Interview: Photographer Idil Sukan

Idil sukan

One of the most interesting gigs this year – OK, I know it's only February – was This Comedian at the Duchess Theatre last month. It was part of an ongoing multi-faceted documentary project by photographer Idil Sukan, who has a major retrospective exhibition opening soon. As you can clearly see by the pictures on these pages of the likes of Steve Coogan, Katherine Ryan, Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe, Sukan is brilliant at capturing the comic face. Beyond The Joke spoke to her about her work below. Sukan's exhibition, This Comedian, is at the Embassy Tea Gallery, Southwark, 19 February - 2 March. Free entry. Details here

 

BTJ: You've done some stand-up haven't you?

I’ve been acting my whole life. Pinter came to see me in a show when I was 17. I played the lead in One for The Road at school (St Pauls) and he sent me a lovely letter. But I’d always done design and post-production, so I’ve always done both. I ended up doing poster design and edited my school newspaper.

At Edinburgh University I started doing stand-up at the Red Raw night at The Stand, for fun really. I grew up with comedy. Mum loved the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, Chaplin and Bob Hope and Woody Allen. I’d watched all of them on VHS by the time I was ten - way too young!

My friends started doing improv and recommended it so I started doing it with the Improverts and I ended up producing and doing poster designs for them. Then I came and did it in London. This was about ten years ago. The Penny Dreadfuls came out of The Improverts with me producing. We never thought it would be a money-spinning industry, we were all doing it for fun.

I was going out with someone who was also doing stand-up and he got me into it but then he turned out to be the worst person in the world and that sort of stopped it, the joy went out of performing for a while.

BTJ: So you are not a frustretd comedian?

Frustrated comedian? I never stopped, I still continue to do improv but still doing everything else. The thing is I don't thin I could have ever done this job without being a performer. You are creating and improvising constantly. You mustn’t be afraid of mistakes, there’s no rigidness to it, not trying to censor yourself, that’s what stand-up teaches you. My shoots are based on improvised performances. Photography is like therapy. It is so exposing and involves so much trust. Any artifice gets ripped away. I think I’m very efficient at doing that and maybe it’s because I have performed. I know all the barriers that people put up.

It’s like stand-up where you boil down a joke until it hits so hard. That's what you do with a photograph too. When I’m not that busy I still do improv. I did some in New York then did some in Edinburgh a couple of years ago. I go to poetry bars, like the Poetry Cafe. I did three or four gigs there last year singing very stupid songs in between the deadly serious poetry. But now I’ve taken a break to do this exhibition. 

If you are a comedian you aren’t a frustrated anything because you just keep doing it. If you are frustrated then you must be wanting something else. If a comedian says they are frustrated they are probably frustrated that they are not a famous comedian. 

Read more and see more pictures here.

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