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For women in comedy, “the fight is never, ever won”: Interview with comedian Susie McCabe

Written by Arts

Glaswegian stand-up comedian Susie McCabe talks to Joe Molander, as she kicks off her latest tour.

Tell us about your new show. Is it a departure from your earlier work?

I turned forty in January, so I’ve been trying to be positive and leave the cynicism behind. I’m finding it massively difficult. It’ll be a bit different, but it should be good fun. I’ll probably be bit punchier, but still doing the storytelling.

“For reviewers, it’s really easy to sit in that chair with a pad and pen, but it’s not so easy to sit with a pad and pen and write a show.”

The conventional wisdom from some reviewers is that LGBT material is either depressing or filth. As a lesbian, do you think the comedy industry look down on LGBT material?

Yeah. It’s a bit like music: there’s probably only eight songs in the world, and every song’s a song from one of those eight. I really like people who go “oh what I really like is a comedian that talks about everyday life”: all comedians talk about everyday life, and they have a certain perspective. I think it’s really easy for reviewers to go “ah, we’ve heard this stuff a million times before”, and it’s really easy to sit in that chair with a pad and pen, but it’s not so easy to sit with a pad and pen and write a show.

It seems like you blend LGBT material with stuff with more widespread appeal, like moving back in with your parents. Is that a conscious decision to show reviewers that LGBT material can be more than what they think, or is that what happens to strike you as the funniest thing?

I think for me, it’s being true. Being LGBT is obviously a massive part of your life, and it can define who some of your friends are and what kind of music you listen to, but your life is your life, do you know what I mean?

Do you think it’s got easier to live your truth onstage and recall life experiences onstage?

Oh yeah, I’ve always done that. I’ve never had that thing where I’ve went “no, I’m not doing that, because this might be a bit tricky for this audience”, like when I was starting out and you’d walk on to loads of old white men and go “actually, I’m gonna do this, I’m telling you”, because by not doing it, you’re not doing your job. Ultimately, if you make that funny, you maybe soften the barriers that were there. You maybe go “ah, you know what? It turns out she doesn’t hate men”.

Do you think comedy has got easier for women? Would you say that fight is won?

The fight is never, ever won, and that doesn’t matter if you’re a woman, or if you’re gay, or if you’re trans, or if they’re black: the fight is never won. Whether it be your class or your race or anything, the fight is never won, especially not in a country with a class system.

“I see homosexuals being transphobic. How does this even work? How can you possibly spurn them?”

How do you mean?

If you’re any kind of minority, when you live in a country that has a class structure, that structure’s specifically set up in a manner that makes it more difficult for you. I think things get easier, and I think we move on, and that’s a wonderful thing, but I don’t think the fight is ever won. You could say that about homosexuality: “you’ve got marriage and you’ve got the equality”, well, yeah, but then I see homosexuals being transphobic. How does this even work? How can you possibly spurn them and moan about having equality and rights that you’ve got for yourselves?

Do you think comedy is helpful for fighting that fight?

Yeah: I think you are the court jester to a certain degree, but when I grew up [in the 1980s], there was comedians like Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton. Ben Elton would go out and do a ten minute rant about what Thatcher had done that week. They were seen as alternative: you can say things people might not agree with, but in hindsight they might think you were right. If you are a comedian who does that stuff and does it well, you basically become more of a social commentator, and that’s important in the world, really important.

“We’ve ruined the world for millennials.”

If you were to convey a serious point, would you find it hard in a medium that’s meant to be comedic?

No. In the last show, I spoke about millennials, and how millennials are a bit useless, and I kinda spun it round and I went “you know what? We’ve ruined the world for millennials”. It’s my generation: we bought up all the houses, their grandparents bought up the houses. And then I talk about the modern world and how millennials can teach us so much, because they’re lovely, beautiful human beings, because they’ve grown up with equality, and it’s an amazing

Image: Tony Glynn

thing when you talk to young people and they’re almost a shock. The fighting wasn’t that long ago, it was just when they were born. I’m getting to say things like “binary and non-binary are terms you can use outside a maths class”, and I really enjoyed doing it.

If you’re more optimistic about our generation, is it fair to say you’re optimistic about the future of our generation of comedians?

I worry about the YouTube generation of comedy, where we’ve just got kids sat in front of a camera. You can be as funny as you want on camera, but see at the end of the day, you need to go into a club, you need to run through material, you need to deal with a crowd, you need to work out how to work a stage, how to work a room. That all comes from just doing the job: there is still an element in life of you need to physically go out and learn. I think the future of comedy is bright, and I think we should always look to the younger generation: there’s always good guys and bad guys, but as long as you’re willing to learn, and put the time in, that’s when you’ll see your success.

Susie’s tour – Born Believer – begins in The Stand in Newcastle on 3rd October. Tickets are available here: https://www.thestand.co.uk/performances/800-8331-susie-mccabe-born-believer-20191003-newcastle/

Last modified: 11th October 2019

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