Susan Riddell on her Fringe debut

We catch up with Funny Women runner-up Susan Riddell in the lead up to her first full Edinburgh Fringe run

Feature by Jay Richardson | 04 Jul 2019
  • Desperately Sleeping Susan

When Linda Evangelista famously said that she wouldn't get up for less than $10,000, it encapsulated the supermodel lifestyle. And when Susan Riddell discloses that she's conducting our interview in similar circumstances, it's every bit as on-brand.

The Glaswegian comic wanted to call her first Edinburgh Fringe hour Lazier Susan, but she switched it to the equally indolent Duvet Day to avoid confusion with sketch duo Lazy Susan. Performing a full hour less than four years after your first gig, and having a burgeoning number of television credits, is hardly the mark of a shiftless layabout though. So how accurate is the persona Riddell projects on stage, casting admiring glances at women shuffling round supermarkets in their pyjamas?

She laughs. “That's so funny because I'm actually in my bed just now. It's really bad. I need to stop writing here because it's really buggering up my back. I'm not even lazy in a work-sense, it's more other parts of my life, like relationships and appearance. The whole crux of my show is that I'd rather have a duvet day than a wedding day. The whole hassle of a wedding; I just can't be arsed.”

As one of the few unmarried women in her social circle, the 36-year-old is forever the reluctant bridesmaid, bemoaning the pomp and expense of friends' overblown nuptials during the course of her show. “Once you've been to 20 weddings and you've seen behind the curtain, it just loses its appeal a little,” she suggests. “It's the same with kids. My sister has three so I know how much work it takes. And I'm going to put that off a wee bit longer, thanks.”

Runner-up in 2017's Funny Women competition and nominated for best newcomer in the Scottish Comedy Awards, Riddell has plenty of routines about singlehood, with her current relationship a mixed blessing for her Edinburgh run.

“My boyfriend is from Leith, which is really handy for me to stay there. And he asks me if I'm just using him for my comedy career,” she admits. “But so much of my material is about being single that making it retrospective is tough. Loads of people have told me to pretend that I'm not with someone. But I cannae, I'd feel like an absolute fraud. Years ago I knew this comedian whose dad had died and he went up on stage and was talking about his father as if he was still alive. That was mind-blowing to me.”

She was previously in an on-off, seven-year relationship with Kevin Bridges. “Which is awkward,” she reflects, “because he's like the biggest thing in Scottish comedy.” Her stand-up career post-dates their time together. But “he was always really encouraging of my writing,” she says. And when she ventured beyond penning sketches for the BBC to star in them too, trying to get into improv but stumbling into stand-up instead. "Because I'd seen him doing it, it didn't seem impossible. The intimidation factor wasn't there.”

Bridges was also crucial in landing Riddell her first big writing break, albeit unintentionally. For three years, she was a columnist for the Daily Record, opining on everything from Holyrood politics to the most annoying aspects of Christmas. The paper had been seeking to recruit a young, female voice. And they “had obviously been snooping around on his social media, where they came across my Twitter page,” Riddell recalls. "I'd just been tweeting loads of rubbish. But they did an article: 'Is Kevin Bridges' girlfriend funnier than him?' And that led to the column.”

Unlike her friend and regular collaborator Rachel Jackson, she's more of a writerly comic than one with a burning desire to get up on stage, rarely nervous in competitions “because stand-up isn't my be-all and end-all.

“I'm a really reluctant performer,” she admits. “I don't get a buzz out of it the way some comics do. I don't hate it. I enjoy it when I'm up there. But when I come off stage, I only feel alright. I don't get the buzz of adrenaline that others seem to. And stand-up really interferes with my telly watching.”

Certainly, it's no coincidence that her signature routine, about sexbots and dishwashers, was inspired by a bizarre item that she once saw on This Morning. But after joining the BBC's Writer's Room scheme and supplying jokes for Ed Gamble on Mock The Week, she's increasingly popping up on TV herself. Having appeared on BBC Scotland's topical panel show Breaking The News and stand-up showcase The Comedy Underground, she's also starring alongside Burnistoun's Robert Florence in satirical series The State of It.

“I don't like getting on my soapbox at all, I try to avoid that as much as I can,” she reflects. “But we were all just submitting ideas and it's become more structured since the pilot. There's a theme for each show - the state of relationships or the state of alcohol in Scotland for example. I don't know how it's going to look. But it was really funny when we were filming, so hopefully that's going to come across.”

Such is the BBC's faith in her, that Riddell is also developing a number of sitcoms with them. One, provisionally titled Dregs, is an extension of the short-form videos that she's been making with Jackson, about Glaswegian women in their thirties returning to single life.

“I don't think that's really been done before, because it's a lot different to being single in London at that age, it's a whole other vibe,” she argues. “Most of my friends got married in their early twenties and had kids. And the Glasgow single scene in your thirties is grim. Having been in an on-off relationship for a long time, you think you're in a stable thing, then you find yourself too old to go anywhere, to meet anyone. And everything's changed with internet dating. I just think there's something really funny about it.

“My character has just been dumped when she thought she was going to get married. He's a Mr Tumble-type children’s entertainer, who's got his face plastered everywhere. Rachel's character is in the dregs of another pile - she wants fame and celebrity. But in Glasgow, that's perhaps even grimmer than trying to find a man.”

Damningly perhaps for Bridges and her new partner, Riddell has “always thought of myself as single. I've been single more than I've been in relationships.” So she's not overawed about standing alone on stage every night for 23 nights at the Fringe. At least not too much. Her ambition for the festival is just to “not have a nervous breakdown. Because I know people who have.

“This might sound disingenuous but I only want to enjoy it and have people walking away feeling good. That's it really. And a wee sitcom afterwards wouldn't go amiss either.”

Susan Riddell: Duvet Day, Monkey Barrel 5, 2-25 Aug (not 12), £5/PWYW