The Scottish comedian talks to DIVA about sexism in stand up and the importance of being vocal as a working class lesbian
BY HEATHER PRICE
When I speak with award-winning stand up comedian Susie McCabe, she was is ever so slightly hungover, having picked up two major gongs at the Scottish Comedy Awards 2019 the night before – one for Best Headliner and another for Best Festival Solo Show.
One of the most sought-after comedians on the circuit, Susie’s incredibly funny stories are peppered with classic Glasgow wit, and on a recent episode of TV’s Breaking The News, she stole the show.
She tells me about her brand new gig, sexism in stand up, and using her voice as a working class lesbian…
DIVA: Tell us about your new show, Born Believer. How did it come about?
Susie McCabe: Quite a lot of things have happened recently. My career’s going well, I managed to give up my full-time job and I get to do what I love to do, so this show’s going to be a bit different. I’m going to try and leave the cynicism behind. I grew up on the west coast of Scotland, we are negative people! I notice when I go down south, people are just a bit more optimistic. I’m going to try and talk about change and how I’m not a cynic anymore. If you find something that you love, someone that you love, and if you can get yourself in that position and with hard work get better at it, things can happen for you. You don’t know when they start to happen, and you don’t when they end, but I can now turn around and think, “I have the King’s Theatre on sale for a solo show. People are coming to the theatre to watch me”. That’s amazing. When you start comedy, you just hope you’ll get five minutes at The Stand. Before you know it you’re moving through that bill, you’re writing shows, selling out shows. And good things happen. I want this show to be about that, and people walk out feeling good. It’s where I can say, “You know guys, the world’s not that bad”, but that’s also really difficult to say just now because the world’s looking fucking terrible to be honest! We’ll see how that pans out.
What’s your routine for writing new material?
I’ll sit with my partner Nicola and we’ll get a mind map up. We’ll start off with a subject and that’ll go on to others, and I’ll take it on tangents. That mind map stays with me for the whole of the show. Nicola will kind of do the mind map because my handwriting is terrible. From that I’ll decide what I want to talk about. Not everything goes in, but in the initial writing, everything goes in. I see what I think is strong, what I think is weak. I write my show on paper, I don’t type it. Then you’re constantly bulking it up, stripping it back, then bulking it back up again. You literally have to pour over every word.
Who were your influences growing up and who are your influences now?
My brother introduced me to Friday Night Live, Ben Elton, Jo Brand, Whose Line Is It Anyway… In my teenage years he introduced me to George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Reeves and Mortimer. And of course, being from Glasgow, we all grow up with Billy Connolly – it’s almost like you don’t mention it because it’s a given. With my mum as a kid I’d watch the Golden Girls, Cheers, Roseanne, those kinds of things. I still watch the Golden Girls and laugh my socks off. I love Alan Carr – he is one of the best comedians out there. The picture that man can paint! The first time I watched him on 8 Out Of 10 Cats he just made me laugh so much, a proper belly laugh. I started reading his book on Christmas Day and finished it Boxing Day evening. If me and him had met on the Glasgow gay scene we’d have been pals. He’s a phenomenal stand up.
Do you think stand up has changed?
Yes. For me, my voice as a working-class lesbian means I can be heard. Because Janey Godley walked before me. Now, she’s not a lesbian, but she’s an ally, a human being. Janey and I don’t talk about the same things but we have a similar voice, a similar background. I probably have more in common with Janey than I do other lesbians from Glasgow. I can walk in my shoes because she walked before me. A lot of people now cover issues that are out there and should be spoken about and that’s great. You need to be clever enough to take an issue and do that. I think LGBT comedians are at the forefront right now – Scott Agnew was diagnosed with HIV and did a show on it. That’s massively brave. It’s brilliant. At the Scottish Comedy Awards [this year], six women won awards. The best compere was a woman. So it’s changing, not only because women are out there doing it, but because men – straight men, our colleagues – are standing beside us, respecting us as comedians. Not as female comedians, just as comedians. And it’s taken men to do that. I touch on this in my show at the Fringe. I don’t think the guys get enough credit. If a guy was particularly horrible to me at a gig because I’m a woman, I know in that green room there’s a boy who’s going to come out and absolutely slaughter him after I’ve slaughtered him. I could slaughter him all day and it will make no difference. It’ll take a man to look him in the eye and say, “You’re wrong”.
Most memorable gig to date?
The Royal Albert Hall on 26 March this year. Kevin Bridges, John Bishop, Romesh Ranganathan, Kerry Godliman, Seann Walsh, Tommy Tiernan, and Roger Daltrey on at half time, so as line-ups go, that was pretty special! I was absolutely petrified. I was standing in the wings and looking at all these guys you really respect, and you’ve got 5,000 people in the Royal Albert Hall, and it’s for the Teenage Cancer Trust, and you’re thinking “Ah, I’m a bit of an imposter here!” Romesh came over and said, “Have a good one mate” which is the nicest thing in the world to do, because it takes you away from what you’re thinking about. It was phenomenal, and that was a real touch of class from him because he knew how I was feeling.
The heckler comeback you’re most proud of?
I was in Australia at the start of the year, and I asked a guy in the audience what he did for a living. He said he was an engineer. So I asked him, what kind of engineer? And he went, “Oh you wouldn’t understand”. So I said, are you an electrical engineer? And I explained everything an electrical engineer does. Are you a mechanical engineer? And I explained everything a mechanical engineer does. Are you a civil engineer? And I explained everything a civil engineer does. So I asked him again, what kind of engineer are you? And he went “I’m a joiner”. So I said oh, you’re a wood engineer! That’s probably a really proud moment because a whole room went very tense. I told him I was probably more qualified than him. He was just made to look like an absolute idiot, but that was straight up sexism right there.
What keeps you motivated?
The fear of failure. The fear of failing at the gig, the fear of letting people down, letting my partner down, myself down, my audience down, my management down. It’s the worst thing in the world. It’s probably a bog-standard generic answer for a comedian, but it’s one hundred percent true.
Tell us your phobias.
I’m scared of vermin and we’ll leave it there because I hate talking about it. I’m also weird with lifts. I’d rather walk up 25 floors than get in a shuggly lift.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a comedian?
I was an estimator, so I would probably still be doing that. I stumbled onto comedy and it’s just happened, and it’s been so good. I don’t really know what else I’m good at. I’d like to be a chef but it’s terribly long hours and not a lot of money. So that, or the manager of Celtic. That’s probably my other dream job!
Tickets are on sale now for Susie’s show in March 2020 at King’s Theatre, Glasgow. Head to susiemccabecomedy.com for more. You can also catch her award-winning show Domestic Disaster one last time at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For times and tickets, visit tickets.edfringe.com.
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