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Susan Calman delivers 2017 Linda Smith Lecture

It is always a pleasure to be inspired and listen to a different perspective on familiar issues. So a lecture set up in the name of the late great Linda Smith is overwhelmingly appropriate.

Linda’s comedy career was fuelled by challenging the political and social norms as a regular panelist on BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz, the enduring satirical comedy show. I was lucky enough to meet Linda on several occasions as a guest of News Quiz and when she judged the Funny Women Awards, twice. She was a very funny woman.

Linda’s legacy lives on in a number of ways including the Linda Smith Lecture which this year was delivered by Susan Calman.  Given that Susan never got the opportunity to meet Linda, she did her truly proud proving that a legacy can live on in the development of talent and telling of truth.

After Linda’s death the deposit of her personal archive with the University of Kent in 2013 by her partner Warren Lakin, provided the inspiration for the formation of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive. This has now grown into a substantial collection, for use by comedians and for those researching stand-up comedy and associated performance arts. We have ourselves donated materials to the archive which has become the Funny Women Collection.  This contains files, printed materials, press cuttings, media coverage and other ephemera from 15 years of Funny Women Awards, events and more.

The Linda Smith Lecture was established in 2015 and has now become an annual event to celebrate Linda’s life and work, her interest in comedy and its use in and for political and social commentary, and to promote the work of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive. The first lecture was given by Mark Thomas followed by Andy Hamilton in 2016 leaving Susan Calman pretty big comedy boots to fill this year.

And fill them she did.  Susan took us through her roller coaster journey from corporate lawyer to her first tentative comedy steps in Glasgow, proving that work ethic presides over talent, you have to embrace every opportunity given to you and learn from your mistakes.

Susan also explored the issue of gender and cited Funny Women as the first time she got to perform on the same bill with more than one woman. Susan made the point that there are many different types of female comics and it is time that comedy promoters recognised this and booked accordingly.

Women are 50% of the British population and culture should be a true reflection of our society – this applies to everything from boardrooms, to media, sport and politics. It is not good enough to have one woman on a comedy line up or panel show – as Susan points out it was a proud day when the News Quiz had not one, but three women on the show and at least two of them were of the ‘Lesbitarian’ persuasion!

We hear you Susan!  Linda would be proud.

Material in the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive can be searched using the Special Collections & Archives online catalogue here.

Access to the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive is through the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room, in the Templeman Library, University of Kent. Contact specialcollections@kent.ac.uk in advance to make an appointment.

Susan Calman is on tour around the UK in Calm Before the Storm until October 2017.  For dates and venues visit her website here.