Suchandrika Chakrabarti is a comedian and writer who began her stand-up career in 2020 after working as a journalist for the likes of the Guardian and the Daily Mirror. She currently writer for BBC Radio 4 and for Have I Got News for You. She debuted at the Fringe with ‘I Miss Amy Winehouse’ in 2022 and returns for 2024 with ‘Doomscrolling’. We spoke to Suchandrika about the show, her marriage of the topical and the silly, and her comedy heroes. 

Can you tell us about ‘Doomscrolling’?

‘Doomscrolling’ is about the speed of the news and how it’s affecting us. I worked in newsrooms as a journalist and media trainer from 2006 to 2018. My first job in the industry involved putting The Guardian newspaper online in the evenings, because as a media organisation, they weren’t yet digital-first(!). Mobile phones and the internet have utterly transformed our lives in a short space of time. So I decided  to use my experience as someone who’s been on the inside of the news-making machine to try and figure out our chronically-online times, and what the hell is going on, because [please insert bin-fire emoji].

The premise is explaining our perennially online world to your five-year-old niece. How did you settle on that approach, and how has it affected the show’s direction?

A lot of Millennials are going to be child-free aunts or uncles, but we don’t really see that relationship talked about much in entertainment or media. I love spending time with my niece – all I want to do is make her laugh. Of course, she has a lot of serious questions too – some really deep ones, like where was she before she was born? Umm… haven’t quite figured that one out yet… I definitely feel a responsibility to answer her as best I can, while keeping in mind that this is a person who’s also scared of the dark, and of any dog larger than sausage. Like Maggie Smith in her beautiful poem, ‘Good Bones’, I’m talking to a beloved child, trying to emphasise the joy in the world, and to minimise the bad stuff – exactly the opposite of how the news and doomscrolling works.

Turns out, looking back on our times from the future is also a very helpful framework for satire. I can’t help but imagine an older  version of my niece finding out about Liz Truss, then asking me: ‘What the hell was going on in the 2020s?! Great question, love! So she’s the reason we celebrate National Lettuce Day… I’d been playing around with characters and wigs and masks and so on, and wanted to put that into the show, but how to justify it? So I started to form this idea of trying to explain the news to my niece through these silly little characters.

For anyone who might be new to you, could you describe your approach to comedy?

I like the joke to always be on me wherever possible. Low status is the best status! I love to be silly and to improvise and to try characters. News and politics often feature. Things inevitably get a bit surreal. I can’t help always having some kind of narrative in there, it helps me remember the beats I need to hit.

‘Doomscrolling’ is a ridiculous show, filled with headlines about orcas, dating apps, and Elmo from Sesame Street, but it’s also very much about politics, the climate crisis and the question of how much responsibility we carry for the state of the world that we’re leaving to future generations. The audience can engage with the heavy stuff if they want, but while they’re watching me swim around the yurt to Enya.

Who are your comedy heroes, and how have they influenced you?

My parents (mum: more storytelling, dad: more dad jokes and political / topical, both: plenty of anti-Tory zingers); everyone involved in the ‘Going for an English’ sketch on Goodness Gracious Me because it’s just such a perfect inversion; the Smack The Pony cast and writers, because they were covering areas of women’s experience that other comedy shows didn’t and couldn’t back then; French and Saunders for similar reasons, and for teaching me the value of a good parody; Bill Bailey makes me want to try musical comedy (don’t worry, I won’t); and, of course, the people behind The Day Today and Brass Eye, for ripping the news to shreds and exposing its tropes.

You’ve been performing as a stand-up for a relatively short space of time, since 2020. How have you developed and grown as a comedian in that time?

I’m not the kind of performer I thought I would be! I’ve really enjoyed moving into character and improvised comedy. Hosting my own monthly mixed-bill night in north London, Good News / Bad News, has given me – and the acts – a sandbox to play around in.

As a result, last month I had a dream come true: the performance of a semi-improvised interactive kind-of murder-mystery show called Liz Truss’s The Traitors. Liz (Nerine Skinner, a brilliant Liz Truss parodist, watch out for her debut show) hires Claudia Winkleman (me) and The Traitors format, to figure out once and for all who tanked the economy. I’d had this idea in my head for a while, met Nerine at Good News / Bad News and improvised with her, then basically forced her to make the show with me. It was a complete joy and so much fun – but I couldn’t have imagined producing and directing such a show back in 2020, let alone playing the mighty Claudia. Collaboration has taught me so much, and cheap wigs have humbled me.

I’ve also been lucky enough to write for Radio 4 and BBC One’s Have I Got News For You, a show my entire family would watch together on Friday nights during my childhood. Getting to be in a writers’ room with much more accomplished and quicker-witted people has upped my game no end.

You performed at the Fringe in 2022 with ‘I Miss Amy Winehouse’. What for you are the best and worst things about the Fringe?

The best thing was the lovely, kind and thoughtful audience feedback after the performances. The second-best thing was the 20 hours of stage time, which meant I could play with the show and let it shift and change and assume its final form. It’s a show about grief and how to soothe it; I understood myself better after performing it all month.

The worst thing was the earliness of my slot: 12:15pm, which is really 9am in Fringe terms. That time is right on the cusp of the shift over from kids’ shows to more general ones, and so it was tough finding anyone other than families to flyer at 11am – but that show, with its themes of grief and loss, wasn’t really one for the kids. On the other hand, ‘Doomscrolling’ has been attracting parents with young teenagers, so I’ve set the recommended age to 12+,  as long as they can cope with a little bit of swearing.

Beside ‘Doomscrolling?’ can we expect to see you performing elsewhere during August?

I’m at ACMS on 14th August, ‘Filthy Funny Females‘ on 18th & 22nd, ‘A Political Breakfast‘ on 19th & 21st… undoubtedly I’ll get over-excited and jump on loads more!

Are there any other acts at the Fringe that you would recommend audiences see?

Oh so many! Posey Mehta with ‘Mitzi Fitz and her Glitzy Bitz’ late-night cabaret of course, plus Kate Cheka with ‘A Messiah Comes’ (12:25pm at the Wee Yurt, Hootenannies @ Potterrow, no link as yet). In fact, take a punt on the Hoots yurts at Potterrow Underpass at any time of day, there’s a great line-up that I can’t wait to see, and not just because I’m part of it. Non-yurt acts I’ll allow include Mike Kunze’s ‘Infinity Mirror’, Nerine Skinner’s ‘The Exorcism of Liz Truss’, Will Sebag-Montefiore’s ‘Will of The People’ and Ben Goldsmith’s ‘CrimeLandTown’.

Doomscrolling‘ is at Hoots @ Potterow – Big Yurt from Thu 15 Aug to Sun 25 Aug 2024