Danielle Krage interviews comedian Suchandrika Chakrabarti about her Edinburgh show, ‘I Miss Amy Winehouse’ and her new WIP, ‘Doomscrolling’. With her background in journalism, and expertise in personal essay, Suchandrika has so many insights into how to bring personal story into a comedy hour, in ways that work for both the writer/performer and the audience.
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Danielle: [00:00:00] I am very fortunate to have Suchandrika Chakrabarti with me today, a brilliant comedian who as soon as I saw her fantastic show, ‘I miss Amy Winehouse’, I knew I had to have her on so I could grill her about all things comedy and storytelling. So welcome to the show. And before we do a deep dive into that, is there anything else that you would like people to know about you and your connections to creating?
Suchandrika: Um, so I started stand-up in January, 2020, which is obviously not great. So I just want people to know that my comedy timing. . It’s slightly better than that . Um, and I sort of, I’ve worked in journalism and I made podcasts before that. So those labels kind of follow me around and, and I guess I play with them a bit in my new show, which I’m working on, which is called ‘Doom Scrolling’ and we’ll talk about a bit later.
So yeah, I’m kinda like freelance Multihyphenate, just trying to make enough to live in London, kind of. .
Danielle: [00:01:00] Yeah, I love that. Embracing that. That’s brilliant. But I can also see from your show how all that richness really feeds in.
I’d love to do a bit of a deep dive into, ‘I Miss Amy Winehouse’ because there were so many things that I loved watching it, and that I wanted to ask you about…
I wanted to start with structure, and how you managed that. Why Amy Winehouse, and how focusing on her actually helped you structure the show.
Suchandrika: Yeah. Um, nobody as far as I know, tells you how to write an Edinburgh show. If they are doing that, please tell me because I, I didn’t know. And so I, um, I basically wrote that show in sort of May, 2021, so we’re still kind of locked down, but there was….or maybe we were just coming out of it… but there was like hope on the horizon and I was booking into Brighton Fringe that summer and Camden Fringe, so I knew I could perform it quite soon. But where that show actually came out from was trying to write a [00:02:00] novel. So I’d written like two chapters of a novel and most novels are kind of based on our early lives or you know, how we grew up.
And I do think your first Edinburgh show in particular is such an introduction to yourself and, and it needs to sort of, let people know who you are. Um, so I’d sent this, this novel my friend had very kindly, um, she’d written a book. She introduced me to her agent. It was sent off to her, these two chapters, and, and she was very positive and she came, she sent it back with sort of quite close reading, and the moment I saw it, she was like, oh, ‘send me the manuscript and you’re done.’
And novel manuscripts, as you know, are kind of 60 to 80,000 words and I just knew it wasn’t that I knew, I didn’t have that in me. And I thought this voice, this one of this narrator, it’s very chatty . Have I just written stand up? And so I thought let’s give it a go. Can I write an hour? Because coming from journalism and I’ve been a journalism trainer, and I, I still do that, I’ve sort of taught people for three hours over Zoom. I’ve taught [00:03:00] people for, you know, the very unlucky ones for six hours in person. And so I know I can stand up… and I had slides, which I do in this show, but I don’t have in the second one. And so I knew I can sort of tell stories and do that for that amount of time. So I thought, what can I do in an hour? What could a story be? And there’s also, um, the influence of personal essays, so I’m sure we’ll get into this, but it’s a very personal story, ‘I Miss Amy Winehouse.’ We get into kind of the grief that I suffered in my late teens and, and people are often quite surprised by the story and quite moved by it. And I only started writing about that sort of ….the truth, I suppose, in about 2018 when I first went freelance after working sort of papers like The Mirror and The Guardian and places like that. So I’d started off in journalism, sort of trying to do that kind of objective kind of writing or writing about other people, but not writing about myself.
And then I got into kind of writing personal essays and I, and I feel that with a good [00:04:00] personal essay, ideally you start off with something universal. So that can be a figure like Amy Winehouse. Who other people know and have feelings about. And so they can, they can kind of, they have something to hold onto.
And then we get into my personal experience and how the thing they know about that we share then shines a lot in this personal experience I had, which they don’t share with me, but now they can understand it a bit. So that was where the structure came from and the idea of Amy being a lens on my own life and my early sort of years, and also like this idea of parasocial relationships becomes very important in the show. That grew up for me, thinking that….Wasn’t it silly that I always thought I’d meet Amy Winehouse, I’d bump into her in Camden. I worked there, I partied there. How did I not bump into her? Because every person I tell this story to, and I say this is my first show, everyone’s got an Amy Winehouse story.
