Twelve years ago Susie McCabe was rewiring shops. Today she’s more interested in rewiring the way people think. “It’s about challenging the status quo,” says the Glasgow comedian, who’ll bring her new show, Merchant of Menace, to her hometown’s comedy festival next month.

“I’ve done that my whole life but now I’m finding myself in a world with people I would never normally associate with, be around, or be in situations with. Someone last year called me ‘unashamedly working class, unashamedly gay with a broad Scottish accent’ in a review. I didn’t realise I had to be ‘ashamed’ of these things. I’ve never read a review of anyone saying they were unashamedly Hertfordshire or Home Counties. So I started delving into it, and that’s why I came up with the name the Merchant of Menace.”

The Shakespearean reference extends beyond a good pun. Like in The Bard’s Venetian tragi-comedy, there are scores to settle here. If McCabe wants her pound of flesh, she wants it from latent domestic misogyny, from those who implemented and fought to retain Section 28, and folk who struggle with the modernisation of pronouns. “What do you mean you can’t say ‘they/them’?” she fumes in imagined confrontation with an invisible adversary. “These aren’t new words. We’re not asking you to learn a new language.”

McCabe got married for the second time last year and talks of the work done by her forebears on the Scottish gay scene as paving the way for her generation. “I think it’s really important to try to be a voice, to try to make it better for the people who come after you, because people made it better for me. The reason we can have debates about pronouns is because we have equality. You don’t just stop, you keep going,” she says. 

“I know a lot of people who are just gay but not LGBT – they’re just sleeping with someone of the same gender and they don’t do anything about the community. That’s their choice. I’ve been out since I was 17. I was put out the house by my parents. They’re Roman Catholic and had a certain view on the world. I’m not looking to change their views, I’m just looking for acceptance. I got that, to a degree. I think you can go through your whole life looking for that acceptance, and once you accept that it’s never coming in some cases, you do better things than waste your time trying to get acceptance from people who aren’t willing to understand.

“Eventually, you just get on with your life. If people accept it they accept it, and if they don’t, they don’t. It’s wonderful if they do, but you can’t change the hearts and minds of people who don’t want their hearts and minds changed. So you just live your life with a bit more openness and inclusion.

We’re living through culture wars and issues around gender identity and all this stuff. It’s a separate thing for me, it’s a different generation, a different part of the community. But for my generation to have equality and acknowledgment of being wife and wife and husband and husband, that’s very important, especially for someone who grew up and worked on the gay scene during Section 28.”

McCabe’s rise has been sure and steady since she was first persuaded to give stand up comedy a go in the now-lost Glasgow institution The Admiral bar in 2013. In the autumn of 2023 she ascended to the pinnacle of the UK comedy mainstream with a slot on Live At The Apollo and a turn on Have I Got News For You. I ask if she could still rewire a house.

“I couldn’t go back to crawling about lofts and under floorboards,” she says. “My knees and my back are done. I did more commercial stuff than houses. Houses are a nightmare to rewire and people are a nightmare. ‘You don’t want me to chisel the wall? How else do you want me to do it?’”

Success in her second career, after 15 years on site, has sparked her imposter syndrome.
She says: “I’ve got a story about going to boarding school to play a gig in their theatre. A boarding school with an actual theatre in it. It’s not an assembly hall with the canteen at the back and lines of the floor for badminton. It’s a 1,600-seater theatre, with statues and oil paintings of alumni. 
“It’s worlds apart when you find yourself in these places, after scrapping your whole life to get a little bit of it. But your class syndrome tells you that you shouldn’t be there mixing with these people.”

She jokes her class syndrome even left her feeling anxious about the gifts she and wife Nicola, a dog walker, received last year. The gift vouchers were for fancy places for a start. Being a gay godparent to friends’ children is, she laughs, like being a modern accessory. “It’s like being a PS5. It’s all about inclusion and diversity, which is great, but if you make me a godparent then I’ll be taking the kid down to the Polo Lounge for karaoke before I’ll go and listen to a man who believes in the stories in a spooky book.”

For the uninitiated, as if you couldn’t tell, Susie McCabe’s comedy carries a heavy flavour of the socio-political. When she connects with me over Zoom it’s from A Hotel Room in an English city after another gig in another town. “With the exception of maybe a few like Bristol, Brighton or London, they’re beginning to look the same,” she says, lamenting a homogenisation she’s relieved not to sense as strongly, yet perhaps, in Scotland. The city she’ll return to next month is her home.

The Glasgow International Comedy Festival’s profile has grown as McCabe’s has.

“It has really helped me develop as a writer,” she says. 

“You write a good show one year, you try to write a better one the next and then you develop as a writer and start to write about subjects you wouldn’t have written about before.”