Suzi Ruffell works class into her stand-up routine to highlight that not all working class should be tarred with a benefits brush.
The TV comedy circuit, predominantly made up over the years of upper class Cambridge Footlights-type graduates, now has a fairer representation of all backgrounds.
The comedienne’s extended family has given Suzi enough material to last a lifetime on the subject including her colourful uncle Marty who wonders whether she’s a part or full time lesbian. Suzi speaks to Susie Daniels about her new show, ‘Dance Like Everyone’s Watching’, acceptance, family and dyslexia…
Suzi Ruffell’s past comedy routine includes telling her ‘very working class’ Uncle Marty she’s gay to which he replies, ‘What, like full time?”
It gives you a feel for her background, family and sexuality, all in one bite of the cherry, so to speak.
Suzi says: “I never write a routine about ‘being gay’ but also I can’t help but comment on the world as a gay woman.
“In one of my routines I write about a threesome because some guy had approached me and my partner because we are two gay women. The best material is when I don’t have an agenda. It’s sometimes important to mention injustice. It is my style. I very much identify with someone coming from working class roots. I come from Portsmouth and my accent’s a cross between cockney and West Country. Locals call the dialect Pompey. It’s a working class town where all my family are. I’ve got 26 cousins.
“With my first shows my material was shining a light on that world. Every time a working class comedian was on TV I watched it (the routine) and it was about being on benefits street. My dad worked really hard to buy a house and had more than one job so my routine celebrates that.
“A lot of stand-ups are upper class and stand-up is really expensive to do. If it’s something like the Fringe you have to pay for flyers, for adverts, stay over for a number of nights and in or near Edinburgh it costs a fortune.”
But Suzi wouldn’t allow the expense to become a deterrent just as she refused to allow her dyslexia to hinder her career. At school Suzi was severely dyslexic and hers was a typical story of trying to fit in the best way she could while avoiding a spotlight shining on her dyslexia. So instead, she shone with her ability to clown around and make other schoolchildren and her family laugh.
Suzi recalls: “My comedy was always there, even as a small child before I knew I was dyslexic. I was aware there was a currency in being funny. My dad is very funny and some uncles in the family are also funny. I was quite badly dyslexic so I found school really hard. I didn’t have any people I could relate to or have a group of mates. I used to think, ‘am I never going to have friends?’
“When I went to study Art at college and then went to drama school especially, that’s when I found people to relate to who were like me. I was slightly outside the norm. Not that I was an unbelievable oddball. It was more something to do with realising I wasn’t straight partly because of what society was like. If I could run a Suzi Ruffell School of anything, though I worry I’m not sure I could teach anybody anything, it would definitely be fun. I wasn’t enjoying school and you only get so much fun so, yeah, the Suzi Ruffell School of Fun sounds good!”
Suzi’s past poodle-looking long perm and specs look gave off a ‘mumsy’ or 1970s secretary allure and has been ditched and replaced by a boyish cropped hairdo that appears to better define who she is and what she’s about.
She admits: “The short hair isn’t about a better look for my routine. It’s way vainer than that. I look better like this. It’s me going, ‘this is my face, this is who I am’.”
The comedienne’s new show, Dance Like Everyone’s Watching is all about being happier than she’s ever been before.
She explains: “It’s about celebrating who you are, about me going to World Pride in New York. It’s about my mum and about thinking about waiting to have a family. I’m really enjoying working on it. I prefer tour shows to festival shows. At the festival everyone’s seen six shows already and they’re bragging (posh accent), ‘this is my tenth show at the festival!’
Television appearances include Live at the Apollo, Roast Battle, Stand Up Central, Suzi Ruffell Live From The Comedy Store, Mock The Week and a regular stint at BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz and The Now Show.
Suzi’s also a regular on, and co-hosts the hit podcast, Like Minded Friends with friend and fellow stand-up Tom Allen.
So has life changed much for the woman who now knows who she is and is happily in love with her partner?
Suzi says: “I’m less anxious about trying to please other people and I love my job and love my partner!”
Obsessed with TV comedy Ellen growing up, she was also influenced by other strong female figures in the comedy world such as Victoria Wood, French and Saunders and Paul O’Grady’s Lily Savage persona.
Being dyslexic meant when Suzi started stand-up she had to invent her own form of shorthand to remember her material. Suzi says: “I can remember things very easily. A lot of people type things out but I’ll have a maximum of two documents all hand written in terrible handwriting and I might write the first letter of each word so it looks like ‘A T M N…’ and that will start me off.”
So if the 33-year-old could send herself back in time to a young schoolgirl Suzi struggling to fit in and unsure of how to deal with her sexuality what would she tell herself? “I’d tell myself, don’t worry, it’s all going to work out fine and eventually you’ll come out,” Suzi says.
“At 21 I came out. I’ve got friends who came out very young at school and for some people it’s 16 or 40. You come out when you’re ready. Sexuality can be a really fluid thing. It’s important to note there’s lots of different sexuality. The first thing in comedy is make them laugh and the second is to make people think a little bit. There might be people in the audience who are homophobic who have preconceived ideas and I make them laugh and they think, ‘oh, she’s just like me, that’s wonderful.”
Or they might be like her Uncle Marty who doesn’t fully understand the concept but is happy to embrace it.
Suzi Ruffell plays the Glasgow Glee Club on Sunday, November 17.