Everyone’s bumped into her. Everyone’s had a drink with her except me. So it became this kind of joke. [00:05:00] So I thought right in the show, what if I do meet her? But why? Why? to meet her. Why? Why is something about live performance so much more important than just watching someone on YouTube? And that felt very timely because we were just coming out of lockdown and I found my audiences were very…they’re excited to be out.
They were thrilled. They loved talking about Amy Winehouse as well. It felt like 10 years had gone by. And, um, there’s something I think when, when someone dies prematurely, that it’s very hard to talk about them, and it becomes about the death and the shock of it. And then over time, the actual death recedes, and the life becomes more prominent and you feel you can talk about them again.
And that’s true of the other people at the show who’ve died as well. So I was finding all of. links and I thought this is a way for people to walk into my story, but sort of have their hand held first because they know of Amy Winehouse. Pretty much everyone has an opinion about her or emotion about her, and I really, [00:06:00] it is important to me, the show is respectful of everyone involved, particularly Amy Whitehouse, because you know, the press has been very difficult around her. There are lots of opinions. and I, I don’t wanna sort of talk about her family or about what was going on inside her head too much because I can’t know those things. But what I do know is how I felt about her and my relationship to her, and to a certain extent how other fans felt. And so I thought I can go down that road and I can find humour there because it will not be directed at her or at anyone who can’t defend themselves. So the humour is not unkind either.
Um, but yeah, it was certainly a kind of personal essay structure. And then in terms of actually sitting down at a blank page, I took the 60 minutes. I thought that’s terrifying. And I cut it into three acts. So it’s 20 minutes, and then within those three acts, 10 minutes, five minutes. So I was writing sort of five minute sets, five minute [00:07:00] sets using some sets I’d already done and that I’d already been trying out. But when I sat down and wrote it , and I’d been told that in Edinburgh shows that you take all your sets from the year and put them together, but for me, I need a strong narrative thread and I need a theme or two. It’s something I found out about myself.
So that was the kind of beginnings of it, which are quite complex. I think there’s a lot of influences from things I’ve done early in my career.
Danielle: That’s wonderfully helpful.That makes perfect sense. And I hadn’t made the link actually to personal essay, but it makes perfect sense when you say it.
Just as a little side shoot, I’d love to ask you, are there any particular personal essayists whose style you really love that people could check out?
Suchandrika: Oh, I was teaching a class in this and I should have gone and checked. Leslie Jameson. Leslie Jameson’s an American writer who is probably one of the best personal essay writers out there. She, [00:08:00] um, she has a couple of books I think, worth going to check out. Um, there was an essay that went viral called The Crane Wife, but a couple years ago, by CJ Houser. And, um, it’s not my favourite and it’s surprisingly long. You don’t always get that much space. You usually get, if you’re commissioned to write one somewhere between 800 and 1200 words. This is a lot longer and…there’s just a brilliant image at the heart of it. This crane who falls in love with a human man, marries him. And every morning before he wakes up, she plucks out all her feathers so she appears human. And I think we can all find a kind of narrative around what it is to be female perhaps in that. So, yeah, really great kind of metaphor. Um, there was… I’ve forgotten his name, so I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t get into that. Have I got one more? No, that’s it.
Danielle: That’s perfect.
Suchandrika: I should have checked.
Danielle: No, that’s, that’s wonderful. And um, I can always [00:09:00] check back in with you. We can add more to the show notes if we want to, but that’s brilliant. And that’s just a side shoot. So thank you.
To come back to your show, ‘I miss Amy’. You’ve mentioned metaphor, and you’re so skilled, with all the professional experience that you have of thinking about how to embed metaphor in the show…. Now, I was very struck by some in the show, particularly as you say, you do use slides in, ‘I Miss Amy’. For example, the statue thread….thinking about remembrance, um, getting to see some of those more personal pictures from your family….I’d love you to just talk about how you think about metaphor as a writer, whether it’s constructed verbally, constructed visually, and how that weaves into this rich context of I Miss Amy.
Suchandrika: Hmm. Such an interesting question. I think it’s probably best at this point to, to let people know, because it’s always really difficult to talk about the show in terms of [00:10:00] how much do I give away?
Danielle: Yeah, understandable.
Suchandrika: The other people I talk about in the show who died are my parents. So they, they died when I was a teenager and actually I kind of say that line in the show. My mom died when I was 16 and my dad died when I was 19. So I think you just have to be honest about that and let that sit with people.
And actually earlier, in the earlier versions of the show, I sort of had a blackout and I walked out and I played Back to Black. And then that was just all too much and some trusted people who gave me feedback, which must have been very hard for them to do, were like ‘you know, just that sentence on its own says enough.’
