Ten years ago Susan Calman was a top flight corporate lawyer working at places including the United Nations in Geneva. But she says it was unfulfilling and stressful so she made the decision to give it all up and pursue her long held ambition and become a comedian. Now, a decade later the somewhat diminutive, smiley and very funny Glaswegian has had the success many in her profession can only dream about.
Indeed not only has she conquered the stand up circuit with sold out shows at the Soho Theatre and Edinburgh Fringe, she has also showed off her talents on radio with numerous credits including Radio 4’s The News Quiz, The Unbelievable Truth and Now Show not to mention presenting Woman’s Hour. And if that wasn’t enough she has appeared on the BBC’s hit shows Have I Got News for You and QI, as well as Show and Tell, The Matt Lucas Awards, Dara O’Briain’s School of Hard Sums, 8 Out of 10 Cats, The Dog Ate My Homework, Would I Lie To You and Mock the Week. She is currently working on Too Much TV for BBC2, is writing a book and – to underline her appeal to not just adults but the younger generation as well – will soon host 30 episodes of a new quiz show Top Class to be broadcast on the BBC children’s channel CBBC.
Clearly Susan does not like to sit around twiddling her thumbs nor indeed rest on her laurels as in amongst all this she hasn’t forgotten her stand up roots and to prove the point she is currently crisis crossing the country dispensing witty anecdotes in a tour of her new show, The Calman Before The Storm. In it she tells me she wants to rip through all the preconceptions about her and challenge the assumptions people have about her political views, her height, her nationality and her sexuality. As part of the tour, the show is heading to South London where she will take to the stage at Greenwich Theatre on Monday, June 26.
What is clear when we chat ahead of the gig is that she is indeed as warm and friendly as she comes across on TV and radio and has plenty to say on most subjects.But first things first, with so much on her professional plate how has she managed to fit the tour in? “I do a lot,” she agrees chuckling. “But I do try and tour every two years or so. It’s hectic but it’s lovely to do.
“I’ve been on the road on and off with this show since March and it’s going well. “The joy of stand up in a tour like this is that it’s essentially the same show but every night is different as it depends on what the audience likes and doesn’t like.”And she’s looking forward to her foray into South London.“I’ve never been to Greenwich Theatre before so I’m looking forward to it,” she says warmly.“It’s really exciting to stand up in front of an audience in a venue you don’t know. It makes it quite a thrill as no one is quite sure what’s going to happen!
“What’s also nice is that the audience is close to me – I like people to still be able to see the whites of my eyes! It makes it more enjoyable too.”So what will be on the agenda this time I ask. Quite a lot as it turns out including politics and her home life with a liberal sprinkling of personal anecdotes.
“This show is basically 90 minutes of observational comedy from a personal point of view,” she explains.“I’ve recently bought a house and it’s quite a change as we are now in a lovely suburban street with some pretty lovely neighbours. It’s great!
“So I’ll talk a bit about this and also stories about me that hopefully people can relate to. I talk about my wife – so much that the audience feels sorry for her! “Although I do talk a bit of politics I don’t dwell on stuff like Trump and Brexit as I think everyone is a bit sick of it. And I don’t want to dwell on how people voted as I want the show to be much more about inclusivity. “So there won’t be any lecturing – it’s going to be a nice jolly evening. I just want people to have a lovely time and get away from all that kind of stuff. So come and see my show and enjoy it.”
Despite her obvious talent Susan says she is surprised at her longevity and success in what is a notoriously difficult business. Growing up with ambitions of being a stand up after being inspired by the likes of Billy Connelly, Joyce Grenfell and Victoria Wood, she did a degree in law and became a lawyer, but says she knew in her heart that being a corporate lawyer was not for her.
“I didn’t think I would last this long!” she muses. “In many ways this show is really a celebration of my 10 years in comedy.“Growing up I was inspired very much by the likes of Billy Connelly. Almost all his stand up featured personal stories which he made so so funny. He did certain things and made fun of himself and was hilarious. “I also grew up listening to Victoria Wood – she was the one I loved most and made women funny.
“When I started out I saw her at the Royal Albert Hall. It was amazing – she was the greatest comic. But she was also the most amazing actor, writer and musician and if I can do things a quarter as well as her I would be exceeding expectations. “But above all she was a great storyteller and that was what I really loved – I still love listening to other people’s stories.“I’m not a joke teller – if you want that, people like Jimmy Carr are genius at it but I’m not. “I just colour the story in – and hopefully the stories I tell, people can relate to.”
Touring and her very busy workload does mean she spends a good deal of time away from her home in Glasgow which she shares with her wife and five cats.“Two of them are quite young and I don’t get home an awful lot so when I do I tend to chase them around the room!” she laughs. “What then happens is that they run away.“I do miss them all when I’m away but no matter how miserable I am for being away from home I always remember how lucky I am to do this.”
And she certainly doesn’t regret her change of direction career wise, even though she admits there were times in the early days it was a “slog”.“I had always wanted to be a stand up but in 1992 when I left school it would be ridiculous thing to say I wanted to be a comedian. So I went into law but eventually I just realised that if I didn’t try stand up I was never going to do it. So I started doing gigs – it took a good six years before I got to the point that it wasn’t a slog.“I know I’m lucky but I’ve worked hard and I love the variety of doing all the different things like touring, TV and radio. “Things couldn’t be going better and I’m incredibly happy!”