Interview: Bridget Christie on success and becoming an unlikely feminist icon
2013 Edinburgh Comedy Award winner takes A Bic for Her on UK tour
Seven months after she debuted A Bic for Her at the Edinburgh Fringe, Bridget Christie’s passionate, anti-misogyny polemic has been universally hailed, recently winning a South Bank Award to add to the Edinburgh Comedy prize she scooped in August, while becoming the fastest-selling comedy show ever at London’s Soho Theatre. ‘It’s just happened so fast,’ she marvels. ‘To go from nothing at all for a long, long, long time, to having to turn really good things down because I’m so busy is actually quite annoying!’
Indeed, when Christie previewed the show in Glasgow last July, it was in front of approximately 20 people. And there was a do-or-die aspect to it, borne from her suspicion that an hour of feminist comedy, destined to be performed at 11am at the Fringe, was career hara-kiri. Critically appreciated, if not always lauded, the comic and actress had forsaken the esoteric character comedy with which she’d established her reputation and had even considered taking time off from stand-up to spend more time with her young children.
She recalls her ‘depressing’ previous tour of the allegorical show War Donkey, ‘in a rugby club in Hull or an ex-strip club maybe, and I was in my donkey costume, talking about cosmetic surgery. I was where the strippers used to strip, with the male toilets next to the stage. And this really drunk man walked across it with his willy out, ready to go to the toilet. And I just thought, “I’m in a donkey costume, talking about labia minora reduction surgery and there’s a man walking right in front of me”. It seemed absolutely insane. The harsh realities of touring on your own make you look at what you’re doing and re-evaluate.’
Despite those misgivings, War Donkey nevertheless tapped into a wider bubbling groundswell of resistance to everyday sexism and the pornification of culture, securing her the Radio 4 series Bridget Christie Minds the Gap and a book deal. Those broadcasts attracted scores of grateful emails from teenage girls and by the time she began writing A Bic for Her (which took its name from the cheap pen manufacturers specifically marketing a product at women), she’d honed a more focused comic voice.
‘My job is always to make it funny first,’ she says carefully. ‘I’m not making any real, practical change to women’s lives and I’m not lobbying government.’ Without any affectation or irony, she adds: ‘I know my place.’ During the show, she also waggishly declares that she isn’t performing these routines ‘so that twats change their minds. But a lot of people have told me afterwards that “I never really thought about it like this: I know that I’m a feminist now”.’
Sport broadcasters’ casual misogyny, the prominent display of naked female flesh on newsagent shelves, ‘this stuff is all true, it’s happening now’ she affirms. ‘I’ve come quite late to the party. I’ve always held these beliefs but I didn’t have the information and awareness to express it like I have now. Once you’re alerted to it, you see it everywhere.’
Happily, at least one chauvinist recipient of her withering scorn, ex-racing driver Stirling Moss, has responded to her success with a ‘lovely email saying he’d read the reviews, was “pleased for me and delighted to have been included in the show in such an amusing and clever way”.’ Semi-guiltily, she reflects that ‘I really should write and thank him: “I’m glad you don’t mind me saying that you should be killed!”‘
Proof of A Bic for Her’s ongoing relevance is its capacity to incorporate such seismic new events such as Russell Brand backing the No More Page 3 campaign. Meanwhile, the publication of memoirs by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for advocating women’s rights to education, has also inspired fresh material in the hour. Christie must finish her own tome, A Book for Her, and the second series of Minds the Gap by June, whereupon she’ll engage in earnest on her latest Fringe offering. ‘I love stand-up and I’d be doing a show anyway, but I also want to get the inevitable backlash out of the way as soon as possible and re-set to zero.’
Live comedy is where her ambitions now largely reside, despite growing entreaties from television commissioners. She will, though, be back for a second series of The Alternative Comedy Experience on Comedy Central this spring, shot at the Edinburgh Stand and curated by her husband Stewart Lee. And with his own Comedy Vehicle soon returning to BBC Two, they anticipate prioritising her career over his.
‘With his tour finished, he’ll take over more with the kids and I’ll try to knock everything out as quickly as possible. We try to swap as much as we can but it doesn’t always work out. Nobody expected me to do alright this year. So everything’s gone really tits up!’
Bridget Christie: A Bic for Her, The Stand, Glasgow, 24 Mar.