Um, but in terms of metaphor, I suppose that, um, I’ve always been really interested in how I’ve lived in such, I grew up in an analogue age, particularly in the nineties, and, and then the internet has just actually changed everything. And I kind of have a bit of a joke, certainly in the Doomscrolling show about how will the advice, um, if [00:11:00] you grew up in a 9os as a teenager, then your parents try to give you advice. All of that is just utterly obliterated by the internet. So like if your parents say, ‘oh never get in a stranger’s car’, well, Uber’s great. Um, and just that kind of thing, like it’s, it’s upended all of our ideas. And, and it’s basically, for me, my parents remain in analogue age. My, my dad sent like two emails to me.
Um, my mom had a mobile, but she never did an email address. And so there is one way we, there, there are many ways you could be memorialised online, but they, they are not Googleable, they are not there. There’s nowhere we can conjure them up. But that is a very new problem. Sort of back in the past, people were always coming up with memorials and ways to bring someone back and, and the, the statues set, that’s a set that I do, it’s a stand alone set and that’s quite a political set and it’s a reaction to, um, you know, the Bristol statue in the sea and the audits of statues that we had in London, the mayor of London was [00:12:00] like, let’s check how diverse the statues are in London. And, and of course they’re not because they weren’t put up for that reason.
Um, but I suppose yet I.. all throughout time… what interests me is psychology at the end of the day….And all throughout time, even though my experience of being orphaned as, as a teenager was very isolating, I suppose this show’s about connection and it’s about connecting to other people having their experience or experiencing loss and what they do with it. And actually a personal essay I wrote a couple of years ago, it’s for artsy.net., It’s probably my favourite one I’ve done. It was about, um, how I went to Florence just after I left Uni. So it’s about 2006 and you, I was 22. I was having this, you know, I didn’t have parents anymore. I’ve got an older brother. But, um, an experience that most people I know weren’t having, and I went to this.Chapel, the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria Del Carmine and [00:13:00] um, and they have this, uh, fresco by Masaccio and its called Adam and Eva are being thrown out The Garden of Eden.
Now, I’m not religious, it’s not really my thing, although I’d say I’m more Church of England than anything else because of the schools I went to, and I do know the Lord’s Prayer almost backwards. But, um, what Masaccio did, um, his, like this particular fresco opposite is his mentor’s fresco, it’s very gothic. It’s very two-dimensional. But Masaccio’s work is very three-dimensional and emotional, and you see Adam and Eve as people and what I realised was that he drew Eve as someone, or he painted Eve as someone who was grieving. As someone who’s crying that much that your diaphragm hurts. It’s like a very specific kind of crying I think that you manage, because you do so much of it when you’re grieving. And I was just like, oh, I recognize that… this person in 1426 who died in his twenties has seen that look on someone’s face. And [00:14:00] so that that personal essay came out of that, that there’s a weird comfort in whatever isolated experience you have in knowing that in history, people have felt that.
So as most people tend to use Renaissance Art as the basis of their Edinburgh shows, I believe… it’s um, I suppose, I suppose I’m always looking for that connection. And so almost any, any way in which people are trying to memorialise someone, trying to make that effort.
Cause you engage two ways with grief, right? You can bury that loss and I think that only lasts for a certain amount of time. Eventually it will rear its head, or you can engage with it. And again, that doesn’t happen immediately. It will be when you’re ready to do that. For me, it took about 20 years and I think it’s intrigued me where people have engaged with it and made something of it. And other people can meet that person through that means. [00:15:00] Um, so yes, you do get these images all throughout the show of other ways people have done it.
Danielle: That makes so much sense. And one of the things, there’s so many things I loved about the show, but one of the things I really loved is how you navigate time and the timeline in the sense like where you match up to Amy, where we are in time, where the audience is in time, where we were with the pandemic, yourarents at different stages. That was done so expertly and beautifully. And I can see now when you’re saying about like the historic connection, you have such a good way of creating this web that makes sense. But does allow us, to think… both how we feel in the moment, responding very strongly to your show and how we fit into that bigger picture.
Um, and so relevant to grief as well, as you say with how long it takes to process, what that experience is, how it comes back freshly at different points…that makes total sense why you’d be looking at statues, thinking about them in such a beautiful way. I love that.
[00:16:00] And also, I also really loved that you are, that you don’t shy away from feelings in your show, even though it’s so incredibly funny and I don’t want to spoil the ending for people who may see it, so I won’t talk about the ending… but how willing you are to embrace feelings. Because with comedy it can be such the interesting lens to look at things and have some distance. But also I think some people sometimes can think that in getting to the joke or having to be clever or, or keeping things, you know, very intellectual and conceptual, that there isn’t that place for the whole spectrum of feelings. And I love that… I feel like your show embraces the whole spectrum.
