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Susan Calman: The lady like Fringe

By | Published on Sunday 13 July 2014

Susan Calman

Her neighbours may call her “the mad cat lady”, but round here Susan Calman is a ThreeWeeks favourite, back at the Fringe this year with a brand new show to share. And a ‘confession’ as well if the blurb to ‘Lady Like’ is to be believed. Ahead of the new show we questioned the lady herself about her Radio 4 programme, recent TV appearances, that new show, and being rather candid on stage.

CC: Welcome back to the Fringe. Your show blurb says you have a ‘confession’ to make this year. Presumably it would ruin the show for you to tell us what it is, but have you got any other confessions you’d like to share before the Fringe begins?
SC: It’s not really a confession I suppose but I’m a huge fan of line dancing. I can’t line dance myself but enjoy watching others do it. Having said that, I’m now aware that it sounds a little pervy. I don’t mean it to. When I have the time in the future I’m going to learn to do it so I can join in. It’s not sounding any better is it?

CC: For a lot of comedians the Big Fringe Deadline is a cure for their chronic procrastination and helps them actually get a new show written. Is it like that for you, or were you ready to go in March?
SC: This year I knew I would be filming a TV show in July – called ‘Don’t Drop The Baton’ about the Commonwealth Games in case you wondered – so I decided to do things slightly differently than I usually would. I embarked on a preview tour from the end of January through till March over 26 nights. It meant that the show was pretty much there at the start of April. Over the past few months I’ve been tweaking bits and pieces but I’m very organised. It’s always difficult to get punters to show up at previews once the weather gets better so I found trying out my show in the depths of winter was better. Colder, slightly more miserable, but at least people turned up!

CC: You’re also promising to make your audience “feel better” with the new show. How are you planning on doing that?
SC: It’s a three stage approach. First, nice, air conditioned, accessible venue that doesn’t smell of death. I’ve performed in many rooms that have a distinct smell of despair. Not this year. Second, perform a good show where I clearly explain why I’m an idiot with lots of jokes, stories and the like. And third the audience leaves knowing that no matter how bad they think life is, I am clearly failing more spectacularly.

CC: For all your fellow performers setting out on a full Fringe run, have you got any tips for how they can “feel better” when they hit half-way hell?
SC: I’ve been performing at the Fringe in various shows for seven years now. It’s taken me this long to really work out how to survive. This year I’m going to run every morning, I’ve given up smoking and I’m eating well. No really. I am. Every year at the Fringe I start to feel physically awful half way through which just adds to the general melancholy and self loathing. I’m hoping that treating myself better will lead to a less spectacular mid-August droop.

General tips though would be: a) Don’t get obsessed with reviews, you’ll hate yourself and your fellow comics. b) Don’t get involved in bitching, you might find yourself standing beside the wife/brother/agent of the comic you’re talking about which will make the rest of the month very awkward. c) Find some nice people to talk to about things other than the Festival; go swimming, go to an art gallery, anything to get away from comedy. d) Remember, above everything else, that the Fringe is the best opportunity to become a better performer; a bad gig can teach you as much, if not more, than a good one. e) Allow yourself one night to get very drunk, but make sure someone looks after you. And wander through Bristo Square at 3am laughing at the moon.

CC: I’m going to install a little honesty into my questioning here. I managed to totally miss your Radio 4 series earlier this year. What was it about? And please tell me their going to repeat it? Or should I go find it on one of those dodgy file-sharing websites?
SC: It was the second series. Did you miss both? I can come round to your house and talk you through each episode in immense detail if you want? Ha! I think you can buy them on iTunes to be honest but the last series covered appearance, children, DNA and intellectual snobbery. The two series I’ve written and performed for Radio 4 are probably the shows I’m most proud of. I’m currently pitching for series three so fingers crossed.

CC: Depression was one of the topics covered on the radio programme with the sensible message that that’s something we all need to talk about more. How do you think we can make that happen? Does comedy have a role to play?
SC: Comedy has a big role to play because you can say things in a comedy show without terrifying everyone. I can talk about the fact that I’ve had depression and how I dealt with it. Intersperse it with a few jokes and no one worries that I’m about to lose it on stage. It’s the same with the show I did on equal marriage, I know it challenged some of the audiences perceptions about that issue but because I made them laugh it didn’t seem like a lecture. I hope!

CC: I did catch your guest appearances in ‘Fresh Meat’ as the reluctant student counsellor. How does the acting work compare to the comedy?
SC: That character in ‘Fresh Meat’ was clearly not equipped to help anyone. It was brilliant fun though. Some of the most enjoyable moments in my career have been acting in shows. In ‘Dead Boss’ I got to play a member of a prison gang. Who could ask for more? I love acting and I hope in the next year or so I can do more of it. It’s slightly less pressure when you read out words that someone else has written!

CC: Now I’m thinking you’re thinking I’ve only ever seen your five minutes of acting on ‘Fresh Meat’. But we love all your stand-up and panel show work too. The dominance of male comedians on those there panel shows still seems to be an issue, though various things have been said – at the BBC in particular – about addressing the problem. Do you think it will be? 
SC: It will change, I have no doubt about that. It won’t happen overnight though. To my mind the key is getting a panel show on the television with a woman as a host or as a regular. That’s when things will really change. I firmly believe that will happen soon. Radio has already proven that audiences don’t really care if a woman is hosting a panel show, television will get to the same point. It has to.

CC: With so many shows at the Fringe these days publicity is everything. Given the ‘Mad Cat Lady’ moniker your neighbours have famously given you, were you not tempted to promote the show with endless pictures of cats? I mean, you could be all over Facebook.
SC: Haven’t you seen my Twitter feed? Seriously. It’s all about the cats.

CC: Finally, you’re known for being pretty frank and honest in your shows. Is there anything you’ve ever shared that you later regretted doing so?
SC: I think I’ll find out this year.

‘Susan Calman: Lady Like’ was performed at Underbelly at Edinburgh Festival 2014.

LINKS: www.susancalman.com