Portsmouth comic Suzi Ruffell to play her biggest hometown show at New Theatre Royal | Big Interview
Suzi Ruffell’s latest show was written when the stand-up was in a good place, and it reflects that – it’s about what happens when a comic is actually happy with their life.
Following a successful run at Edinburgh Festival, she took it out on her biggest tour to date.
There were significant TV appearances on the likes of Jonathan Ross’s chatshow, Live at The Apollo, The Last Leg, and tap-dancing with the eponymous host of Harry Hill’s Clubnite. Things were going well.
And then of course the pandemic hit.
‘The first thing you think, is: “Oh my god, this is terrifying”, living through this moment in history, and the last thing I wanted to do was to push for the tour to carry on.
‘As soon as everyone was saying they were really worried about it, I was like: “Yeah, let's pull the tour”.
‘I always want people to come to my show and feel relaxed, not scared or anything like that, so we pulled it relatively early on because it seemed like the right thing to do.
‘But of course there was part of me that sort of went: “Oh god”, I've been doing this for about 12 years, and I was starting to get the sort of jobs that I'd dreamt of getting.
‘So there was lots of fear whether that meant this had been my big chance. I was doing those bigger shows that are less like the panel shows and you feel like you're moving into a slightly different sphere.
‘When I did the Last Leg I was on with David Tennant and Guz Khan, and with Jonathan Ross, he gets these massive stars.’
‘There was a part of me that thought, is this it for me? Is that as exciting as it's going to get? What's going to happen to my career now? And how long is this going to last? Am I going to be able to make a living?
‘It was kind of terrifying. I don't have a back up plan! I didn't go to uni, I haven't got anything to fall back on.
‘I was frightened for the industry, more than just my career. We were all really worried that comedy clubs and theatres were going to close – there was very little funding put aside for the arts, and comedy wasn't even considered in what there was.
‘Comedy is really for anyone. You can rock up at a comedy night at most towns in the country and watch comedy for about a tenner which is much cheaper than going to watch theatre or whatever – it is far more accessible.
‘And there are far more diverse stories among comedy than what you'd often find in the West End, for example.
‘But things have bounced back and bounced back with real aplomb – it feels like people are really excited to be going out and watching comedy again.
‘I was keen to get back to work if that's what everyone else was doing.
‘It was really annoying that theatre shows weren't open, but tens of thousands of people were going to Wembley to watch football. I get it – I'm not saying people shouldn't have been going to watch football, but it felt really sad that you couldn't have 150 people in a comedy club while you could have thousands of people in a stadium.’
As it turned out though, Suzi was able to keep working during the pandemic – she started a new podcast, Out With Suzi Ruffell, and was also one of the hosts of the female-led satirical news show, Yesterday, Today and The Day Before, alongside Maisie Adams and Ria Lina, on The Comedy Channel.
There were even three nominations on The National Comedy Awards longlists.
‘I was so lucky throughout the pandemic to keep working, and keep having telly stuff coming in and radio and podcasting and stuff like that.
‘I've been enormously privileged to carry on working, but now, being out in the real world and doing stand up is really exciting. It's what I love doing more than anything else in the world. Doing telly is super fun, but my bread and butter will, I think, always be stand up.’
Given the theme of her show, has she had to rewrite any of it for a post-Covid world?
‘There's certainly bits of it I've had to change, but I really wanted to keep the energy of the show the same.
‘I wrote a show about how happy I am, and then it was: “Oh god, the world's exploded and things are awful”.
‘Then heroes emerge like Marcus Rashford, and you can go, ah, people are good, there is goodness out there. And people going out there and clapping for the NHS – now they need to make sure they get in touch with Sajid Javid about the selling off of the NHS.
‘It's important to me that there's the eternal optimism of how great people can be.’
So you’re a glass half-full person?
‘I really am! Otherwise I'd be miserable. I've got to be hopeful.
‘I wanted to create something that was really joyful and really celebratory of life, and that is sort of what I do.