Suchandrika: And that can really put people off as well. And that this is true of any comedy show. I think comedy in particular, you like what you like and you, you respond to what you respond to. Um, but I was aware that for me it was really important how the audience felt. And this actually came back again when I’ve been teaching personal essays online, Zoom three [00:17:00] hours.
And I, I thought, well, I’ve explored…But people are gonna bring trauma to that, to that session, and I have to give them a space. They don’t have to talk about it. I’m not gonna tell anyone…’Tell us exactly what your essay’s about’, and I. worked with, um, the London Writer’s Salon in fact, I was doing the, the session with them….I worked on various ways to make it a very safe space… so people could pitch using emails. They didn’t have to like say ‘this traumatic thing happened’ in front of people. So I think writing it is easier than saying it.
And when, when I was doing that session, I was dissecting some of my personal essays. I was telling people this is what happened and um, this is how I felt back then.
But then, so in a personal essay there’s, there’s two yous. There’s you in the past that you’re writing about, but there’s very much you in the present, who is the narrator who’s saying I changed. I’m gonna write the, the, the tale of how I changed. That moment for me it was [00:18:00] that moment seeing that Masaccio fresco, and I was like, oh, this person in 1426. felt something I felt possibly. Or saw it in someone else. And, and then there’s a you in the present tense who’s kind of writing that. And so to have those two yous is a complex thing. It’s complex to get that across. So it’s very important, I think to be,very specific about which time you are in. I leap about, it’s like memory that show. Whereas Doomscrolling is much more present, past, future. Even a five minute set by me, it’s basically present, past, future. It’s all… I love playing around in time, basically.
Plus.. the future you.. can just make stuff up. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen. It’s great.
But one thing I thought was very important with the teaching, was that if I’m inviting people to this session, they’re coming along, they are bringing they’re trauma. How much they reveal that or [00:19:00] not is completely up to them and they don’t have to do anything.
But if I’m revealing mine, I have to do it in a way that I’m aware of their feelings and I’m not shocking them so much. They’re not like, ‘oh my God, is she okay?’ You know, that was really important. So kind of trying to build up to it, kind of. I say that thing about my parents about 20 minutes in, but I did feel by that point I’ve built rapport. And people can sense if you’ve processed the trauma or not. Audiences are smart, emotionally intelligent, they can feel it. Cuz I’ve been in situations, in open mics when people have just brought raw unprocessed trauma and you can feel it. It makes you get your shoulders go up around your ears and it’s difficult to laugh, which is then a bad feedback loop for the person who’s brought their trauma.
So it’s really important to think about how you are building up[00:20:00] to the things you wanna talk about and how the audience is feeling, all that way, and do they trust me? And, and then some of that is just, you have to figure it out and, and throw it out there and, and take it to an audience and put on a show and see if it works.
Danielle: Perfect. Thank you. And linked to that process of putting it out in front of the audience, seeing if it works, and you’ve also mentioned a couple of times getting feedback from trusted people. What advice would you have for someone who is a writer, writer, comedian, potentially performer, about how to get really helpful, constructive feedback?
Suchandrika: So, the first time I performed, ‘I Miss Amy Winehouse’ I did it on Zoom and it was to like a very small group of very close friends, a lot of whom had been partying with me back in the Camden days. And I knew I could trust them to be, they’re not in comedy actually at all, any of them. [00:21:00] I knew I could trust them to be kind, but not mollycoddle me. And a few of them came back with… oh, what was that?… They came back with the same piece of advice, which I think was ‘maybe make it clear that your parents have died’. And I was like, ‘yeah, that is a very good point’. People need to know or they’ll be sitting there wondering. I totally like that. And then also people mentioned, ‘say they had an illness or just something because otherwise people might worry about what it might have been, and like how that’s affected me.
I thought, yes this is good advice. Just give some facts. Yes, correct. And I was doing this show at The Lion in Unicorn Theater in Kentish Town in North London. And, um, someone I’d met who’s, um, who’s a comedian and a doctor, Benji Waterstones, we’d both been on a memoir course, uh, Curtis Brown memoir course in 20, oh God, 2020.
So originally [00:22:00] it would’ve been in person and it was on Zoom. And he was someone who, from the moment I met him, we were in a situation where we were giving each other feedback or like the whole group was. So I did learn from that, from that course that I didn’t wanna write a memoir, I didn’t wanna write straightforward blow by blow, this is what happened. And I think what with that show, what I wrote was creative nonfiction. It was taking like everything’s true. And actually someone, a couple, once asked me after one of my shows, like, is that all true? And I was like, yes, it is all true, but it’s how I’ve had license to put it all together.
