She played ubergeek Dobby in the hit Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show, has an award-winning Radio 4 show, Pearl and Dave, and has toured the UK as a comedian. Now Isy Suttie has written her first book, The Actual One. Due out later this month, it tells the story of how she tried and failed to remain twenty-something for ever. BRIAN DONALDSON met her:
ISY Suttie has been swapping the lights of the stage for the glow of her desk lamp recently, and now she’s completed her memoir, The Actual One, she’s back on tour with a new show of the same name.
However, it’s not exactly like a regular stand-up tour, as she explains.
“It’s effectively a book tour, but I still want to make it as varied as possible, so there’ll be bits of stand-up and songs and I’ll be chatting to the audience.
“The book is an account of me being single and in various relationships in my late twenties/early thirties, but what has come out from the writing of it is a celebration of friendship.
“What I do generally is quite upbeat, so I’m not about to do a series of one-liners about misery, so it will hopefully be quite spirited and fun.”
When she came to deciding how she wanted to structure The Actual One (whose working title was Glass Half Full), Suttie took a degree of inspiration from Lena Dunham, the creator of US hit comedy-drama Girls and author of Not That Kind Of Girl.
“Her book is written in essay form where there’s no narrative per se or even a thread running through it — it’s just chapters about different periods of her life and that works brilliantly.
“I’d toyed with doing my book that way but it felt that the right thing was to write about a concentrated period of time.”
One of the main events in this period features the time Suttie was back at her parents’ house feeling a little sorry for herself having just witnessed her pregnant best mate moving away.
“As a joke, my mum and I set up an internet dating profile for me and she started choosing guys for me and logging in as me.
“It culminated in a bet where if I didn’t end up with a boyfriend in a month I’d go on a date with someone that she had chosen. She got really into it.
“I talk a lot in the book about the nature of relationships according to my experience and the fact that I know more unhappy people who are in relationships than aren’t.
“This isn’t a book that’s the equivalent of a romcom where I’m all Bridget Jonesy and eventually find someone to live happily ever after with. And nor is it me going about leaving my knickers on rugby posts.
“It’s quite an honest account of me bumbling through life trying to make the best of things.”
Certainly, Isy Suttie has made more than the best of things when it comes to her career in comedy to date, with a series of Edinburgh Fringe shows under her belt.
Love Lost In The British Retail Industry was her acclaimed 2007 character-led debut while her most recent appearance was in 2011 with Pearl and Dave.
“When I was growing up, I always wanted to be an actress and musician. I never thought I’d go into comedy, though I was always larking about and playing the fool at school.
“I used to write these serious songs and around 18 I really thought I could be a folk singer and an actress. I just knew that I’d want to tell stories in my songs.”
It would be fair to say that music has been an important element in much of Suttie’s work. As a teenager she was a regional winner in the Daily Telegraph young jazz competition while a few years later she won the Julian Slade songwriting competition.
Subsequently, she has been tour support for one of her heroes (Jim “Jim Bob” Morrison of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine fame) and enlisted the help of another idol, Jean-Jacques Burnel of the Stranglers, for a short film she made called The Best Night Of Roxy’s Life.
TV has also come a-calling for Suttie, with appearances opposite Alan Davies in BBC’s kitchen drama Whites, as a regular character in Shameless’s 11th season and, in arguably her biggest coup, a recurring role across several seasons as Dobby in Peep Show.
With that series having come to a close at the end of last year, it was the right moment for Suttie to reflect on being part of one of Britain’s most critically adored sitcoms of recent times.
“When I got on Peep Show I didn’t fully realise how big it was. I remember being nervous for the whole of that first series I was in because it felt like a big jump for me.
“The writing never wavered and it was so relaxed there compared to some things where you’re running out of time and everyone is a bit knackered. But with Peep Show, even when we were really up against it, the cast and the director never made it feel like work.
“A lot of that is to do with the writing — when you know you have a really great script, everyone is more relaxed and you’re on a very solid foundation.”
Now that Suttie is a published author as well as a TV actress, musical comedian and award-winning radio playwright (her adaptation of Pearl and Dave for Radio 4 won the Sony Radio Academy Award in 2013), her career’s building blocks are rock-solid.
With 2016 set to be a big year for her, she’s excited about taking her book out on to the road for an initial two-month tour followed by literary festivals across the country.
“When you’re writing a live show you just have to think ‘Is this funny?’ You might say ‘Well, I’ve done enough funny stuff to earn the right to talk about my dead grandfather for 10 minutes’ but when you’re writing a book you can allow yourself a bit of space. You can plunge deeper down in a book than you can on stage.
“I love doing radio but you’re always a bit confined because you can’t talk about sex unless you’re alluding to it. With the book, I found I could write about whatever I wanted and not to shy away from any of those cringey and sometimes sad moments that feel more honest.
“I had a rule that I wouldn’t write anything in the book that I wouldn’t say on stage. I do talk about sex — I mean, it’s not Jordan’s autobiography or anything, but if I thought it would be good for the reader to know something then I’d put it in.
“And the best bit, of course, is you can’t see people’s faces when they’re reading it.”
•Isy Suttie is appearing at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts in Maidenhead on Sunday (January 17) and at Reading’s South Street Arts Centre on Friday, February 5. Tickets for Maidenhead are £14 (concessions £12). To book, call 01628 788997 or visit www.norden.farm
. Tickets for Reading are £15 (inclusive of booking fee). To book, call 0118 960 6060 or visit www.readingarts.com