Sue Perkins: Interview

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Sue Perkins talks to Time Out about comedy minus Mel and the trials of being a TV poker prodigy

  • Sue Perkins performed her first stand-up gig in 1988 while she was at Cambridge University. She did it as a bet. It went badly. ‘I was like a Christian thrown to the lions. I was terrified and chain-smoked my way through it.’ The routine was interrupted by a woman wearing a boiler suit and called Mel. For the next 17 years they worked together with great success as the double act Mel and Sue.

    Last year, after they’d decided on a temporary professional separation, Perkins returned to solo comedy with a full-length show at the Edinburgh Fringe. The effect was astounding. It was as if she’d worked as a stand-up since the dawn of time. She’s been touring the show ever since. ‘Tweaking it, changing things, introducing new stuff. I set myself the challenge of ad-libbing the first ten minutes every time. It’s been an old person’s tour, though. Someone like Dara O’Briain will do 60 dates in 60 days. I’m doing 60 gigs spread over an entire year.’
    Never one to brag, she acknowledges her ability as a stand-up has improved. ‘It’s come slowly. I’m very impatient. I kept feeling that I wasn’t good enough. Now at least I feel better inside my skin. I’ve learnt how to develop routines. To play with each bit. To enjoy expanding on it. To get used to the stage being mine.’ She says she’s even learnt to pause for breath. ‘But not to have a drink of water. If I do that, will the audience be bored? Will they look away? Will they leave?’

    In between the touring dates Perkins has recorded a couple of radio shows. She’s also made a name for herself on TV in ‘Showbiz Poker’. She’s not proud of her achievements. She only took part as a favour to a friend. ‘I hadn’t played before. I kept getting through all the way to the Grand Final.’ On the way she knocked out veteran footballer Teddy Sheringham. ‘A nice guy. And a real card player. I was riddled with guilt.’ Why the success? ‘It shows how far you can progress with just a go-getting attitude. If you’re a novice, you don’t feel so inhibited. You’re not preoccupied with the subtleties of the game.’

    Perkins never saw any of her TV poker triumphs. She never watches anything she’s done. Not even comedy. ‘Life’s too short. I’m not like some dog returning to its own vomit.’ It’s the same with her stand-up shows. You’ll rarely find her there ten minutes after the gig has finished. So there’s little point in hanging around outside the stage door when she brings her stand-up to the Bloomsbury Theatre for one night on Wednesday 17. Within a few blinks she’ll be gone.

    The current show, Perkins says, amounts to a snapshot of where she was when she wrote it. ‘It’s a window into me at that time. It was like my new starting point. An indication of what I found funny. In a double act, you have a definite role. For better or worse, this is the real me.’
    She accepts that, to the outside world, her separation from Mel looks like a parting of the ways. ‘It’s not. I love being with her. But we have to go where the work is. Mel has the responsibility of two children. I have two animals to look after.’

    It could be significant, though, that Perkins performs her stand-up using just one side of the stage. It’s as if there’s a line down the middle that she can’t cross. ‘It’s as if there’s a zone that’s kept free out of respect,’ she agrees. ‘As if there’s a space that isn’t my territory.’

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17 comments
angela
angela

Sue they say everyone has a twin ....And your mine we even have same laugh and mannerism only different is your better educated bit taller ...Hard getting a girlfriend unless they really love you sue lol But think i am going to start charging fee in the clubs as loving my jokes to much lol Sue if lost without mel want a twin double act I am here lol XXX

Bridget Rice
Bridget Rice

I think Sue is a great enteriners, very watchable and enjoyable in everything that she does.

Ron Cox
Ron Cox

Saw Sue on the Review Show,how great to see a lovely lady who is so intelligent, interesting and appealling. I do hope she will be on the media lots more.

Fred
Fred

Perks for Prime minister

sandra busell
sandra busell

Sue, I have just read a more recent interview in the Radio Times, in which you say, "I get tired of cookery programmes about how to whip up a souffle. My passion is food politics." You then go on to say, "I'd like to see a programme encouraging people to eat vegetarian food three days a week. The British are obsessed with meat and it devastates the landscape." Why just three days a week? Why not seven days a week? Sue, you need a reality check. I suggest you read "Eternal Treblinka" by Charles Patterson. Many people, myself included, believe that it is the best, the most important and the most powerful book ever written about the abuse of power. Patterson writes about the Holocaust and the slaughterhouse industry - and the chilling links between the two. Many survivors of the Holocaust, children of survivors of the Holocaust and even children whose parents have perished in the Holocaust have said that it took the Holocaust for them to realize that the way that the Nazis viewed and treated them was just like how they used to view and treat (non-human) animals and Patterson includes some of them in his book. Translated into a number of languages, including Polish, German, French, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew, and with numerous excellent reviews, "Eternal Treblinka" deserves to be at the very top of everyone's must-read list. Sue, you need to put it at the top of yours. Vegan wishes, Sandra

Mark
Mark

I've been in live with this woman for longer than is healthy. Sue... I love you.

suzie
suzie

when are you coming to northern ireland with your tour. would love to see you

Jacques DeKort interiorarchitect
Jacques DeKort interiorarchitect

Dear Sue We have seen you,in the conducting competition.,in the netherlands. We think your are a graet conductor. But were can we see you now ?Wich another orcestra? Jacques and Monica Netherlands

Keith Clark
Keith Clark

I happened on Sue while channel hopping last week just in time to catch the last ten mins of Maestro with her on the rostrum, I honestly sat utterly stransfixed, I speak as a totally deaf person who has never been able to enjoy music since losing my hearing in my early teens (60 years ago) yet watching Sue was like experencing VISUAL music for the very first time, it was a wonderfully enjoyable experience I immidiatly got onto the internet to find out who she was, hopefully she will appear again or I can get a CD rom of her performance

wolfie
wolfie

I think Sue Perkins was excellent in maestro and i really think she is great. I think she has good music talent and she is really funny.

John Hart
John Hart

Hi Sue, we enjoyed Maestro from day one watching your progress. Got on hard disc and enjoy re-runs. One of the best shows on TV in many a month! Thank you

Susan Connolly
Susan Connolly

I would like Sue to know how much we have admired her tremendous performance in Maestro - what an achievement. This has been a very much enjoyed programme and we both thought all along that she deserved to win - she has a natural and very musical talent. Good luck in the future .... I hope she finds more outlets for this skill of hers.

Ian Bland
Ian Bland

Sue Perkins is the ideal woman. Always questing for obscure knowledge, totally irreverent and she always gets the info!

Matt
Matt

Well done Sue! I was actually at one of your early Footlights performances and you were the second funniest thing in it (after Ben Miller who sang a song about his penis). Brilliant performance on Maestro. You really should get a blog, so we can talk to you directly!

Hannah Hughes
Hannah Hughes

Sue, you are absolutely brilliant! I watched Maestro from the beginning and always routed for you, I was transfixed.Your enthusiasm and positivity is so addictive. I have left you a message on your my space page, it just explains how much you've helped me recently. Thankyou so much for brightening my evenings!

robin goodman
robin goodman

Sue! I watch maestro last night and you had me rivited to my seat with the Beethoven! well done, a worthy winner (although Goldie was also very good).