But he, he sort of gave me that feedback, Benji, on, on the kind of the blackout, on the walkout. And I was like, yeah, I’ve been having misgivings about that as well. You are right. But I think it was, you know, it’s because we had that early relationship. And so what I’d say is that if you want to write about something difficult, traumatic, something that’s been painful…People ask me, oh, was that show cathartic? I was like, no, no, no. My catharsis has happened.
All of that stuff, [00:23:00] anything therapeutic needs to have happened in the past and you need to get to a place where the story was detachable from you and it’s a story that could be edited and moved around and shaped, and it doesn’t hurt when you do that. And that takes so much time.
And from my experience of teaching personal essays, I think there is a feeling immediately or like fairly soon after you’ve picked up the pieces of something traumatic in your life that you want people to bear witness to what happened. And that’s, that’s sometimes when people came along to this personal essays class I was doing and that I didn’t feel they were ready to put it out into public usually.
So you, you’ve got two or three people in a class. The wound was so fresh. So I’ll give you an example. I was doing a class in March once and somebody had lost a baby just before Christmas. So they come to this class very, very soon. Um, which I think is a reflection of the lack of mental healthcare that we have in, [00:24:00] in our country. And I think they needed someone to bear witness to what happened. But I would not suggest that person puts their experience out on the internet for everyone to see. Write it down, show some trusted people, put it in a drawer and then it can, it takes years, which is a fact that most people don’t really enjoy. There’s an urgency in that first writing. I’ve gotta write this down and I’ve gotta show it to someone. And I would say, yes, somebody who loves you and a therapist, and then in the drawer it goes. And then can you do some other stories for a while? Can you concentrate on other things? So the actual writing and the editing needs to be detached from your immediate feelings.
And actually you need to think about the feelings of the person who’s receiving the story. Can you honestly do that? Then now’s the right time. Gather some people around you who you trust, some of your friends, some people who are in the industry. And do the difficult thing of showing them your vulnerable hearts, which it will be this show or [00:25:00] this novel or whatever it is you are doing, and maybe you’re not ready and that’s okay as well.
So I tried to do some writing courses at City Uni in like 2009. 2010. So things were still pretty fresh, pretty raw, like I dunno if there’s a timeline for losing your parents and your teens, but it’s longer than a couple of years. For sure. And so I was in this class and I was writing in any voice that wasn’t mine. I was writing in a male voice. I was…anything. And I was just avoiding my own story. And then I remember one of the teachers was like, ‘oh, we’ve got a novel studio. Do you wanna carry on’. Like most of the class was carrying on, I thought absolutely not. Like, I’m not ready for this. I’m going home and crying after I do these classes. Like, this isn’t working for me.
So I think we can really push ourselves and possibly there is something in that. But do always think to yourself…when I put it on the internet, I can’t take it back. And when you put it on the internet, people see [00:26:00] personal writing as an invitation to begin a conversation. And there’ll be people in your private messages telling you their trauma. Are you ready for that? An incredible example of that is Cariad Lloyd who runs Griefcast. She’s a host of Grief Cast and she’s a comedian and everyone on the internet goes into her DMs and tells her about their grief.
And she feels like, you know, she has to go through all of the messages and try and speak to people. So you become a level of a public figure as well, and there are consequences to putting this personal stuff out there. So take it really as slowly as possible. There is, I know it feels like there’s a rush, but there isn’t. There’s time and time will make it better and easier to get out there because you’ve processed it further and you’ve talked about it with people who are close to you and it’s a long process. It’s just that people are seeing the show and they’re like, how did you do it? And it’s like, it, [00:27:00] it was my job for those 20 years to process my grief and to live and to become this person. And this is just a nice byproduct of it, but it wasn’t, my goal wasn’t to write this and make a show or write a novel. It was to live with it, to live in a way that the grief is part of me. It never, it will never go away, but that I can be okay with that.
Danielle: Thank you and thank you so much for sharing that with us and giving us such a clear insight and so much really solid lived advice that’s incredibly valuable.
Having been through such an extensive and rich process in making that show, and also for people who are listening or watching, it is also an incredibly expertly funny show, … in terms of how you are weaving those skills through and how you’re telling those stories….How did you, as [00:28:00] a creative, then move on to having the brain space, energy, and vision to create an entirely new show. Your current work in progress, Doomscrolling where did that seed start from and where are you in that process?
Suhandrika: So I actually started writing it in, um, July last year. So I started writing it and did a performance 45 minutes before I’d taken I Miss Amy Winehouse to Edinburgh. And I, I guess the reason for that, I definitely think creativity, like you have your fallow periods and you have your creative times, and I’m due a fallow period after this Edinburgh right? Yeah. . I, I’ll go and hibernate for a couple of years.
