photo by Lucy Pope
Getting a straight answer out of Jen provides it’s own set of challenges and yes that pun was very much intended. When asked about the comedy climate for queer women in the UK, Jen said, “I think it’s about 27 degrees and fairly humid, which is about average for comedy at this time of year.” It’s that kind of sarcasm that makes Jen one of the most genuinely hilarious women on the list. In her own words, “My persona is an exaggerated version of myself that allows me to have an extreme response to things that happen in my life or anything I don’t like. Which at the moment, appears to be most things.”
Since getting her start in comedy, she’s taken a number of shows, including Me My Mum & I, Jen Brister is British(ish) and Now & Then to the Edinburgh Festival, the Adelaide and Melbourne Comedy Festivals and the Adelaide Fringe. As a festival a veteran, Jen has impeccable insights in women in comedy.
“I honestly don’t think women are under represented, particularly anyone that wants to work live,” she said. “The fact is that fewer women do stand up comedy so therefore fewer of us break through. As for queer women, I think proportionately there are quite a few of us making a name for ourselves. There is always a lot of emphasis on what women ‘aren’t doing’ rather than celebrating what we have achieved. I could reel off a dozen names of successful, funny stand up comedians who are all women. As a stand up comedian it doesn’t matter if you’re black, queer, trans, disabled or a woman as long as you’re funny. If you can make people laugh any prejudices that that person may have will disappear the moment an unexpected guffaw leaves their mouth.”
What’s next for Jen? “I’m working on a hit sitcom for HBO right now—haha! I wish.” She just finished performing her new show, Wishful Thinking, at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. She’ll be taking it to the Edinburgh Festival in August.
Wanting to be a comedian at a young age, Susan didn’t think having such a career was possible. “I suspect if I’d told my parents I was going to be a comedian they would have fainted,” she said, “so I left school and went to University to study law. It was only in my mid 30s that I decided to resign from my job and give comedy a go.” She has since reached the semi-finals of the BBC New Comedy Awards and won numerous awards, including Best New Scottish Comedian at the Real Radio Scottish Variety Awards, but she counts her greatest achievements as what she’s been afforded to create.
“I was given my first Radio 4 series called Susan Calman is Convicted. Nothing I have done before or since has been so enjoyable. I was given complete freedom by the station to write about anything I wanted to. The first series included my experiences of working on Death Row and the fact that I have depression.” The second installment started on April 2.
Susan is one of the brightest comedy voices to come out of Scotland. “In general there are more women in comedy these days,” she said. “The main attitude that needs to change amongst producers and bookers is that one woman represents all women. There is a movement to ensure that there is at least one woman on a panel show in the UK. Personally I dislike the requirement for quota systems in general, and specifically in relation to comedy. I’d like to be booked for a show because I’m good at what I do rather than because they need someone to fill a seat. “
Susan will be at the Edinburgh Fringe, will present Don’t Drop The Baton, a BBC comedy broadcast during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July and August, and STV quiz show The Lie. Her stand-up tour, Lady Like, will tour the UK and Ireland in Autumn 2014.