Isy Suttie on The Actual One
Ahead of the release of her book, and an appearance at Glasgow International Comedy Festival, Isy Suttie chats about trying to live in the moment when the moment is quickly passing by.
Isy Suttie's new memoir The Actual One – and tour of the same name – revolves around her life about a decade ago: specifically the time after a break-up with someone who she thought was 'the one'. It's about growing up – or more accurately, it's about her friends growing up while she attempts to remain an eternal twenty-something. Growing up is only part of a broader theme, however; the memoir is almost nostalgic for the present moment. It's like Suttie is putting her hand in a stream and trying to catch the water as it rushes through her fingers. And she's constantly looking back to find a way to move forward.
“I think what I did during that period was look for security in what had knitted me together as a person,” she says. “When friends, quite rightly, wanted to make plans for the future it just didn't fit with my mindset at the time. Going home to Matlock – Mum cooking my dinner, listening to 90s cassette tapes, thinking about who I was then and feeling, 'I'm going to be alright' – was quite an important security blanket.”
Does this suggest – at least during this period of her life – someone who struggles with change?
“I didn't always deal with change that well,” says Suttie, and she even recalls feeling, while at parties, the present moment leaving her grasp: “I'd turn to friends and I'd say things like, 'Oh, I never want this to end,' and then someone would remind me that I had a driving lesson in the morning and I'd feel like the bubble had burst.”
But those browsing the local bookshop's humour section need not fear, for her happy-go-lucky side is not defeated. The Actual One is no 'misery memoir' – after all, this is Isy Suttie. The forementioned break-up involves a five-foot papier-mâché penguin, and a later lesson in seduction involves her riding a skateboard while wearing nothing but trainers and a fur coat.
It's this latter experience which inspired the book's cover image, even if recapturing the story proved trickier than expected. Photographer Idil Sukan's Richmond studio isn't generally set-up for a shoot where the subject is on wheels: “I kept rolling," says Suttie. "It's a skateboard on a hard floor, which I hadn't really thought about." Faced with a moving target, Sukan was forced to get technical: “Idil put a soft towel down to keep me still, which sorted it. Only now the problem was it might not look like I was genuinely skateboarding as I was completely stationary. Idil is really good at details though, like down to telling me to move my little finger a tiny bit to suggest balance. That day was a real laugh too because Idil is such a funny person.”
Isy Suttie on Rob Newman
Another of the colourful anecdotes within the book – and one of the few that goes outside the main time-frame – recounts a young Suttie in the early 90s. She believes the one person who might best understand her teenage angst is comedian Rob Newman, who back then was something akin to a rockstar in popularity and status. During his and David Baddiel's tour stop in Norwich, Suttie delivered all her adolescent woes in handwritten rhyme to Newman in person. Fast-forward to the here and now, of course, and Suttie sometimes gigs with Newman. Indeed, she did so as recently as Christmas. Has she seen fit to let him know she was the Norwich admirer?
“I did tell Rob when I saw him at the gig… Actually, no, I told him that he was in the book, but not about the poems. If you'd asked me before I was a comic I would've said there is no way he'll remember. But as a comedian, if somebody scrawled reams and reams of poetry and handed it to me after a gig – even if it was a long time ago – I think I'd probably remember it. I'm sure I'll bump into him soon. In fact, I'm planning to see his show at Soho Theatre so (if he hasn't heard) I might reveal the other part of the story then.”
The absence of Peep Show from The Actual One
Interestingly, Newman's appearance is one of the few which relate to the world of comedy, and then it's an event from before the time she became a comedian. Suttie's choice to keep the book focused on her personal experience, outside of work, and within a specific era of her life makes for a concentrated, even novelistic read. And she wasn't tempted to capitalise on the cult status her acting work has given her:
“If I started to talk about Peep Show it'd have become a different book. I would've felt I had to talk about other telly stuff because I don't think I could've mentioned one thing without mentioning another. And I didn't want the book to be about 'work stuff'. I mean, if you read [former Arsenal and England goalkeeper] David Seaman's autobiography and he didn't mention football you'd feel conned, but this is a memoir. It was commissioned after my Love Letters radio series, and I wanted it to be about the emotional side of life and friendship. Once I was concentrating on these few years under a bit of a magnifying glass, it felt like I was stepping towards writing a novel.
"I'd love to write a novel,” she says, answering our next question before it'd been asked.
“This book for me is a celebration of friendship, which I didn't really know when I started writing it. It's something I aim for in my live shows. People have said they feel that I'm their friend and that they can tell me anything, perhaps because I'm spilling my heart out to them – which I am.
"I've done three Edinburgh shows and the first was a bit of a story, the second Edinburgh was, well, just a bit of a mess to be honest: a character show with me trying to 'compere' – it was difficult second album syndrome. But, it was a very important show for me to do. Then the third in 2011 – Pearl and Dave – became a radio show. I was pleased that, after some trial and error in previous years, I'd found a structure that could allow me to talk more personally, but where there was a clear story with a beginning, middle and end.”
Given her Edinburgh shows' influence on shaping the structure of her current work, will the Fringe lure Suttie back in future years?
“The Fringe is like having an affair with somebody who could poison you at any time,” she says. “It is both amazing and terrible all in one single month. It is every colour of the rainbow. I love, absolutely love the Fringe but there are years where I've thought, 'I just want to go home.' But… yes, I have really missed it. Also, I'm half-Scottish and I've been going up for years. I remember watching things like Late'n'Live at the Gilded Balloon and thinking, 'Wow, this is amazing,' and I used to love seeing lots of plays. But when you are performing it's different: it's very, very intense. It turns Edinburgh into a different place. But I do love it, and I'll go back.”