When she was 32 years old, Glasgow native Susan Calman quit her job as a corporate lawyer to become a stand-up comic. In the decade since, she’s appeared on television and radio, and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Earlier this year, she published Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate, an honest, earnest, and seriously funny memoir about living with depression. In it, Calman relates to the reader in the same frank, tangential manner you imagine she’d have with a very close friend. Her message is simple. She wants to reassure us while she reassures herself: You’re not alone.
I met Susan Calman in a relentlessly quaint coffee shop in Southside Glasgow, a neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification that she’s called home for more than a decade. Over pots of English Breakfast tea, we chatted about visibility politics, Section 28, and the relationship between being gay and being depressed (Hint: Think correlation, not causation).
KS: One thing I noticed right away [in Cheer Up Love] is that you seem to be writing a lot about the power of being out — being out as depressed, as gay, as a comedian, and ultimately, as a woman. Do you think we’re still in a place culturally where just simply being visible is revolutionary…or is that’s too strong a word?
SC: I’m in an interesting position in that I grew up during Section 28 [a statute that prohibited local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality and prevented councils from spending on educational materials and projects perceived to promote a “gay lifestyle”]. Fairly political times, especially for women in a lot of ways. And then [after Section 28 was repealed], everyone went, “Oh, we’re fine now.” It actually feels in this country that it’s more important than ever to be visibly out. I was at school during the Keep the Clause campaign [to prevent the repeal of Section 28], and there was a lot of publicity about how you shouldn’t be teaching your children about being gay because it wasn’t normal. As I say in the book, I’m not depressed because I’m gay, but I’m sure the sense of isolation didn’t help in the formative years, to be made to feel you’re not right in some way. And I never want any young person to go through that kind of sense of isolation that I did.
Sometimes people say to me, “Why do you talk about being gay so much in your shows?” and one reason is it’s just normalizing it. I’ve listened to straight people all my life talk about their boyfriends so why the hell can’t I talk about my partner? I’m much more confrontational than I used to be about it. There’s a bit in my new show where somebody suggests I shouldn’t call my wife my wife, because of patriarchal terms of oppression. No. Stop having a fucking go at me, do you know what I mean? I’m married, I fought for years to be married, she is my wife. Have your own opinion about whether we should call each other wives — I’m absolutely open to debating whether or not that’s an old fashioned term — but Jesus Christ, there are bigger things for us to be sorting out in this place and time.
I am hugely gay and happy to be it and happy to be as out and visible. The motto of my new show is, “Go fuck yourself.” [Laughs] That’s the point I’ve got to now. I’ll not apologize for it. This is genuinely who I am, and you lot just sort yourselves out if you’ve got a problem with it.
Tickets for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, “Susan Calman: The Calman Before the Storm” are on sale now. The show runs through August 28, 2016.
Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate is scheduled for release in the United States on October 11, 2016, and is available for pre-order now. The audio version, narrated by Calman herself, is out now.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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