Comedian Susan Calman: ‘Whether in the north or the south we are still one Britain’

Susan Calman. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

Susan Calman. Picture: Steve Ullathorne - Credit: Archant

BRIDGET GALTON talks to the comedian and ex corporate lawyer about positivity, feminism, depression and speaking her mind

In our divisive post-Trump, Brexit world, Susan Calman is searching the country for “kindness and positivity”.

Alongside laughter, the Scottish comic sees them as the antidote to all the hate and prejudice in the world.

And touring her stand up show, she’s been pleasantly surprised: “We are in a fight for humanity and values and I feel such a kindred spirit with people. Whether in the north or the south we are still one Britain. Travelling to some of the most Brexit-heavy parts of the country you’d expect them to be unfriendly to a radical Scottish lesbian feminist who voted Remain, but I’ve had lovely times and no problems.”

Calman, whose book Cheer Up Love charted her “adventures in depression” is determined to elicit stories of kindness from her audiences. “You would think from the news that kindness is disappearing from this country but touring around people have been lovely. I don’t believe it for a second.”

Susan Calman Before The Storm toys with misconceptions about her sexuality, politics, nationality and general image as polite Radio 4 fare.

“I’m finding my audiences quite different now my profile has gone up, the majority of people will probably have heard me on Radio 4 which carries certain expectations. People might think I’m a certain type of person and I have a lots of fun playing with those expectations and defeating them while acknowledging some are correct.”

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The panel show regular, who hosts CBBC quiz Top Class, lives in Glasgow with her wife and cats.

“I love Glasgow, I have family, friends, I could never see myself moving anywhere else,” she says. Adding: “Plus we managed to buy the house for the price of a studio flat in London.”

Besides she’s keen to offer a different view from the Londoncentric media, or as she puts it “bring news from the north.”

While she admits to homesickness and watching endless box sets in her hotel room, she says travelling is “part of the job”.

“We’ve sold out almost every single show and you should never complain about the opportunity to travel round the country to big audiences. Live performance feeds into everything we do. To stay sharp the best way is to write new material and go out on tour every couple of years.”

A corporate lawyer before she quit in 2006 to focus on stand up, the self-confessed workaholic drives herself to give audiences two hours of entertainment.

“I have a work ethic,” she admits. “I had a job I wasn’t hugely happy in, where I got up at 6.30 and went to work so I spend a lot of time getting the shows right because I know what it was like to look forward to a night out because your job is rubbish. “People may have bought tickets months in advance so I damn well need to put on a show.”

While her act has been hailed for its sharp political comedy softened by a high energy, affable approach, she’s aware the chief aim is to entertain.

“The show has changed so much since last year, we’ve had Brexit and Trump, but whether I talk about topical things, I know people come for a nice night and don’t want to be bombarded with politics. I’m not going to talk about Theresa May all night.”

She’s well able to slap down a heckler (“the best one was ‘I like your shoes’) but the nastier ones often swipe at her gender.

“Sometimes gentlemen will shout things they wouldn’t shout at a woman in real life because they have had a drink. I won’t stand there silently – the older I get the less tolerant I am. I’m in the privileged position of being able to say what I think. I have a four-year-old niece and I never want her to grow up thinking she can’t say what she wants. It’s one of my tasks to make the world a better place for my niece.”

While all female comics are heartily sick of being asked about it, since Calman says she’s writing a lecture about the perception of women in comedy (in memory of the late Linda Smith) it doesn’t seem wrong to enquire.

“Gender is such a huge part of how I am perceived and yet I am not allowed to express myself in the role that I’ve been given. No one wants me to stand up on a topical show and talk about equal rights or gay marriage. When was the last time a woman on a TV show had five minutes to talk about something important to women?”

Just because the comedy industry is left-leaning doesn’t mean it’s any different to any other she points out.

“We’ve got miles to go before there is any form of correct balance. People say everything’s fine because there are two women on a panel show but the fact they can remember individual women is the point. Try naming all the men on Mock the Week.”

Susan Calman is at Finchley Arts Depot on June 2.

Susan Calman Picture: STEVE ULLATHORNE