Preview: Susan Calman: Lady Like

Susan Calman. Pic: Ian Georgeson
Susan Calman. Pic: Ian Georgeson
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WHEN it comes to being prepared for her first full touring show, Susan Calman is positively scout-like. “Because I live in Scotland, travelling is a large part of the job and for this tour, I’ll have my laptop and my box sets.

“Whenever I travel I take two things with me: one is a very expensive shower gel so that when I’m staying in rubbish hotels I can still pretend that I’m not. And I take proper coffee with me for a nice cup in the morning.”

But it won’t all be about lavish washing and luxurious hot drinks. There’s some serious work to be done, both on and off stage.

“My sitcom, Sisters, was recently commissioned by Radio 4 so I’ll get into writing that. Yes, it’ll be a bit lonely, but some of the dates on the tour are already sold out and people are getting excited about it, and I’m really excited about it too.”

The show she is taking on the road is a generous two-parter made up of a first half best-of from the Fringe work she has performed since 2006, while the second half is her new show Lady Like.

“The first bit is really about getting to know me, so you have a better idea of who I am. It’s basically an introduction, so everyone hopefully relaxes and there are no surprises.

“It’ll be a nice relaxing 45 minutes, go away and have a drink, come back for the second half. It should be a proper night of good old-fashioned entertainment.”

While that first-half compilation effectively acts as a warm-up, Lady Like is partly about her trying to enjoy the company and personality of one particular person: herself.

While it does touch on dark moments from her distant and more recent past, a wide-eyed joyfulness runs through the show from a romantic gesture gone awry in Paris to trying to realise her dreams of being a ballerina and a hilarious TV escapade in Iceland with Phil Tufnell.

For Calman, it’s all about accentuating the positive.

“This show is saying you can learn to like yourself more. People can look at me and know that I’ve had a difficult time but I’m still here standing on stage.

“We all know as comedians how badly affected we can be by a bad review, but it’s all about positivity and I like to be positive. In terms of the more difficult stuff, you hold back a little bit; there’s a fine line between pity and laughter, and I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. There’s so much negativity around these days. People are keen to tell you in 140 characters just how much they think you’re rubbish. I think Twitter is an amazing, amazing thing but it can turn you on a pin, from happiness to despair. Anything you say can be dissected.

“It was bad enough when I was growing up thinking whether I was good enough, never mind now. People just want a rise out of you but you can block them and move on.”

The mean spirits which abound on the internet do seem to land on rather odd targets sometimes. Anyone who has seen Calman on compering duties will witness a funny, generous and self-deprecating person without a savage bone in her body.

“Fundamentally, you want people to leave feeling better than they did when they came in; for me that’s the ultimate goal. Compering can be a gentle thing.

“A lot of people are frightened of comedy because they’ve seen a compere who’s really gone for somebody in the audience or been particularly acerbic or rude.

“If I ask a question, it’s just that I want to know an answer; if I’m in a city that I don’t know much about, for example. Comedy is a conversation in every way and hopefully you get a response.”

Her obvious talents in the MC field won Calman the title of best compere at the 2012 Chortle Awards, but she has come to view her career as heading off in a different direction.

“I’ve stopped doing compering because I felt it was important to work on a new show. I still love chatting to people, no question about that, but I have literally no club gigs in my diary now.

“Jeremy Hardy told me that it’s better to do a show of your own that four people turn up to than destroy your soul with a club gig at the weekend that you’re not enjoying. And he’s right.”

Had Calman spent much time playing to such low crowds, she might have regretted taking the plunge into stand-up comedy.

For seven years she had a successful job and healthy wage packet in corporate law, but gave it all up for the sound of laughter.

“That was the one bold decision I’ve made in my life and I still don’t really quite know why I did it. I wasn’t very confident with people when growing up and I’m quite set in my ways. I’m very risk averse; any-thing that seems a bit risky, I don’t really want to do it. Apart from giving up my job.”

Calman doesn’t remember too much about her very first gig, an open mic spot.

“I’d never seen live comedy before I did my own first gig. My heroes were the Young Ones, French and Saunders, the Carry On films and I really loved Joyce Grenfell, oddly enough. I know An Audience With Victoria Wood entirely off by heart. That was the kind of stuff I wanted to do: to tell stories.”

Susan Calman: Lady Like, Traverse, Cambridge Street, Wednesday, 7.30pm, £16, 0131-228 1404