As comic Suzi Ruffell comes home, they say you can take the girl out of Portsmouth...

Portsmouth-born comic Suzi Ruffell
Portsmouth-born comic Suzi Ruffell
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She's got a sold out run at the Edinburgh Festival under her belt for her most recent show, but her next hometown date will be special for stand-up Suzi Ruffell.

Born and bred in Portsmouth, Suzi still holds a great deal of affection for the city and the life she had here, even though she has lived in London for the past 14 years.

And it is the friction between those two worlds that forms the basis for her current show, Keeping It Classy.

She explores what it means to be a white, gay, working class woman. Now more than ever, during post-Brexit and 100 arguments with family, she provides a refreshingly different and important take on whether or not you can ever escape the class you were born into.

'It began as a show about class, where you come from, where you’re at it, whether it still exists, whether people care. I’m from Portsmouth, and I like being from Portsmouth but now I’m sort of a Londoner, so it's also about who you are when you straddle two different places and in some respects, two different worlds.

'Comedy is quite a middle class place, and there are lots and lots of middle class acts, and I’ve always felt like I don’t quite fit in with any class – and does that matter?

'Part of the show is about a break-up and part of the show is about grief, and because I write a show every year, it’s partly here is the last year of my life. I took it up to the Edinburgh Festival, and it was great and lots of fun, probably my best one to date. Off the back of that, I decided to tour it, which has gone really well and the BBC has recorded it which will go out as a special later in the year, which is huge. The biggest career highlight I’ve had - and terrifying, I was very nervous. And telly stuff is coming in more and more, I’ve got four or five things in the pipeline, and I’m on Radio 4 regularly

'It’s been a really exciting year for me in stand-up. And I’m currently writing another show for this year’s Fringe, but before then I’m off to Australia for a month on tour. It’s been a very busy year, I’ve been very lucky.'

For her return to Portsmouth, Suzi is playing on the recently reopened Gaiety Bar.

'It was a bit of a leap to book the venue at the end of the pier, but I love that I can say that I’m doing the venue at the end of the pier. Every time I’ve come down before it’s been at smaller clubs, or a mixed bill at the Wedgewood Rooms, but this is my home turf gig so I wanted to do it somewhere that was really exciting, and I love Southsea.

'From there, there’s only really The Kings and The New Theatre Royal which are both humungous. I wanted to do something that was a step forward but not completely mental! It will be my biggest hometown gig which is really exciting, and my mum and dad are thrilled – they’re bringing their friends.'

Given how prominently her family feature in her shows, have any of them seen Classy yet, and does she worry about what they'll think of how they're portrayed?

'Mum has. She loves it, she’s very proud of me. When I write my material I always think I’d have to be okay doing it in front of my mum and dad, I never do anything too rude, or mean – it’s always playful and with a wry smile, rather than poking.'

'Mum and Dad enjoy going to see other comics, probably because of me. I’ve taken them to see people like Romesh [Ranganathan], Alan Carr, Josh Widdicombe, and because of that they’ve got into stand-up, they understand what I’m doing more, and they’ve always been enormously supportive anyway.

'I’m not a mean comic – I like people to come to my show and it to be kind of joyous. I took about a whole bunch of things, but I wouldn’t want to pick someone out, aim it at anyone - everyone is welcome here. I want everyone to come along, I’m going to make you laugh and we’ll have a good time.

'It’s not my cup of tea to be unnecessarily mean, I don’t like that in comedy.'

In the new show, Suzi talks 'loosely' about politics, but sees herself more as a 'social commentator.'

'I need to talk about what’s going on in the world to some extent, but what I try to do with this show is create a bit of an escape from some of the awful things going on in the world.

'It's more social politics – how we interact with each other, that’s more interesting and more fertile ground for me to do stand-up on.

'As a stand-up, this is my fifth solo show, its all good starting off saying, right I’m going to write about this. So you start off writing about Brexit, and you end up with a routine about going to the launderette.

'I thought this show might be more political, but as I’ve toured it... I guess in some respects it still is. I’m a woman on stage having lots of opinions, and in some respects that’s political. But it’s about lots of things. A big part of it is about heartbreak and last year my Nan died. She was very old, but I was so, so close to her. When you experience huge grief, I think it shifts your life a little bit. I came back to Portsmouth for a little while, lived with Mum and Dad for a while.

'People have come up to me after the show and said it was so funny, but it seemed really raw, and honest. But people seem to like that. We all go through awful times and sometimes, I think  someone standing on stage and talking about it makes you realise: "Yes, I’ve felt like that, thank god!" 

'We’re all wired the same way – we all cry sometimes, we all get angry, we all do stupid things sometimes. It’s reassuring to hear someone say I’ve been there too.

'In the most typical stand-up comic way, tragedy plus time equals comedy.'

Suzi has been openly gay for several years now, and along with being working class, does she worry about her comedy being pigeonholed?

'That’s literally how I open the show!

'I worry about assumptions that people might have about me, and then trying to debunk them.

'I’ve always been very out, and I’m not ashamed of my sexuality and I’ve always been very vocal about being a happy gay person in the world.

'Although I talk about my existence as a gay person, I don’t really do “gay” comedy. My audiences are predominantly straight, like most people’s audiences are. There might be an occasional charity night, or a queer night of comedy, but even then we’re all just doing stand-up and we’re happy to be gay.

'I might mention it, but it’s not going to be the most important part of my show, it’s just part of who I am.

'And I like to be out, certainly when i was growing up, I realised I was gay when I was about 14, and I didn’t know anyone else who was gay, and there weren’t really any gay females on TV, I could go: "Oh, they’re like me."

'Now I like it because I do things on radio or TV, or the podcast I do with Tom Allen which has been way more successful than either of us ever thought, it’s nice to be someone that’s visible for other young gay people. Or just for people who don’t quite feel like they fit in.

'I absolutely hate being described as a "gay comedian" - it’s like saying I’m a "right-handed comedian". It’s just one of those things that makes up who I am. I don’t like being defined by just one thing.'

SUZI RUFFELL: KEEPING IT CLASSY

The Gaiety Bar, Southsea

Thursday, May 24

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