Suzi Ruffell thinks joking about mental health in stand-up can help ‘break down barriers’.
From Hannah Gadsby’s exploration of trauma in the award-winning special Nanette to James Acaster discussing ringing the Samaritans helpline while filming The Great British Bake Off, more comics are incorporating issues like depression and anxiety into their stand-up, including Suzi.
The comedian has been open about her own experience with anxiety in her work, talking about the ‘3am press conference’ in her head during her 2019 hit show Nocturnal, and credits the work of US comic Maria Bamford – who has done routines on her bipolar disorder and spending time in inpatient psychiatric units – as being ‘enormously helpful’.
As an ambassador for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), she wants to do what she can for the charity by doing what she does best – making people laugh – and that means mining mental illness for humour.
‘For me, it’s most important that it is funny,’ the 35-year-old told Metro.co.uk. ‘I did a show a few years ago about being anxious, and I think it was a really funny show and it got great reviews. I think you can make those subjects funny.
‘It’s different for each comic about how open and honest they want to be, but the kind of stand-up I do, I’m an observational storyteller. I think it’s a great way of breaking down that barrier. When you make fun of something and laugh at yourself, and people in the room laugh with you, I think that’s an audience’s way of going “me too, I agree”.
‘I have a routine where I say if you don’t have anxiety, you’re not concentrating, and people really get on board with that – they’re like “yeah, in the world that we live in and what’s going on, I kind of think we should all be anxious. If you’re not a little bit anxious, I’m a bit like, are you sure?” I think when you’re saying those things on stage and there’s a whole load of people laughing, it’s helpful.
‘You can do your breathing exercises, you can read your books, but sometimes laughing about something is a really great way of processing it.’
She added: ‘Sometimes, it will take a bit longer to work out the funny, but when you do, you’ve really hit gold.’
Suzi’s ambassador role and her day job collide on Monday June 21, as she hosts CALM’s Comedy Club show. Joining a stellar line-up alongside Russell Kane, Mark Watson, Seann Walsh, Norman Lovett, Felicity Ward, Darren Harriott, Joe Jacobs and Sikisa, the show will raise funds and awareness for CALM’s services.
The show will be held in front of a real-life audience at London’s 21Soho, as well as being streamed life on Twitter, and Suzi is itching to get back on stage. Like many in the arts, Suzi’s schedule was upended last year when the pandemic hit. At the tail end of her 2019/2020 tour Dance Like Everybody’s Watching, the last string of dates were put on hold as the UK went into lockdown.
However, like many comics, Suzi has her fingers in so many pies that she had plenty to keep her busy. ‘I was quite lucky in that I still had TV work, I was in a very privileged position,’ the panel show regular admitted. In addition to Like Minded Friends, the podcast she hosts with friend and fellow comic Tom Allen, in 2020 Suzi launched her own podcast Out, on which she he speaks to inspiring people from the LGBTQ+ community, from her home office space turned recording studio (‘It’s basically a cupboard’). Guests so far have included Gok Wan, Johannes Radebe, Scott Mills, Denis O’Hare, Mara Wilson, Dustin Lance Black and Hannah Gadsby.
Suzi said: ‘I got all these people that normally, probably wouldn’t be doing a British-based podcast. But I think people were kind of bored and they were up for chatting.’
The star also began work on the all-female panel show Yesterday, Today and the Day Before, which she hopes is a ‘sign of things to come’ for more female representation in TV and comedy.
Now that restrictions are lifting, Suzi will be even busier, as she heads back out on the road with her remaining dates, including four shows at the Soho Theatre. But rather than finding the hustle stressful, Suzi is relishing being a multihyphenate.
‘I really like that I get to do podcasting, I love the medium of podcasting. I love doing TV, I love doing stand-up. I’m inspired that there’s so many different ways to do things and create things. I’m so lucky that I have a career from doing what I love.’
#CALMComedyClub streams live on Twitter at @theCALMzone from 7.30pm until 10pm on June 21. A limited number of tickets for the real-life show are available here.
Suzi’s tour info can be seen on her website.
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