Susan Calman talks politics, nationality, her height, cats and Donald Trump
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Susan Calman is a stalwart the UK comedy scene. From Radio 4 podcasts (see the News Quiz, the Guilty Feminist or her own podcast series broadcast earlier this year), to panel shows and live stand-up she has made a striking impression (despite her 4ft 10” stature).
Having made the transition from Corporate Lawyer to professional comedian precisely one decade ago, Calman has experienced what is an undeniable boom of the comedy scene. From 2006 to now comedy in the UK has flourished; from new panel shows to the proliferation of live comedy tours, from a consumer perspective the genre appears to be expanding.
“The thing that I’ve found most noticeable is the decrease in the amount of gigs, actually. When I first started ten years ago even in Glasgow and Edinburgh there were lots of different gigs running.”
It seems that despite an on-screen saturation of comedy shows, “it’s definitely more difficult to get quality stage time if you’re starting out just now. Whether it be the economy or just landlords not wanting to take a chance on putting on gigs, there’s less opportunity to hone your craft than there was 10 years ago.”
And it’s this quality stage time that Calman is most passionate about: “I’m very fortunate in that I can tour and sell tickets, but you’ve also got to keep an eye on the scene in general because a healthy scene from the bottom up is good for all of us. You can’t just rely on having a TV headliner.”
“I used to do gigs with really weird comedians – really bizarre acts – but that’s what’s joyous about comedy, it’s not just about one thing; it’s all of the things that we are, and I think I miss the weird nights. Odd nights were always the best nights... not everybody wants to sit and watch a panel show, so it’s important that live comedy is still a vibrant and vital part of the arts scene in the country because it caters for all of the tastes that people might have.”
With her upcoming tour, The Calman Before the Storm, Calman is indeed lucky enough to perform on stages across the UK (her Edinburgh Fringe run sold-out before the festival started). In it, she says she “challenges the assumptions” made about her political stance, nationality, sexuality, height... Having been in comedy for ten years, she says “I’m at a stage where people kind of come and see me, so most of the people there will come with some form of expectation.”
“Whether they’ve come to me because they’ve heard me on Radio 4, or they’ve read my book, or whatever it is people will come with different ideas of what they think the show is going to be – and I think it’s good to have fun with that.”
Also part of this tour is to stop apologising for not hating people: “I am left-wing and I’m a liberal and I think the world’s becoming a negative place, and part of this show is saying ‘I’m a Scottish lesbian left-wing Remainer, welcome! Let’s see how this works!’ – people may not agree with me on all of those things but I’m not going to shout at them for not agreeing. It’s about getting a level of discourse back up again to a higher-level than just shouting at each other.”
Part of this show is about engaging with anyone on different parts of the political divide in order to further conversation in a positive way... Until Donald Trump comes up, “and then everything will go downhill!”
Of course politics isn’t the only subject covered, but being a gay woman in comedy certainly conjures the assumption that it must have been ‘difficult’ to get to the position she now finds herself. Since 2006, “things have changed a bit, but certainly not enough.”
Particularly in television, Calman acknowledges there’s room for growth; “there hasn’t even been a single show commissioned for two women to host a travel show, and the problem is then that you see the world through the eyes of men. I think it would be nice to acknowledge the fact that women sometimes leave the house as well.”
“It’s still the same if you’re black, if you’re gay, if you’re disabled, if you’re transgender – there’s still an issue there about how widely television represents all of the society we have just now. It should be a meritocracy, and it’s not a meritocracy in terms of women getting onto shows.”
Despite its flaws, however, comedy and television are, for Calman, undeniably preferable to her previous life as a lawyer.
“It was dull... deathly dull. The worst assumption is people think it was an interesting job, when actually I did telecoms links. Sometimes people would say ‘Oh tell us a joke about being a lawyer’ and I think ‘Nope, there’s nothing. There’s nothing there. Dull, dull, dull.’”
Everything The Calman Before the Storm promises not to be. Running through till June, Calman’s tour covers the length and breadth of the country and tackles as many subjects in-between with her characteristic wit and Scottish charm. Find information of her tour dates here.
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And if you’re a true fan of Calman, you’ve no doubt heard of many references to her cats. Follow her on twitter for a potential Christmas Day update of them in festive costume – a present from Santa Paws, she informs us...