I think they’re probably two…. I think the two shows together are probably my coming of age novel, essentially. One was the personal story that I can’t tell people immediately when I meet them. The one I really wanted to tell because of that. And then this one is so much more about [00:29:00] the news and journalism, and I was in journalism for 15 years. It was 16 years. Horrifying amount of time in newsrooms. And it’s changed like as I mentioned with the internet. Obviously that was just coming in as I was leaving school, going to uni. And also the advent of the mobile phone, that’s changed everything too. So this is probably, here’s what I’ve learned through all this time, navigating my way through analog media, becoming digital media.
But that’s, that’s not a funny story in and of itself. So it’s like, how do I dig down and analyse what I’ve learned, what’s going on today, how people feel about their phones? The word Doomscrolling has an emotional impact on people. Like they have a reaction, which is great, and yeah, what, what can I do with this stuff to package it in a way that it’s fun?
But it has a real messages about mental health. It’s also very political. And, and I, like my niece is turning five next month and [00:30:00] since she was born…, I genuinely think about the future more because she’s gonna be in it. I think when she’s my age, what, what is it gonna be like? And she’s definitely at the age where she can ask ex incredibly searching questions. She’s asking questions about her grandparents, like all sorts of stuff there. So in a way, I kind of think about how on earth does she see this world? She’s born in a pandemic and she lived under that for so long. As an infant, what is she gonna ask me in the future? What’s she gonna think of our merry-go-round of chancellors and prime ministers in this time? Would it be normal by the time she’s my age or would it be this weird blip in our history? So I think that’s really helpful to have that kind of look at the future cuz it gives me space to. Make stuff up, . I have a journalist brain, where at the moment I’m not doing fiction. These aren’t fictional shows. They are, they’re real things. Like, they’re real headlines that I talk about in the show and, um, it’s about real things that are going on. But [00:31:00] yes, I would say the two shows together are kind of…this is how I grew up, this is how I became the person I am.
And so that stuff is there in my head. And it’s kind of been… you know, when it’s like banging the inside of your head to come out. Cause I’m that kind of writer. I do a lot of writing in my head and I don’t put anything on paper until it’s screaming to come out. Which is a very frustrating way of writing because it looks like I’m doing nothing for long periods of my life. And then it always just comes out. But it tends to mean my first drafts have got a lot of the stuff in them already. So yeah, that’s where it’s come from. It’s, again, such a weird way to work and I don’t recommend it . So like write your second show, but your firstone isn’t even at Edinburgh, like it is not ideal.
But I suppose the message there is that you can’t fully control that creativity. [00:32:00] What you can do is try and put some boundaries around it and…It’s good to have a goal like Edinburgh. So that for me, deadlines, goals, those are really helpful. And with I Miss Amy, for instance, I decided I would wrap it up at certain point. I did the last performance last November and just for now, I’m not gonna be performing it live again. There is a video and I’m gonna, I’ll put that online in some way. At some point it’ll need some edits cause there’s a lot of copyright material in it. But for me, I think it was good to have that boundary of like, you know, I’ve been performing this show for a year and a bit. It’s now done. And to have something to move onto, it felt really good. And then possibly after Doomscrolling, maybe a rest might feel good. I dunno, I might come up with something else, but you, you just don’t know do you. I mean, you must have this as well.
Danielle: That’s totally understandable. You’ve mentioned Edinburgh a couple of times. And [00:33:00] as we are speaking, it’s March, 2023. Edinburgh is still months off, but you are thick in the preparations for it. I wondered if you wouldn’t mind sharing, for people that know about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and think, ‘oh gosh, it would be really fun to go and perform there’… What are some of the things that you, as an experienced person, know that people might be surprised to find out about Edinburgh, and what that process is like and what it actually takes to get there and make it.
Suchandrika: So, you know, it is really fun. I would say overall it is really fun. And if there’s something in you that wants to give it a go, then give it a go. And I would go first just as an audience member, you know, as much as you can. So my first fringe was 2003. It was a long time ago. I had friends who were at Edinburgh Uni. So for a couple of years I could go and stay with them, which was incredible. That was really fun. Like at that time, I mean…was 2003 the first year? My god, that was the year my dad died, which, you know, that’s, that was a long time ago. It’s nearly 20 years ago. And [00:34:00] yeah, it was nice. Just go as a punter. I remember going to watch, Ed Burn ran this night and it was like from 1:00 AM to 6:00 AM which to little old me at the, you know, 19 was like, ‘this is incredible!’ And they’re like wandering out at 6:00 AM having watched all these amazing comedians who are now all over tv and there was just this kind of freedom and real sense of joy. So I think that it’s nice to go without a show if you can, because if you go with a show, that’s your focus and people have different kind of ways of doing it, but maybe you don’t enjoy going to see a show until yours is done for the day. And if your show’s at 4:00 PM then you’re not seeing shows until then. Like, people do it in different ways. But, for me, I’ve, so I’ve taken one solo show up and before that I’d like done some spots and so there, they’re mixed bills every night and there are Facebook groups. You can get spots on a mixed bill and so you get to do like 10 minutes in front of people, which is fun. But I really wanted to take a show up. And so Amy was my first one in 2022. [00:35:00]
And, Last year, I don’t think I fully understood the timeline. Plus, obviously the pandemic changed things, so because there wasn’t a proper fringe in 2021 and there wasn’t one at all in 2020 venues were a bit tricky because people rolled over the act.
