Susan Calman at Manchester Literature Festival

Feature by Joshua Potts | 01 Nov 2016
  • Susan Calman

Comedian Susan Calman strips back the irony and bares her soul at an event centered around her memoir Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression...

“I kind of forgot it was coming out,” she discloses, with the bashful look of an interloper. Susan Calman has been on the radio, TV and stand-up circuits for at least 20 years, but she’s not used to honesty, much less publishing a book about it. Tonight at Manchester Literature Festival, in front of an adoring crowd who’ve probably mummified her QI appearances on their catch-up boxes, she is brutal and biting about the difficulties of depression.

Calman's humour and success as a comedian provide the best kind of ‘in’ to the personal subject of mental health. Plenty of millennials have made a hashtag out of 'first world problems', so it’s refreshing to have someone like Calman strip back the irony and bare her soul, even as she starts on a chipper note: “Me and my wife named our cat Dr. Abigail Bartlet, just to frighten the vet,” she says, to warm chuckles.

There’s a sense that this crowd would laugh at Calman scratching her elbow. No matter, as things quickly get serious. Calman focuses most squarely on her overdose at 16 and her sectioning at a psychiatric hospital, detailed in her memoir Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression with The Crab of Hate. She’s never quite recovered from the thought that she isn’t a “good bet” as a lover and a friend.

Comics tend to be associated with emotional shortcomings. It’s what makes them crave the spotlight, and Calman is no different. She warns that the book-signing afterwards will be a meek affair, since she won’t have a persona to fall back on. Her wife – who seems like a vital figure in this story – forces her to take compliments on Saturdays. Here’s another one: Susan, you’ve made a noble step towards clarifying this illness, dragging it into the light with you.

Susan Calman was speaking on 19 Oct as part of Manchester Literature Festival