Scottish comedienne Susan Riddell appears to live like an eternal student using dry shampoo for a quick hair ‘wash’ before she pulls on her comfortable hoodie and denims to walk on stage.
Her first writing stint was as a comedy food columnist for a university newspaper but thanks to regular stints on Des Clarke’s radio comedy quiz show ‘Breaking the News’ and writing and performing in Scottish comedy spoof cop show Scot Squad, the former student’s ‘doggin’ uni days are well and truly over. Susan chats to Susie Daniels…
I saw your sketch, ‘Ditch the dry shampoo’. Is it something you use and would you recommend it?
I do use it too much! Watch what you’re doing. It can get addictive. I’m really jealous of girls who can wash their hair every day. I don’t have the energy to do that so I crack open the dry shampoo.
Are you one of these people where it’s an effort to look good for all your gigs or do you take it in your stride?
I kind of like to dress down. I’ve never gone on stage and glammed up. I wore my hair down once and blow dried it to look nice and it was a bad gig so I was superstitious and didn’t do it again. I wore a top last year at the Fringe and that was a bad gig and I’ve never worn it again.
Comedians are very superstitious people! I usually wear a hoodie and denims. My (comedienne) friends like to get glammed up.
Do you carry a notebook at all times for sketch ideas and do you find yourself over-analysing situations?
The ideas just kind of come to me and I put them in my Notes on my phone. I’ve got a writing pad to work them out. I woke up the other day there and you know how your foot falls asleep, I was thinking of the word, ‘comatoes’. (laughs). You can make a one-liner of that though that kind of comedy I don’t do.
I have used my friends and life (as material) on stage but friends don’t get paranoid about that though the weird thing is I don’t let them come and see me perform or I’ll get nervous. So they probably think I’m talking about them.
Where and what did you study? Was it scary to leave that and go into comedy?
I did Beauty Therapy but once I started that I didn’t want to do it. At 19 years old I went to Glasgow Uni and studied English Literature. I lasted a month and I hated it. Everybody was like, what the hell are you doing?’ When I stopped going I was effectively ‘doggin’ uni. I was freaking out and just going for coffees in the west end instead of going to lectures. Eventually the uni contacted my mum so I got caught doggin uni which is stupid because I was there of my own accord!
Five years later I did English at Strathclyde Uni and loved it. I was a wee bit overwhelmed and wasn’t ready before. At Strathclyde, as part of my course I did a year in Australia and took creative writing and started writing the first chapter of a novel. I wrote a funny food review for the student paper and when I came back I entered a Harper Collins short story competition. They really liked it and asked to see more I’d written but it didn’t go anywhere.
I realised I was good and then I was writing a column for the Daily Record and entered the BBC writers’ room Fast and Funny. I performed in sketches and thought, ‘I’ll give it a bash’.
You star on the radio comedy quiz show Breaking the News hosted by comedian Des Clarke. What’s that like?
It’s really nice. Everyone gets their turn to talk so I really enjoyed it. Two days before the show you get all the topics and news we’re going to discuss so you can write down ideas. It’s a good writing experience. It’s always a lovely audience and Des is so quick at anything you give him. He bounces off you and it’s so spontaneous!
You worked on Scot Squad writing and performing. Which did you prefer?
In Scot Squad I played a wee part in the last series and in this series I’m writing for them. It’s really exciting and you don’t know what they’re going to do with it. I’m more excited writing than performing. Scot Squad is improvised so I’ll write an outline of an episode and then they cast it.
It’s quite a cool thing to be part of. It pays better than stand-up!
You were paired in August with the Comedy Unit for the Scottish Comedy Writers room programme. What’s that about?
They picked 12 Scottish comedians and writers and whittled it down to four to work with production companies. We’re working on a script to develop by December. You could develop something and it comes out or it doesn’t. If it sounds good enough and someone buys it then wooo. Fingers crossed!
Is there an ideal decade you would have liked to have been a comedienne in?
I’m quite happy with this decade. It’s a lot more of a fair playground. In the eighties I’d probably have crumbled. I read somewhere that at Jo Brand’s first ever gig she did this guy shouted ‘fat c*nt’ repeatedly. I suppose it could happen now but the audience police each other now. In the eighties there probably was a thinking a woman shouldn’t be there.
Who do you admire most in comedy and who did you watch growing up?
I wasn’t the biggest fan of stand-up. I liked French and Saunders but I was more into sitcoms like Tina Fey in 30 Rock and Kath and Kim which is now on Netflix.
What’s the best thing about doing comedy?
I just enjoy that you come up with a funny idea and people think it’s funny with you or they don’t. I like the immediacy and you just start building on your ideas. I enjoy the writing side of it.
What’s your advice for budding female comediennes who may lack confidence?
Just give it a bash. Once you realise it’s not the end of the world when it doesn’t go so well it’s not that bad. It’s quite a liberating experience. Don’t expect to make a lot of money out of it.
What’s your next dream writing role?
I’d like to collaborate in a sitcom. I think the last female-led Scottish sitcom was Karen Dunbar over ten years ago. (laughs). A wee one hour sitcom on Netflix wouldn’t hurt…
Susan Riddell plays the Minted Comedy Festival at the Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh on November 4th