I first came across Susan Calman on panel shows like ‘Have I Got News for You’ and ‘QI’ where, for me, she would regularly steal the show with her slightly nutty personality. If you are aware of her it will most likely be as a result of these appearances, or from hearing her on Radio 4. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s a pint-sized, sharp-tongued, cat-loving, sassy Scottish lady. She also happens to be hilarious.
Her consistent presence on Radio 4 shows like ‘The News Quiz’ and ‘The Unbelievable Truth’ has led to her gaining a bit of a reputation as an overly P.C. Radio 4 comedian. To the disappointment of some of her more conservative fans, perhaps, this is far from the truth. She is not afraid to speak her mind on a variety of subjects, and has mentioned that in the past some have been disappointed to discover that her stand up is ‘more sweary than the News Quiz’. Her twitter is a delightful mix of fierce opposition to misogyny and homophobia alongside photos of her cats and tweets about building pillow forts. A particular favourite of mine was her response to the recent Daily Mail article in which they attacked an ‘openly gay ex-Olympic fencer’ high court judge. Calman immediately fired back with a series of tweets: ‘Off to the shops. I’m going to be openly gay in M&S. Just in case you see me and want to hide. Or call the police.’… ‘AND YEAH I MIGHT DO SOME FENCING WHILE I’M BEING GAY! AND I MIGHT TALK ABOUT HOW MUCH I LOVE EUROPE. I’M GOING TO GAY FENCE AND TALK FRENCH!’ She then followed this up with a succinct summary: I’m often asked why I talk so much about being gay. It’s because people are still homophobic. If they shut up, so will I.’ Part of Calman’s brilliance, to me, is her ability to balance her often very silly comedy with serious messages like this, without one ever trivialising the other. Her recent book, which discusses her experience of depression with a comedic slant, is a perfect example of this.
Her current tour, ‘The Calman Before the Storm’, involves her either contradicting or
affirming the various expectations and assumptions that have been made about her over the years, with hilarious examples. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to her sold out run at the Fringe, where she performed a snippet of her full tour show. This was my first encounter with Susan Calman live, and it got off to a delightfully unexpected start when, on entering the venue, we found her already sitting on the stage reading a book while the crowd filed in. It made a nice change, while waiting for a show to start, not to be faced with a lone mic stand but with the star herself, posing dramatically for photos and dancing gleefully to Ariana Grande and Jessie J. This also served to set the tone for the rest of the show, as Calman herself happily told the audience during this segment ‘I’m 41 now and don’t care any more’.
She is a friendly, energetic and cheeky presence on stage, sending up both the British public and herself with delightful charm and the occasional wonderfully dirty giggle. She puts her audience at ease with the informal opening to her show and then keeps them entertained with her relaxed comedy style. The show feels coordinated but not constrained by its theme; little links and references to earlier stories prevent it from being merely a series of random anecdotes. She is energetic and sometimes angry, but never overbearing or miserable, as some of the more grumpy comedians can be. She intersperses her rants, on various subjects from feminism to the petite sections in shops, with stories about taking her cats (Daisy Fay Harper and DCI Jane Tennison) to the vets. She also describes several arguments with her wife, one of which resulted in her standing on a chair in a restaurant and shouting about Batman.
Susan Calman very much rejects the stereotype of a generic Radio 4 comedian. She can be both perfectly silly and ruthlessly serious and, apart from being a witty, intelligent and skilful comedian, gives out the impression of being a delightful human being. Her stand up has elements of cheerful exasperation, the odd furious outburst and a characteristic sense of mischief. Do go and see her live if you can – she’s brilliant at what she does.