Scottish BAFTA winning, Funny Woman finalist, Stand up Comedian Susan Calman took some time out of rehearsals to talk to Planet London about mixing politics with comedy, reactions to her often deeply personal stand up routines, and not Googling herself.
Calman, who is also known for excellent turns as a panellist on a number of TV and Radio quiz shows (you might have heard or seen her on Radio 4’s New Quiz, or QI and Have I Got News For You on BBC1), has been full time entertaining since 2005 when she quit her legal career and changed paths towards something she loved and ‘had always wanted to do’. She says that ‘Stand Up comedian’ was not a valid career option for women leaving school in the early 90s, and as such she followed the more traditional route of university and life in the legal profession. Eventually she decided it was time to give comedy a go, and she hasn’t looked back.
Calman’s comedy is often political in nature, and her new show is no exception – dubbed as the most political, and personal, set yet. Fans will no doubt expect, and receive, a routine that is built upon an idiosyncratic story telling style of universally identifiable themes, juxtaposed with strong political beliefs.
This show also unashamedly has its cause in mind: the case of equal marriage for gay couples. It’s also an opportunity to raise the profile of women’s, specifically lesbian, visibility in the comedy market. There’s still a need to normalise and mainstream these issues that are seen as alternative by some.
Perhaps it’s because she grew to love comedy in the 80s, following the then ‘alternative comedians’ that Calman came to be interested in politics and lay foundations towards her unique comedy style. She finds comedy a perfect platform for politics because it provides an opportunity to get ideas across in a way people will listen to. Indeed, political satire has always been one of the foundations of British humour.
However, Calman warns, it’s not just about making point and having something funny to say. Political comedy needs to be funny, make a relevant point, and also be backed up by genuine knowledge, understanding and belief. Calman further takes the risk of creating an on stage persona of herself that talks through personal, and real, stories in her life to demonstrate her points. It could be tricky to take on board critical reviews and reactions to a show that is essentially ‘Who I am’ – how does one draw the line between the personal and the performance in these circumstances? Calman assures me she plays very much into the hands of the audience on the night and pays little attention to reviews (good or bad). She protects herself from the negativity, those who might not ‘personally’ like her work, and concentrates on delivering to the audience. She doesn’t Google herself. She does have an active presence on Twitter, which is mostly more enjoyable than not, but is exposure to the tweeps who comment negatively just for the sake of it. But, she won’t be put off saying what she thinks. She just might be more choosy in what outlets she uses.
I asked what she’ll do when gay marriage is equal in law to heterosexual marriage. “Get married,” she responds. She wasn’t allowed a Humanist ceremony for her recent civil partnership, so she’ll make sure she gets the ceremony, and recognition in law, that she wanted all along. And “have a wonderful day”.
For Calman, the pleasure of comedy is in the process. Developing an idea of a joke- something that might be funny – into a routine that is delivered well, and makes people laugh. Lucky us; I cannot wait to see this put into practice next month.