So I was kind of not sure how the venues would work. I got the advice from another comedian in November, 2021 to book accommodation in January. And I was like, January for August? Fine. If you say so. Pretty good advice, I’d say. So I did that again this year. I booked my accommodation in January. I don’t have a venue or time yet, but there will be one at some point.
What else is there? So things like your posters and your artwork. I think it depends on how you write your show. Obviously I like having a strong theme. I have quite a visual imagination, but I would say almost as you are writing your show, think about what that marketing looks like. Cuz [00:36:00] marketing is a creative thing. It gets a very bad rap and, and all of that, but it’s a psychological kind of…it’s saying to audiences. ‘I think you’ll enjoy this. Why don’t you come in’. I would say, even from the name of the show as far as you can. This show is originally called Reunion/Afterparty and it was going to hinge a lot more on my dad’s college reunions. I guess they were in the seventies through to the nineties.
So my dad, uh, was a doctor. He went to Calcutta National Medical College, which is the city, my parents, both from in Northeast India. And because so many people came over, obviously to work for the NHS, this huge wave in the sixties and seventies, they would have these reunions every August bank holiday where they’d all like basically hire out this entire hotel, usually in the north of England, sometimes in Scotland. And it would just be like summer camp for my parents, but they’d like bring the kids. And as a child, it was so much fun. Like the people I was at Reunion [00:37:00] with, they feel like family members, cause I grew up with them. But it’s only really recently I started to think about what it was probably like for my parents. Cause I’m getting to that age. Getting to mid-age where, what’s it like to go to a 20 year college reunion with your wife and kids? But like they’d go off and get drunk in the hotel bar and there’d be fancy dinners. And what is it like to see like your crush or like your first girlfriend or boyfriend with the person they married?
Like we have Facebook, we can see that…or Instagram more these days. We can see that from a healthy distance where the worst thing that could happen is you’ll like something 59 weeks back and then you have to leave the internet entirely, which is terrible. But they were seeing them face to face…old rivals. And I just thought, you know what? The adults had this fascinating time that I really wanna think about now. So the show is much more about that. But I don’t, for me, I, that’s ended up not being the Edinburgh show. It might be something else. I think there is something there. But I don’t think it’s the Edinburgh show. And so that [00:38:00] shifted. I rewrote it in January, um, for a festival Next Up Comedy. Which is like an online streaming service that you can get a subscription for.
And Mark Watson, the comedian, he. had, um, something called Access Festival. Cause he wants to champion online comedy, which I agree with cause it’s great for accessibility. And so I wrote an online version, which was a bit more like quizzes and interactive. And then I rewrote it again like hurriedly to do two weeks later to do at the Bill Murray in Angel.
But the show really shifted and it became about, it became about what is the audience going through? When it comes to news. Rather than let me tell a story about myself. And so the name changed and I changed it to Doomscrolling. And I think almost A-B tested the headlines, which is what you do in a digital newsroom.
Reunion/Afterparty. I think that was a placeholder that meant something to me, but it means nothing to the audience. Doomscrolling means something to the audience. And then getting the right title, [00:39:00] helped me figure out what the show is. It’s essentially a clinic to like, it’s…I wouldn’t go as far as it’s character comedy….I’m not getting dressed up, like it’s me, but it’s a version of me as it always is with standup. And it’s a clinic where I let people know they’ve been referred there. I’m gonna help them with their Doomscrolling. But you know, cause I’ve been a journalist for so long, I’m a professional Doomscroller. But like, we kind of find….because I like to be, I don’t think the word is unreliable narrator, because I think that works in novels, but I don’t think it can work in shows. But I think if I reveal myself as… a slightly deranged narrator or like someone who isn’t as self-aware as she first seems. So people have told me, ‘oh, you seem like a safe pair of hands when you come on stage’. And I’m like, ‘great. That’s brilliant. Let’s ruin that over the course of an hour. Cause that’ll be fun’.
