Sue Gives A Fuck is a is a refreshing hybrid of drag queen and intelligent comedian. The irreverent queen is taking over London’s comedy scene with Playdate; a queer comedy night that seeks introduce some more nuanced inclusivity to the rather beige comedy circuit that has been established in the capital. We caught up with Sue ahead of the 8th installment of Playdate at The Glory, to talk the night's inception, comedy perception and drag king reception...
What inspired you to create Play Date?
I’ve been performing on the drag scene for four years now, and through it I’ve found a community, an income, and a sense of self. But I also had a hankering to do comedy, so I started incorporating more and more stand-up into my sets, which became a problem. You see, on the drag circuit, audiences often expect a particular thing from performers who combine cabaret and comedy, and it’s what I tend to call “Shirley Bassey and a minge joke”.
Drag is such an over-the-top art form that stand-up has to be dialed up to ten to avoid being lost in all the feathers. And when you dial comedy up so high it often becomes shouty and insulting. As a drag queen it’s hard to play anything other than high status, and it can be tricky to do nuanced self-questioning material when someone’s just done a death drop.
That’s why I switched to performing on the comedy circuit, hoping to find somewhere a little quieter, a little less jager-bomb-y, and a little more nuanced. What I found was that, though the energy levels were dialed right down, the content was surprisingly similar. They just skip out the Shirley Bassey. They go straight for the minge. You see, what I didn’t realise is that the comedy industry is roughly 100% straight men in chinos, which really colours the art form. And the colour it colours it is white.
So I set up Play Date a couple of years ago with an amazing comedian called Celeste Dring in an attempt to create a place where we could tell a wider range of jokes, and where a wider range of comedians could perform. We’ve gone for the funniest performers on the queer scene and the queerest performers on the comedy scene, and I’m so chuffed with what it’s become. This Thursday will be the eighth one, and it seems to be becoming something more valuable than I’d anticipated. We’ve had some real big names (Joe Lycett once did it!), and combining that kind of mainstream appeal with a genuinely queer perspective seems to be attracting devoted comedy fans alongside people who wouldn’t normally feel all that comfortable at a comedy show. Which is nice.
When did you start doing drag?
I’ve got two narratives about this. One is that, as a young fem queer, I always expressed myself aesthetically. I’d be going to clubs in a crop top, then I’d go in some heels, then in some slightly higher heels, then inevitably I found myself on the stage in a gown.
My other narrative is exactly the opposite. Basically RuPaul came to town a few years ago to film the catchily titled ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Ambassador’ competition. I sent in an audition tape and was invited to participate, and that was my first time actually performing in drag. As first times go, it was a bit much. I was, however, immortalised by Katy Price in the words ‘Can I have a porn star martini? No? Ugh. Fine, my favourite’s Sue.’ Since then I’ve basically been working hard to deserve that honour.
How has your drag changed?
I’m still working out what my drag is, so it’s constantly changing. I’m a jack of all trades and I’m also indecisive, so establishing a clear brand is tricky. When I created Sue she was a character, as can be seen in the RuPaul tape, but I found it extremely limiting in terms of the material I could do. Comedically I tend to be quite wordy and satirical, so original Sue had to go, and now when I do comedy I’m more or less me in a dress, which I like because it allows me to talk about real things but in a heightened way. As a cabaret artist I often embody historical characters. I won a competition called Lipsync 1000 last year with a piece about Boudicca and Mary Beard. Basically I don’t know what I’m doing.
Which women inspire you?
Joan Crawford and fictional wood nymphs climbing out of bushes in Pre-Raphealite paintings. And Caroline Aherne.
Have you learned anything from Sue?
I’ve learnt a lot from doing drag. Specifically, I’ve learnt that I should be, am, and never should have stopped trying to be, a performer. When I was young I wanted to be an actor but I was constantly playing the wrong gender, which, combined with not really having a clue what acting was, made things tricky. So I stopped performing for six years and was pretty much just miserable for the entire time. Discovering drag was a way back in to performing for me, and now I’ve started doing some acting work its nice to find that I’m actually not bad.
What’s your opinion on drag kings?
I think the explosion of drag king talent we’re seeing in London at the moment is really exciting for the art, and, more importantly, for queer culture as a whole.
A lot of British drag evolved out of Victorian music hall, and in those shows drag kings were more likely than drag queens to get headline billing. Back then drag performers were usually queer but the audiences at their shows would be largely straight. I think the contemporary dominance of drag queens over kings is tied up with the development of the gay male club and bar scene from the 70s onwards. Thanks in part to the fact that the 1967 legalisation of homosexuality only applied to gay men, and to all of the domestic inequalities that have historically limited women’s disposable income and time, and also to men’s greater propensity to fill space, gay male spaces expanded in a way that women’s never did. And drag queens became symbols of those spaces. The explosion of drag king talent we’re seeing at the moment is a sign that women and non-binary people are demanding recognition in these spaces, which are no longer quite as dominated by gay men (there’s still a way to go). So other voices are being heard, and its exciting.
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