Susie McCabe will be playing at Edinburgh's Assembly George Square Studios this summer. [Credit: Andrew Jackson, Curse These Eyes]
Susie McCabe will be playing at Edinburgh's Assembly George Square Studios this summer. [Credit: Andrew Jackson, Curse These Eyes]

Life with: Spirit of Glasgow Award winner, Susie McCabe

Rosie Morton chats with comedian and ‘Spirit of Glasgow Award’ winner about her childhood, career and her best ever heckle.

Why is it that so many comedy greats come from Glasgow?
I have this theory. You have your working class, your heavy industry and your Irish immigration, and you get really good art from that. Whether that be Liverpool, Belfast, Glasgow – you get art from it. And at times, it is quite bleak. And I love Glasgow, and it’s a much different city than the Glasgow I grew up in, but where there is poverty, I do think that you do get art where people are looking to laugh at themselves.

Culturally it’s quite a thing as well, isn’t it? Even traditionally. Me and my wife talk about this – when you were a kid and there were parties, you had to take the drinks orders. It was all ‘wan singer, wan song!’ And there would be your auntie full of gin singing something ridiculous like Patsy Cline.

What was your childhood like?
My gran lived in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow. I spent every weekend up there. That was real happiness. She shaped me. She was old school. A woman ‘wi’ a peg bag hangin’ oot her washin’!’ It was almost like a steamie in your own house with a pully in the kitchen and all that. I think that leaves an indelible mark on you as a child.

I remember driving to my gran’s one day and where we would come off on the motorway, you’d go off through real quite hardened areas, deprived areas. And I remember my dad saying to me, ‘Don’t think you’re any better than these people because you live in a bought house – because you’re not.’ I think that really stayed with me.

What were you like as a child?
I was a pure pest as a child. A pure pest, Rosie. Honestly. I was mischievous, but not bad. I was such a tom boy. I drove them absolutely insane. I was always on a bike with a football under my arm, going to the park. You’d come in for your dinner then you went back out. It was a real great childhood in that respect. It didn’t really matter what the weather was like. As my nana would say, ‘yer no’ a sugar cube, you won’t melt.’

You worked in construction for a while. What other jobs did you do?
My first full-time job was in a shop called Bankrupt Clothing, a jeans shop. Do you remember jeans shops? Where you just went in and they were specifically for denims. And there would be the odd t-shirts or whatever. I was the one who fitted you in the changing rooms, and if your trousers were too long I would take them up. I would take out the bottom, cut them up, put a new hem on and then you would come back an hour later and we’d get them to you.

And then I worked in a gay bar part-time, and then the shop closed down and I worked in Delmonicas full-time. I went from glass collector to assistant manager. I’ve always worked, I suppose in male-dominated environments as well. It was still a very old-school gay bar with entertainment, but it was still very male-dominated. There was always a story that lesbians only come out at the weekend!

What was it like going up on stage for the first time? It was a dare?
It was genuinely amazing. It was nerve-wracking but that was the moment where I realised that that was the thing I was meant to do with my life.

It was a dare. Tragically, a friend of mine got diagnosed with cancer and me and another friend were sitting talking one night. He kind of dared me to do it. And I did it. And as soon as I did it, I realised, ‘This is what I want to do.’ People go, ‘oh you never work a day in your life if you enjoy what you do’, right? So I was eight and a half years before I went full-time because I made sure I was gigging around the country. I had only been full-time a couple of weeks, and I was going down the motorway one morning in Glasgow and I thought, ‘What day is it?’ And it was a Friday. And that’s when I realised I was a full-time comedian. Because if you are employed or if you are self-employed, you always know when it’s Friday and you always know when it’s Monday.

It’s safe to say it’s going exceedingly well! Congratulations on receiving the Sir Billy Connolly ‘Spirit of Glasgow’ Award. How did it feel when you heard the news?
Oh my god. Elaine C Smith announced the winner, so I walked on stage and I got the award from Janey [Godley] which was a really lovely thing. I held Janey far too long, and she went, ‘Face your audience’. The whole of King’s Theatre was on its feet. It was lovely.

They showed me the video with Billy and I was in absolute bits because when Billy Connolly says your name out of his own face, that’s mental. And then he tells you that you made him laugh? He quoted one of my jokes, and he goes, ‘I actually laughed out loud’. At the end he says, ‘Keep doing it, you’re brilliant. Keep doing it for women, keep doing it for lesbians’ and honestly my heart jumped out my chest.

All of his stuff has aged appropriately. It’s not out of date. And when he said that – a man of 82 years old – not just complimenting your comedy but still being that liberal soul. I just thought ‘You are everything I wanted you to be and more’. Do you know how much of an honour it is? [Susie pulls up her t-shirt sleeve to reveal a Billy Connolly tattoo]. It’s amazing isn’t it?

What has been your best (or worst) ever heckle?
Glasgow Stand. The weekend before Christmas. I went on to close. There was a guy sitting in the front with a pork pie hat on. He was with his wife or girlfriend and the two of them were steaming. They were chatting, but they were chatting really loudly. I stopped and said, ‘Look, can you not talk please because everybody’s paying the same money as you.’

The guy said, ‘aye, sorry’. But she went, ‘No actually, no. I’m not staying here. I am leaving.’ And I said, ‘You don’t have to leave. No one’s asking you to leave. But if you want to leave, it’s not a hostage situation’. And everybody’s just laughing. And I went, ‘I hope you’re not offended, but it’s not fair on the rest of the audience what you’re doing.’ And she went, ‘I’m actually leaving because you’re not funny.’

I said, ‘Oh right, are you going home?’ And she went, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘If you go home and jump onto iPlayer, you’ll see my special called Femme Fatality, and that’ll take you into my Live At The Apollo set, and that’ll take you down into my Have I Got News For You set. So, you don’t even need to watch me.’ You can imagine that in Glasgow on a Friday night. As she was leaving they were all going ‘Boo!’ which was even funnier.

Are you superstitious about shows/theatres?
I’m quite pernickety. The pre-show music that you hear – if you come to my show – I have picked. Because I want you to go into a head-space. So, for Merchant of Menace, when I was at King’s it was things like Panic by The Smiths, Rebel Rebel [by David Bowie], Inspiral Carpets, This Is How It Feels. It was taking you back to a time in Britain when music was a real force for trying to drive political change and shaping views.

Then what I tend to do is listen to my own music and that will get me going. I listen to anything really – I have a playlist called ‘Motivation’. I listen to The Stone Roses every day. I know, I’m such a cliché.

Would you ever take part in a reality TV show?
I couldn’t do Strictly Come Dancing because I couldn’t be wearing dresses and heels. That’s just a no, right? And I love Strictly, it breaks my heart. But I am honestly a terrible dancer. Brutal. My hips just don’t move. I do love cooking but I don’t think I’d be on MasterChef with a bit of partridge. Do you know what I mean? I wouldn’t know what to do with that. I can’t bake, so if I was ever on Bake Off, that would be an absolute riot because I would be terrible. I’d just say to Paul Hollywood, ‘Well, why don’t you just tell some jokes, Paul, and I’ll judge you?’

Susie’s Merchant of Menace show is at Edinburgh’s Assembly George Square Studios, 31 July to 25 August.

Susie McCabe will be playing at Edinburgh’s Assembly George Square Studios this summer. [Credit: Andrew Jackson, Curse These Eyes]