Award-winning comic speaks to Marissa Burgess about feminism, how a chaotic childhood shaped her style, and the art of turning serious issues into side-splitting stand up.
Bridget Christie has been performing brilliantly absurdist yet highly incisive shows for years.
Some people had already noticed, but then at one Edinburgh Fringe the press decided to make a big deal of feminism in comedy – as if it was a new thing.
But it was good news for Christie, as she had a blinder of a show that year. ‘A Bic For Her’ stemmed from an epiphany she experienced after a man farted in the women’s section of a bookshop. The result was that she won the 2013 Edinburgh Comedy Award and was able to reach a wider audience.
So popular was it that she returned with a follow up, ‘An Ungrateful Woman’, the year after.
However, those comedy seeds were sown way before her first stand up gig. In her childhood home, being the youngest of nine children, it was a form of survival.
“I had to bring something to the table or I’d have spent my entire childhood being robbed, tortured or even worse, ignored.
“All other means of survival had already been taken by my siblings who’d bagged general violence, espionage, blackmail, hypnotism, the dark arts, torture, kidnap, the black market and chemical warfare as currency.
“I’d pretend to be a tree for three hours without moving or changing my facial expression, or do a Houdini using a skipping rope and a potato sack. Years later, when I started doing stand-up, I soon realised how hard it was to write good material, and that if I could distract an audience by doing something that baffled or surprised them, it would buy me an extra few seconds.”
The early shows she penned included impersonations of the plague and dressing up as foppish English kings. It was gloriously off the wall and hilarious stuff.
But the feminism was in there all that time too. In 2010 she performed an entire show dressed as an ant who was angry at being stereotyped – a surrealist metaphor for women, in case you hadn’t guessed already.
In her current live shows she’s showcasing her first book, A Book For Her. Though she’s penned many shows over the years, a 300 page book is a notoriously unwieldy beast.
“I struggled for a long time trying to figure out what the book was. I didn’t know what it was, or who I was in it, or even what a book was.
“Once I’d cracked that (that my character in the book was an idiot and that it was about how to write stand up about feminism), I managed to knock it out quite quickly. Lots of the material already existed, so it was just a question of framing it all.
“It’s virtually impossible to say anything new about feminism as Wollstonecraft and De Beauvoir said it all first, and then loads of other brilliant women said variations on what they said later on, but hardly any of them talked about stand-up, so I thought it might add something different.”
In among the absurdities and the gags, Christie has managed to weave in some surprisingly weighty topics.
One of the biggest issues affecting women of certain cultures is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Christie manages to produce comedy on the topic without taking away from the serious nature of it.
Was she worried how the material would go down?
“The only people whose opinions I cared about were FGM survivors and campaigners. I worked very closely with Leyla Hussein, an FGM survivor, activist and psychotherapist. Leyla also ran the material past her mother and other survivors who all gave it the go ahead and so there was very little for me to be concerned about.
“But yes, I was initially apprehensive about saying the actual words on stage. Put it this way: I wouldn’t open a circuit gig with it.”
Back in the UK it seems ridiculous that despite the women’s movement we’ve still not achieved full equality.
“Wollstonecraft said, in 1792, ‘In order for change to happen, society needs to change the way it thinks’ – and that’s why we don’t yet have full equality.
“We all have to want it to change, not just some of us. But it won’t be quick. If you think about sexism as being 200,000 years old, it’s quite optimistic to think it could be eradicated in a couple of hundred years.
“I am optimistic, but it’s a gargantuan task for the whole of society to fix, not just some women. Men are crucial in this.”
So other than continuing the cause, what’s next for Christie?
“I’ve got to write a new Edinburgh show, record my stand up special and write a script for Channel Four.
“The new show may include jokes on death, the afterlife, the environment, tax, legacies, narcissism, sex, class, Liverpool and Columbo.”
Sounds like another Christie hit.
Bridget Christie is on tour now. For more information, dates and tickets, visit her official website
[Main image by Idil Sukan]