And so I reveal myself to not be as in control as I seem to be. And so if I’m in recovery from Doomscrolling, if I’m the person who runs clinic, why have I written a show that needs updating every five seconds?[00:40:00] How quickly the news is changing. I just have to keep updating it. Like, so I had a bit about Prince Harry and….Now I have to make a joke about how old that feels. But at the time, 36 hours, t it’s all Prince Harry in the news and on social media and it goes so quickly now. So it’s part of the problem and part of the show and part of the joke on me is that if I’m in recovery, how have I written an Edinburgh show that’s going as fast as the new cycle and needs to change as quickly as that.
So yeah, that one’s been a different kind of one to write because there’s no earlier version of it. I didn’t try to write a novel that was about this. I didn’t write any personal essay that’s about this.
But I suppose on a professional level, on the journalism side of my life, I have, I’ve thought about the situation. I was training people, like when I was at the Mirror, the Daily Mirror, I was training people on the paper to get digital skills. And so I was always thinking of metaphors, like going back to what you asked about earlier, I was always thinking, [00:41:00] What is a good metaphor for somebody who’s worked in a paper for 30 years, to understand what a social headline and image is?
They can understand it because they do know their audience and they will get it. I just need to find the right one that doesn’t make it feel like a burden, because it’s extra work. It feels like a burden. And when you find it, their eyes lit up and they’d be like, ‘yep, got it’. And then someone from the paper who’s, you know, been writing on the same beat for 30 years and knows their audience, they’d write a beautiful social headline for Facebook or Twitter or wherever it is because they know where the audience needs to be intrigued and click in.
So yeah, even in my professional life, I was using metaphor and all of the literary and writing skills I could pull together to do a real world thing, which is to try to train people. And I suppose with Doomscrolling, that experience is coming to play here. It probably helps also to add that I did an English degree, so [00:42:00] my entire life has been story and that’s natural to me.
Danielle: It really shows and in such a brilliant way. I love it and I do think your titles are really smart, because I saw your titles before I had come across you or made a personal connection with you, and as soon as I saw them and saw the posters, I was like, I have to click on this, on Instagram. I have to see what this is and get in touch with you.
So it does matter and it’s very smart. And also you answered my question, which I wanted to know about how you’re dealing with that news cycle. Cause I’ve been following you on Instagram and saw the Prince Harry clip and was like, is it gonna be out of date? What’s she gonna do? But you’re so smart, you can deal with that.
I love that you bring that into it. The game of it. Awesome.
Oh my goodness. Thank you. You’ve given me so much to think about and shared so many really great practical and personal ways of thinking about creativity, storytelling, comedy, and more. Before we wrap up, I’d just love to know, is there any advice that [00:43:00] anyone has given you that has really stuck with you and you have found useful or found yourself applying?
Suchandrika: I think actually I’ve always returned to this and it’s not about writing what it kind of is…It’s my tutor at Uni, she’s called Fional Stafford and she was Head of English and she was very supportive and kind, when I lost my second parent, my dad who died when I was at uni. And I remember at the end I thought I was gonna go into academia, um, another job, which in 2006 felt like a safe career, like journalism. But everything has changed. And, she said to me, ‘don’t do what I did and keep taking exams’. And I wanted to be like, well, it’s worked out well for you. You seem happy’. But I think she was right in that we can tell ourselves, ‘oh, I’m this kind of person, and that’s who I am and I’m done’. And I think actually it’s [00:44:00] if you can… and also other people can really reinforce that and tell you who you are, but if you can keep that a bit fluid and allow yourself to change and allow the possibility of change, you’d be surprised with what you come up with, I think.
Don’t. Don’t just think, this is it. This is who I am and I can’t do X by Z. People have a lot of, fear around calling themselves a writer or, or a journalist or one of these creative things, and maybe just don’t even, you don’t have to tell anyone you’re doing it. Just do the writing or make the thing that you wanna do and then share it when you want to and how you want to.
But don’t, don’t let a label or an idea of who you should be box you in. Like you’ve got no idea who you can be in five years time and what you can make and, and that’s exciting. That’s something that [00:45:00] only you need to share when you’re ready to. So yeah, stay hopeful. Keep giving, giving things you love a go and seeing what happens.
Danielle: That’s perfect. Thank you. And you are such a great example of that, really inspiring. So if people want to connect with you or find out more about your work, where would you like to point them to? And of course, I’ll make sure that those links are also in the show.
Suchandrika: Yeah, so my Twitter and Instagram, I don’t have a website anymore.
So my Twitter is @SuchandirkaC. So you can spell my first name, pop a C on the end. And my Instagram is @Suchandrika so just my first name. And I am on TikTok, but I’m really bad at it. But that’s, you know, you can find clips from my shows and things like that. And yeah, I’ll put up all the information on shows and things I’m doing on my social media so you can find it there.
Danielle: Amazing. Thank you so much for your time today. It’s been so fun listening to you and learning.
Suchandrika: Thank you for having [00:46:00] me.