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Tom Allen and Suzi Ruffle: Indeed and Common, Edinburgh Previews

| Comedy, Festivals | 16/08/2016

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In our seventh and final Edinburgh preview, Ian Cater meets Tom Allen and Suzi Ruffle to discuss their excellent stand-up shows, Indeed and Common.  The pair – close, like-minded friends for years and now popular podcast co-hosts – are performing separately at the Fringe, but touring together afterwards.  This combination seems set to prove a great success as their favoured themes neatly overlap and their comedy styles balance nicely.

“We bonded years ago,” Tom Allen explains, “over a dreadful gig we did for a gay charity.”  He’s talking about his friend and fellow comedian, Suzi Ruffell, with whom he’ll soon tour nationwide once the Fringe is over.  “We realised we both like being alternative, slightly irreverent voices with our skewed views of the world.”

This shared wavelength is evident in their popular weekly podcast, Like Minded Friends, in which the pair riff about their lives, beliefs and sexuality.

TA2“We’d wanted to do something together for ages,” Ruffell says.  “Then Audioboom asked if I wanted to podcast, and Tom seemed the natural person to do one with.  As much as anything, it’s nice to get together once a week for a chat and put it out to the world.”

However, the show’s success surprised both of them.  “It’s not like we thought everyone wanted to hear us,” Ruffell explains.  “We said at the start that if we got 100 hits per show, that’d make the whole thing worthwhile.”  In fact, they regularly get 45,000 downloads – a testament to the pair’s relaxed warmth and the important voice they give to the LGBT community.

“We seem to have timed it well,” Allen says, fresh from supporting Sarah Millican on tour.  “It feels like a golden age of podcasting, because more people want to listen to something other than Radio 4, which has been the main talk outlet for some time and has a very specific voice.  It’s amazing that our generation can now talk about whatever they want.”

Classy performers

Although the pair readily discuss the highs and lows of being gay in person and pod, neither wants to be defined by them as a comedian.  To that end, both focus their 2016 shows on class and status, rather than gender or sexuality.

suzi1“I hate being called a gay or female comedian,” Ruffell says.  “People want to label you, especially when you’re a lesbian.  It’s probably easier for Tom, because there’s always been a broad spectrum of gay men in entertainment.  But for women, people just ask: are you Sue Perkins or Claire Balding?”

Instead, after various appearances on TV and radio, Ruffell wants to develop her reputation as a comic story-teller at the Fringe.  “I want to talk about things that make people laugh but stay with them afterwards.

“My show this year, Common, is about the working class, and the fact that when I first moved to London I was a bit embarrassed of my background.

“None of my family had been to uni, I’m the only one to leave Portsmouth and my cousins own a chain of burger vans called Live and Let Fry.  But all my London mates were fairly well to do, so I overcompensated to try to be part of that world.”

Her efforts were destined to fall short and, eventually, Ruffell began to accept who she was.  “Now I’m proud of my roots.   When I go on tour, I see people who are like my family and think: ‘We don’t get a voice.  We’re not represented properly.’  That’s partly what the show’s about: that’s it’s ok for some of us to be hairdressers or burger sellers.  I did a show the other night and a lady said: ‘I’m just a waitress’.  No!  You’re not just a waitress.  The world needs good waitresses.”

Like minded shows

TA1Although Allen adopts a very different comedy style – more cutting and cynical, putting on a camp superiority totally absent in real life – he also deals with class in Indeed.

“It’s about the fact I live with this very ‘normal’ couple in suburbia who I find hilarious.  I call them Mum and Dad,” he explains.  Their comings and goings in Bromley tee up an hour of hilarity as Allen explores the little things about his parents and family friends that reveal important aspects of their personalities.

“I focus on a handful of stories that provide a really good snapshot of the world I now occupy,” Allen says.  “There’s one about my mum’s friend who did up her downstairs toilet based on one she saw at Heathrow.  Then I also talk about cheese on toast, and the quasi-sexual experience I had when I got stuck in a water slide.”

Rather than defending where he’s from, Allen’s show’s more disparaging, although that comes from playfulness rather than genuine distaste.

“I like looking at status: the way we are and how we perceive ourselves and others,” he says.  “It’s really fun to be high status and demeaning in an age where everyone’s fairly sanctimonious and says: ‘We’re all the same and everyone deserves to be heard.’

“It’s more subversive, honest and enjoyable to say: ‘Oh, I can’t be bothered with that.  I’m a selfish person and I don’t want to be polite today.  My voice is more important, because I’ve got a microphone'” he grins, looking across at Ruffell to record her mock shock.

Topical shower

Both shows steer clear of Brexit, despite some suggesting this approach is somehow less valid.  Their choice comes partly from respecting the need for escapism, and partly because the result wasn’t as much of a surprise to them as to many other Londoners.

13512116_10157056642435156_3180941541241937200_n“You get a really interesting insight as a comedian into how different parts of the country view the world, because we perform everywhere from big venues and arts centres to working men’s clubs,” Allen says.

I ask him if the Brexit vote is evidence of the country becoming less tolerant.  “I’m not sure I’ve experienced more prejudice.  If anything, it’s the opposite.  But that’s because I’ve developed a stronger stage presence, so people are less likely to chip in with homophobic heckles than before.

“But it’s hard to draw many conclusions on how people think outside of a show.  Stand-up’s humanising: you display your vulnerabilities and get people to laugh with and at you, so you usually get them on your side.”

Ruffle agrees and hates the idea that anyone else should dictate what’s in her show.  “It has happened to me,” she says.  “People said: ‘You should talk more about gay and feminist issues.’  So I said: ‘No, you should.’  Besides, the fact I’m even up there on stage says something for feminism and gay rights.”

SR2“Being a lesbian is the only thing I’m ever heckled for,” she says.  “Some guys go: ‘I can fix you’ or ‘ I’d fuck you, love’.  I have to say: ‘No, you’ve misread this.  I’m not looking for that!’  Still,” she grins, “I prefer it to: ‘You’re shit.'”

That particular heckle is very unlikely to be directed at either performer at the Fringe and even less likely to be heard when they begin their tour together.  As in their podcast, Allen and Ruffell feed off each other so naturally and warmly during our interview.  That chemistry should make for a great combined show in the Autumn.

Tom Allen performs Indeed at 20.15 between 16th and 28th at Pleasance Courtyard.  Suzi Ruffell performs Common at 20.20 between 16th and 28th at Just The Tonic @ The Mash House.  Tickets for both shows are available via the Fringe’s official box office.  To find out dates, times and venues for their upcoming national tour, head over to Tom’s website or Suzi’s website, or follow them on Twitter @SuziRuffell and @TomAllenComedy.

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