Eighteen years into his stand-up career and Michael Smiley is suddenly a wanted man.
The London-based comic left behind a genuine media frenzy as he jetted off for The Laughter Factory comedy tour, in Dubai and Abu Dhabi this week and last. Although, admittedly, most of the buzz was not actually comedy-related.
Smiley has been quietly cultivating a low-key acting career alongside his regular stand-up work, but a small film called Kill List suddenly threatens to catapult him to that next level of fame, the kind where the paparazzi shout your name at premieres.
"The quality papers have been doing full-page reviews on it," says the incredulous comic. "It's beyond my wildest dreams. This time last year we were up in Sheffield just about to make it, and there's no way that in a year's time I'd have thought we'd be going through this level of exposure and publicity. It's a bit of a phenomenon - people have just loved it and really taken it to their hearts."
Not that Kill List is a lovable film in the family-friendly sense. An intense, unconventional horror/thriller, it concerns a couple of hit-men, Jay and Gal - played by Smiley - who take on an increasingly sinister new mission. Like Se7en or The Usual Suspects, and unlike many modern movies, it leaves you with more questions than answers.
"What happens with a lot of films now, these blockbusters, it's chewing gum for the eyes, the gratification is instant and there's nothing to talk about afterwards, apart from how good Halle Berry looked or how great that car chase was," he says. "One thing about this film, you come out with an opinion. Part of it is an allegory about what's going on in the world today, society, the morality of going and watching these movies.
"Killing people is a horrible, horrible thing, the worst thing you can do as a human being, and some films make it look like an arcade game. It seems really easy. Whereas the reality is that it's really horrible and will affect you and other people for the rest of your lives. So when the death scenes in Kill List come up, there's nothing glamorous about it whatsoever. You really feel like it's sullied you slightly."
Paradoxically, Smiley admits that his stand-up style is storytelling and entertainment, pure and simple, with no hidden agenda. The Northern Ireland-born comic moved to London as a teenager in the early 1980s, but only took to stand-up in his early 30s, having acquired a suitable haul of anecdotes. The "wacky and left field" manner of many younger comics, who haven't the same life experience, leaves him cold.
"My ma and dad always brought me up to tell the truth because it's easier to remember. So that's what my comedy was - I always tried to be truthful because it was easier than something convoluted and character based."
It was character comedy that led him into acting, however. Keen to tell longer stories on stage, Smiley took a semi-autobiographical show about a cycle courier - his old job - to the Edinburgh Fringe, and was offered a similar role in a sitcom called Spaced, co-written by his old flatmate, Simon Pegg. He then played a zombie in Pegg's Shaun of the Dead, began winning straight roles, and gradually built a busy second career.
The stand-up remains a big part of his life, though, and while he now devotes August to a long family holiday rather than the Edinburgh Fringe - "I wouldn't give that up to be in a stinky venue with 10 people with rucksacks looking at me" - he is working on a new long-form one-man show. It concerns his move from Ireland to England, is called The Immigrant, and will provide some useful material for the current trip.
"I came to London for six months, and that was 28 years ago," he says "I'm sure there are a lot of people in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, who've come over, had a three-year contract and been there since 1985. That's a common theme.
"We all know what it's like being away from your natural environment, and how strange that new environment is, then all of a sudden it becomes home, although you don't realise when that changed. My accent hasn't changed, and my attitude to life I don't think has changed that much, only in the sense that I still think like an Irishman. Well actually I'm thinking like a father more than an Irishman now."
Smiley has been looking forward to this Middle Eastern trip in particular, his second such visit, as an old friend from the circuit, Paul Tonkinson, is also on board. Both are fathers in their 40s now, so rock 'n' roll behaviour is unlikely.
"I'm really excited about it. We'll hang out, spend days by the pool, like a couple of old men in a retirement home in Florida."
It beats a month in a smelly venue in Edinburgh, then?
"Yes it does, my friend. Yes it does."
The Laughter Factory comedy tour, which has already been in Dubai and Doha, lands in Abu Dhabi tomorrow night at the Crowne Plaza's Heroes before moving back to Dubai for three more shows Wednesday to Friday. All shows begin at 9pm. Tickets are Dh130 and can be purchased from 7.30pm onwards at the door or on www.timeouttickets.com. For more information visit www.thelaughterfactory.com.