Comic Susan Calman’s happy go lucky humour hides sparky side
PUBLISHED: 09:30 26 June 2017 | UPDATED: 09:30 26 June 2017
The Scottish comedian who is back in the region used to work as a lawyer on death row than she turned to comedy. But she continues to tackle serious issues amid the laughs.
There can’t be too many comedians who have worked on death row and at the United Nations in Geneva as a corporate lawyer.
Susan Calman decided to give up her promising career, which was high on serious political and social issues but low on laughs, to become a stand-up in 2006 when she reached the semi-finals of the BBC New Comedy and So You Think You’re Funny Awards.
In 2007 she was part of the sell-out Edinburgh Fringe show Ugly Kid which went on to become Channel Four’s Blowout and whose cast was awarded a Scottish BAFTA that same year.
Since then her numerous radio credits have included The News Quiz, The Unbelievavle Truth, the Now Show and she has presented Woman’s Hour, while she has also been a frequent guest on TV’s Have I Got News For You, QI, 8 Our of 10 Cats and Mock The Week.
But despite the success of her switch to comedy she has never left behind the political. Her latest show, The Calman Before The Storm, which she brings back to the region, sees her challenging assumptions about her politics, her height, her nationality and her sexuality.
In our divisive post-Trump, Brexit world, the Scottish comic is searching the country for “kindness and positivity”. Alongside laughter, she 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 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.”
The show sets out to toy with misconceptions and challenge the general image of her as polite Radio 4 fare.
“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 lot of fun playing with those expectations and defeating them while acknowledging some are correct.”
A self-confessed workaholic, she 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 6.30am 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.”
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 have a four-year-old niece and it’s one of my tasks to make the world a better place for my niece.”
Calman recently gave a lecture about the perception of women in comedy in memory of the late Linda Smith. “We’ve got miles to go before there is any form of correct balance,” she says. “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: The Calman Before The Storm is at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, on June 24, 8pm, £16, 01284 769505, www.theatreroyal.org
• She is also at the Junction, Clifton Road, Cambridge, on June 25, 8pm, £18, 01223 511511, www.junction.co.uk