Seasoned comedians are always intriguing to talk to. Full of great stories and witty anecdotes, my conversation with Suzi Ruffell recently was no exception. And it wasn’t just her that had me laughing. Her cat singing away in the background punctuated her answers, and piqued my kitten’s interest to the point she tried to get in on the call. But aside from the feline interruptions, we managed to discuss the what and why of her current show, Keeping it Classy, coming to Komedia on Tues 10 April.
Great creativity and art come from real-life experiences – it’s where relatable and endearing content is born. At the time of writing, Suzi had an awful month. She tragically lost two family members, experienced heartbreak, and more unexpectedly, accidentally hit a deer with her car. It seemed things couldn’t get much worse. Returning to her native Portsmouth for some time with family, she did what she knows best and weaved the experiences into her set. A way to work through the peaks and troughs life throws at her, she tells me, “I like being very honest on stage, quite personal. I’ve found my best material is when I’ve been really honest about breakups, coming out, homophobia, anything like that that’s quite hard stuff to talk about.” She’s a natural at confessional comedy, and this succession of events helped with the conception of her current show.
Suzi explores walking the line between her working-class upbringing and the liberal London life that she chose. “It was really interesting because I started writing the show about class and why it’s important, then because of all those things happening I moved back down to Portsmouth for a while to be with my family and it became more apparent that I’d left one world to live in another.”
Keeping it Classy tackles class issues and the differences she’s noticed in life in the way people live. But it’s not the only dichotomy she’s battled with. “I really tried not to be gay for a while, which I discuss in the show – I wanted and tried to be straight for a long time. It didn’t work! It took me a while to work out my own feelings around it before I could tell anyone else.” While she’s battled these difficulties, it has given her strength in life and in her career. “Once I came out, it was a roller coaster of emotions. Everybody now is completely fine and cool about my gayness, but my parents had a journey with it because I was one of the first gay women they had met. My mum is now an absolute ally and when she comes to visit me in London I’ll take her to the gay bar at the end of my road – she loves it!”
While her sexuality isn’t a leading theme in her work, it’s often referenced. Suzi knows the importance of visibility, which has opened doors in other media. Alongside her friend and fellow comedian, Tom Allen, she started an acclaimed podcast called Like Minded Friends. It’s one of the UK’s only – and biggest – LGBT podcasts, “but it’s not really about being gay, we just both happen to be. We’ve both noticed in recent years there’s a lot more gay comics and voices coming through which is great.” This sentiment is echoed in her shows, as she explains she’s noticed she appeals to a diverse audience. “It’s important that some people haven’t had an experience like mine. It’s important I connect with everyone as a performer.”
After selling out at Edinburgh and getting a host of positive reviews, Suzi was in her element playing to packed rooms every night. Off the back of this success, she tells me: “I filmed Keeping it Classy as a half-hour special for the BBC which is going out this year, and as an hour-long for BBC Worldwide!” Finding out the news in Hamburg with her mother, more than a few drinks were had in celebration. But what’s next?
“I’ve got a few dates left of the tour and Brighton is one of them. It’s a city I love so it’s really exciting. To play Komedia is so exciting as a comedian I’ve grown up in doing Bent Double, and I’ve played Krater, which is one of the best in the country. I’ve really cut my teeth in Brighton. It’s a real privilege to take my show to Komedia, so I hope everyone enjoys it!”