal) as Grandad Roberts, one of his radio personae, with 'His Son Elvis'. The football song entered the charts at No 70 before disappearing.

But despite not enjoying as much musical success as his friend Hooky, Roberts had another slice of good fortune two years later.

Performing at the opening night of Manchester's Comedy Store, Roberts was spotted by the producers of 24 Hour Party People, who later rang the comic to offer him a small role in the Steve Coogan film.

It was around this time that Roberts also met Peter Kay, and he ended up making a memorable appearance as bouncer Max's brother in Phoenix Nights.

Although Roberts has since appeared in shows such as Cold Feet and Cutting It, comedy still plays a large, and vital, role in his life.

"I've got a really good 'other' job," he explains. "Some actors have to do bar work to pay the bills, but I do stand-up comedy. But I love doing stand-up and it's really flexible. It fits in well with my acting."

In 2003, Roberts' acting became more serious when he landed the role of warden David Stour in Channel 4's hard-hitting prison drama Buried.

"That was the first time I'd ever had to sit down and learn three pages of dialogue," he says.

Nevertheless, starring in the eight-part Bafta-winning series alongside Phoenix Nights' Neil Fitzmaurice did Roberts' CV no harm at all.

He took his acting to the stage in 2006, when he premiered the play Me Dad's Dead at the Edinburgh Festival, to favourable reviews.

It seems Roberts has plenty to be smug about, which leads neatly to the most perplexing issue of all: How did Andy Wilkinson suddenly become known as Smug Roberts?

"I used to be the chairman of the management committee at a school in Manchester," he explains. "They were trying to shut it down and a woman from the Education Department in Manchester was trying to chair a meeting. I stood up and said, 'Excuse me, I'm the chair. You shouldn't be asking all these questions. I wouldn't like anyone to think you're a smug bastard'.

"I know I should not have said it but it got a massive round of applause. People were coming up to me the next day and saying, 'All right, you smug bastard'. When I did my first gig at The Frog And Bucket the compere asked me if I had a stage name and I just said, 'Smug Roberts'. Robert is my middle name. I don't know why I said it, but the name just stuck."

And there can be nothing more satisfying for a former sign writer than seeing his name up in lights.

&#149 Smug Roberts, Martin Bigpig, Ian Moore, Chris McCausland, Jongleurs, Omni Centre, Greenside Row, today (11) and tomorrow (14), 7pm (doors), 0844-844 0044

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