After the sad death of the comedy legend who inspired so many female standups, Susan Calman tells us what she meant to her.
A lot of things have been written about Victoria Wood in the past day or so. About her impact on the world of comedy, about how important she was for female standups in general, about how she captured the characteristics of ‘the north’ in a way that hadn’t been seen on television before. I’m going to be quite selfish in my tribute and just talk about how she made me feel.
I first saw her on An Audience with Victoria Wood, a TV special made in 1988. I’m sure it was on in the background while the 14 -year-old me grumped around the house but, for some reason, someone in my family recorded it on a VHS tape. I watched it again and again and again and again until I was word perfect.
I knew every movement, the cadence, the laughter breaks, the expressions. I can truthfully say that nothing has made me laugh as much since. I properly laughed at her routines and songs, bent over, crying, in pain because I just couldn’t stop.
I even loved the bits I didn’t quite understand. For example, I had no idea why the idea of escaping from a room by knotting together sheets to make a moped was funny. But it was.
“I still have that old VHS tape even though I don’t have a video recorder any more. Because that tape, that moment in my life when I saw the most remarkable woman I’d ever seen is too important to be thrown away.”
I saw her at the Albert Hall when she performed for 15 nights and, for me, it was as exciting as seeing Elvis or Madonna. And as I grew up watching her it was clear that it wasn’t just comedy that she excelled at. Pat and Margaret was one of the most touching pieces of television I’ve seen, and with her companion Julie Walters she proved that she was a creative genius across so many genres.
She was my funny friend at a time when I needed one. I was lonely as a teenager, with few mates but I didn’t need them when I had Victoria on my side. More than that, as I saw her perform I knew, as that lonely 14-year-old, what it was that I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to stand in front of a microphone and make people laugh. Just like her.
For most of the 30 years since I saw that first TV show, any close relationship I’ve made is based on the answer to one simple question. “Do you know the Ballad of Barry and Freda?”
If the person in question doesn’t, then that tends to be the end of our dealings. In my opinion if you can’t shout “Beat me on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly” at the top of your voice then you haven’t lived.
Victoria’s writing became part of the public’s consciousness in a wonderful, understated way. I was in a tearoom on a small Scottish island not that long ago and the service was slow to say the least. One by one the courses were brought to us by a shuffling waitress and tipped slowly onto the table. The only customers were myself and my partner and one other table of hungry patrons.
As my order was placed in front of me after some considerable time I heard the woman at the other table very quietly say, “And another soup”. We silently high-fived each other and went on our way.
It was only when I became a standup myself that I truly appreciated how good Victoria Wood was. Her writing is so specific and detailed that every word counts. She wouldn’t go on stage and wing it; she knew exactly what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it. And by watching her she taught me a valuable lesson: that things could be funnier if you changed a word, or a descriptive term.
I was on stage last night previewing new material and when I mentioned Victoria’s name the audience spontaneously applauded. They were right to. She was special and irreplaceable. I still have that old VHS tape even though I don’t have a video recorder any more. Because that tape, that moment in my life when I saw the most remarkable woman I’d ever seen is too important to be thrown away.
I kind of met her once. She was at the Chortle awards and I, being a new comedian, hid in the corner too terrified to speak to her. One of my friends told her I was there and a big fan and someone took a picture of us. She was delightful given that there was a tiny sweating woman beside her.
Sadly I can’t find that picture now. I suppose I thought I had time to meet her again. I cried a bit yesterday when I realised that I wouldn’t.
Victoria Wood: friend, comedian, writer, legend. Without you I’d be nothing.
Sarah Millican once received a special message from Victoria Wood. She remembers it fondly here.4411 Views
Susan is a comedian and writer who sometimes appears on things like the News Quiz and QI.