Whether it’s feminism or Brexit, Bridget Christie has never been afraid of using comedy to address big issues, as Yvette Huddleston found out.
Since the last time we spoke, in March 2016, Bridget Christie – one of the most intelligent, talented and incisive stand-ups on the circuit – has, deservedly, garnered another clutch of awards to add to her already glowing CV. And the world has changed many times over.
There has been the EU referendum, and resultant divisive debate, the election of President Trump, sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood and beyond, the #Me Too and Time’s Up movements, the apparent emergence of a new Cold War, the worrying rise of populist and far-right politicians, the list goes on. For a political comedian it is a bit of a gift – there is plenty of potential material – but it doesn’t mean that, personally, Christie is happy about it all. Last year she toured with her Brexit show, Because You Demanded It, and she admits that she found it difficult.
“It was a show I felt compelled to write,” she says. “In a way I didn’t want to talk about it because it was too upsetting, but it felt really wrong to be on stage and not talk about it. It was my instant reaction to the referendum result and my feeling of befuddlement. It was a very sort of instinctive and raw show – I was genuinely upset and worried. Even my friends and family who voted Leave seemed a bit surprised by the result but I remember the morning after the vote and hearing that David Cameron had resigned and I cried. I hated him but I wasn’t happy that he was going – even though the whole thing was his fault. I remember going to take the kids to school and that a lot of the teachers were delighted with the result. That was all quite hard.” Because You Demanded It won Best Show at the comedy industry Chortle Awards, was The Guardian’s Number 1 comedy of that year and was named the top-rated comedy show of the Edinburgh Fringe by The List.
When she finished touring that show in the middle of last year, Christie says that she stopped to take a breath and reflect on what was happening in the world. Out of that reflection came her new show What Now? which comes to the West Yorkshire Playhouse next week. “It was a natural follow on from the Brexit show,” she says. “What are we going to do now? And how, when all this stuff is taking up your every thinking moment, do we carry on? The show is a lot about truth and lies. It is becoming unclear what is real and what isn’t – I find that terrifying. I think that is something we have got to try and rescue. What is the truth and how is it being manipulated? How people will be on record as saying something and then they just deny saying it – I find that incredibly frustrating. It is about trying to live a more honest life, because if you don’t…” She trails off, mentions the Salisbury poisoning and Putin’s posturing which seem to be setting us off along the path to a potentially disastrous Cold War-style stand-off. “Basically, the show is about almost losing your grip,” she says, pauses and then adds, laughing: “But there are a lot of jokes in it too.”
That, she says, is the most important part of her work. “My job is to only be funny. I am not trying to influence anybody or try to get a message across; I’m only trying to be funny. What I am talking about is sort of irrelevant.”
She is doing herself a bit of a disservice here – what she says in her shows is always very insightful and well-observed and she is not afraid to share her honest opinion on things; you might run the risk of upsetting some people, but that is what fearless political stand-up is all about. “Of course I want to talk about what I’m interested in,” she says. “But you can’t just stand on a stage and say stuff, because that is not a routine. I have to put it into a different context or pretend to be a different person, find a different way in. You have to become the director of your own material – the worst thing for me is if someone says ‘ok, I agree with what you’ve just said, but it’s not funny’. Sometimes a routine comes to you quickly and other times, it is very hard.”
When she gets stuck on something she will often run it past someone whose opinion she trusts. “I’ll have a coffee with my friend Nish Kumar or my tour manager and they will tell me honestly what they think.” The process of honing a routine until it is just right is one of the most enjoyable bits of her work, she says, and embracing failure is a necessary part of that. “It’s about trying things out, getting it wrong, then trying it another way,” she says. “And I think it’s always important to be quite self-aware – you can’t look like you have it all worked out on stage. It has to seem natural and conversational.” She says that she has tried to write something that most people will enjoy and has included more domestic references that she would normally. Although, she points out, all of it is very generic and non-specific – she is not in the business of mining her personal life. “Everything is made up but people seem to be responding quite well to the parenting bits and relationship bits. If you are talking about politics, it is nice to break it up with things most people can relate to.”
Touring with a political show, especially with the current fast-moving news cycle, means that what you start out with is often quite different a few weeks down the line. “You tweak as you go along,” says Christie. “You might find over the months that some things start to feel a bit dated. All shows get better as time goes on because the more you do it, the better it gets. By the time the show gets to London in September it won’t be the same. The basics won’t change but some routines might be cut out completely or they might get longer.”
Her onstage persona is warm and engaging, but can also be deliberately provocative. She admits that “it’s not always obvious if I’m being ironic or doing a character.” There have been misunderstandings in the past, she says, citing a routine about feminism in which she, ironically, listed things that people hate about feminism. “There were people in the audience cheering and I was thinking ‘no, that is not what I meant’.”
Generally her audiences are made up of people who think along the same lines as her. “You are not going to come to one of my shows by accident. I have no online or TV profile so generally people have not come to the wrong thing.” Perhaps not surprisingly, her last show divided opinion. “Loads of people didn’t agree with me on the Brexit show; it is an anti-Brexit show,” she says. “The only way you can appeal to everybody is if you don’t talk about politics, but I think people have come to expect me to address those issues.” And long may she continue to do so.
Bridget Christie’s show What Now? is Sheffield Crucible June 5 and Hebden Bridge Arts Festival, June 27.