Susie McCabe: 'Optimism does not come naturally to us'
- Brian Donaldson
- 1 August 2019
The Scottish comic discusses her journey from electrical estimator to sparking laughter in rooms across the land, and why happiness is sometimes hard to find
Not many successful show business careers are triggered by a night of contemplation in Forfar. But for Scottish stand-up Susie McCabe, that's exactly where she happened to be when comedy truly forced itself onto her psyche. Tentatively doing some open stand-up spots at weekends in Glasgow while working as an electrical estimator in the Angus town, McCabe was feeling a strong pull from the west.
'I took a job in Forfar where they gave me a flat and there was a directorship at the end,' she recalls. 'I remember sitting there one night and I just thought "I don't want to be here, I don't want to be in this job, and I don't want to be away from the person that I want to spend my life with." I came home that weekend and my mum and dad were both unwell, and I just thought that this was the sign for me to take a massive leap of faith.'
With job abandoned and her life starting to sort itself out, she was determined to make a comedy career take off. A lot has happened since she took that big step, with her supporting the likes of Stewart Francis, Jason Manford, Zoe Lyons and Ardal O'Hanlon, selling out her gigs at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival in record time three years in succession, and heading out on an expansive Scottish tour in the autumn with Born Believer, a show all about her attempts to change from having a deeply ingrained cynicism to becoming a shining beacon of optimism.
'It's very difficult when you've spent 40 years living in the west coast of Scotland because optimism does not come naturally to us,' McCabe insists. 'I did a show before called There Is More to Life Than Happiness which asked whether happiness is overrated; I think there is an element of that in the Scottish psyche. So, I'm going to try and be positive, but it's going to be a struggle. The British in general are pretty miserable. I spent two months in Australia and they're so happy. The world is upside down just now, but this show is about why I think that everything is going to be alright.'
For now though, she's preparing to perform an Edinburgh month of Domestic Disorder, the show which she took to Perth and Adelaide in Oz. Given the large number of antipodean comics who have made it big in the UK, from the very diverse likes of Jim Jefferies and Hannah Gadsby, maybe it's time they sampled a bit more of our Scottish comedy talent. But for McCabe, playing to the public Down Under sharpens her mind to the bits of material that travel better than others.
'When I'm gigging down south, I slow things down, but there are other things to consider. There's a bit in Domestic Disorder about bigotry where I said that when I used to work on building sites, I never got any sexism or homophobia but I would get called a "cheeky wee fat fenian". We were all OK with the LGBTI stuff but not so good with the Catholic-Protestant thing.' For an overseas audience, those vagaries of Scotland's particularly virulent brand of religious bigotry can require a bit of further explanation. 'I'd then have a story about the ridiculousness of religious intolerance to emphasise it. It keeps you constantly match fit and makes you aware of what you're saying and the way you're saying it.'
With Susie McCabe's star very much in the ascendancy, she's keeping an eye on the ways her life might change if she follows in the West Coast footsteps of Frankie Boyle and Kevin Bridges to cement her spot in comedy's big league. 'I'd like to play theatres and do some TV to build up my profile, and to tour the country and Europe. But my ultimate goal is to have a career where I can still walk down the street without having to wear a baseball hat and a set of headphones.'
Susie McCabe: Domestic Disorder, Assembly George Square, 3–25 Aug (not 12), 8pm, £9–£11 (£8–£10). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £6.