‘I'm a bit political, but I'm not overly political, I talk more about social politics than anything else, and I think that's what people come to see me for.
‘I've been getting people come up to me after the show and saying: "I really needed that! It was great to just laugh for an hour and a bit.”
‘I always make a real effort to bring a support with me who's brilliant – most of them have done Live at The Apollo, and they're big names in their own right. I really want to give people a great night out.
‘And I try to keep the ticket prices reasonable so I don't price people out. I just want it to be accessible. It's important to me that anyone can come.’
Part of the reason Suzi tries to keep her shows accessible is because of her own background as a queer woman.
‘As an out queer person, I get a lot of young people, teens, coming to see my shows. Maybe I'm the first comedy show they're ever going to see. They might be coming with their parents, they might be coming to this by themselves as a group of 16/17-year-olds, and I really like that I'm available to them.
‘That's sort of the same as my stand up as well, not that you want to be so broad and mainstream that you don't appeal to anyone, but I have been delighted in that the more I've done, the more diverse my audience has become.
‘I get straight people, queer people, old people, young people, all types of people come to see the show, and I don't think it matters whether you're exactly like me.’
And coming from a working class background, Suzi likes that her comedy cuts through perceived social barriers.
‘I get a lot of blokes like my dad who come to see my stand up – lots of geezers who come along, and they don't mind that there's a bit of queer politics and they get on board with it. It's lovely.
‘It means they like me and I'm funny, and they don't mind that occasionally...
‘It's just a group of lovely people who want to have a good laugh and I'm the biggest joke in the room – I'm never punching down, I'm not really mean about anyone. It's very celebratory of life, and mocking of myself, and that's the comedy I like. There's loads of room for different kinds of comedy, but that's not my brand – that's not why people come and see me.’
Although Suzi has lived in London for several years now, she often comes back to Portsmouth to visit her parents. That has also, of course, been problematic at times in the past 19 months.
‘There was one period where I could go to Thorpe Park but not into my mum's house which was so weird. What is this?!
‘I come home to Pompey more and more and I do really love it at home. I really miss being by the beach – it's so nice. Mum's got a dog, so going down South Parade Pier and taking the dog out in the sunshine.
’I was often a bit mean about Portsmouth on stage – not really mean, but a bit mocking – now I'm at the ripe old age of 35 I'm falling back in love with it.’
She recently opened at The Kings Theatre for Jack Dee.
I think the last time I was on stage at The Kings was when I was in an amateur production of Copacabana when I was 17, so it was nice to be back on that stage. It was lovely.
‘I do a bit of support for Jack here and there and have done for a while. It's lovely that occasionally very famous people will ask me to open for them. I've opened for Michael McIntyre, which is about as big as it gets in this country, and to have him say to you after you come off,’ she adopts a McIntyre-esque voice, ‘”That was brilliant, that was fantastic,” is amazing.’
On this tour she’s playing at The New Theatre Royal – her biggest hometown show so far.
‘I did a couple of shows there as a teenager and I opened for Josh Widdecombe there a few years ago, but when we put the show on sale I thought, we might be pushing this a bit...
‘But now it's close to selling out. If it does, that will be my largest ever tour show to sell out. I'm really chuffed with it.
‘I sell pretty well all over the country, but there's something a bit special knowing that your hometown gives a damn about you.’
And of course, her family will be at the show to support her.
‘Mum still gets excited when I’m in the local paper – big shout out to Ann Ruffell!’
Beyond this tour, though, things are looking positive for the future.
‘I’ve got a bunch of projects in the pipeline for next year, and some stuff I’ve already shot, but not announced yet. It feels like I'm in quite an exciting place.
‘For my career to have survived a pandemic and to have come out even stronger, I'm really lucky – and really chuffed.’
Suzi Ruffell is at The New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, on Friday, December 3. Tickets £16.50. Go to newtheatreroyal.com.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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