I recently saw the feminist comedian Bridget Christie touring her current stand up show What Now? (shout outs to Lib, Rach, Caitlyn and Peter) and also read her memoir, A Book For Her. There is a lot of overlap between the two so I thought I’d write about them together as a double whammy.
Before anyone takes umbrage at calling Christie a ‘feminist comedian’, rather than just a comedian, it should be noted that this is not just what she styles herself as, but also the book specifically focuses on how she reinvented herself as one.
Prior to her shift to talking onstage about gender inequality, Christie used to ‘dress up as dead kings and insects and plagues and fire and things like that’, which all sounds rather appealing to me, despite the author suggesting that she had spent a decade ‘not really knowing exactly what I was writing about’ (check out her wonderfully silly A Ant routine, which actually tackles the issue of women in comedy, though veiled in ant-based jokes). So, full disclosure: I have seen Bridget Christie before at the Fringe festival, but none of the Charles II stuff, nor the insect stuff.
In retrospect, the 2012 Edinburgh show, War Donkey (which I was fortunate enough to see, in a sparsely populated room) feels like it was a crossover moment, albeit one I was unaware of at the time. It still featured the trademark dressing up (can you trademark dressing up? I don’t suppose you can, though you won’t catch any of the trendy ‘Russell’ stand ups doing it) but crucially it centred around a fart. This might seem innocuous enough and standard fare at the cheaper end of the Fringe comedy spectrum, but for Christie this was no ordinary fart. In fact it was so significant in her shift towards feminist comedy that she also devotes much of the sizable introduction to A Book For Her to this gaseous emission and the oaf who dealt it (Christie smelled it – she isn’t the offending oaf).
The following year saw A Bic For Her, a caustic and hilarious response to the infamous disaster that was a stationary manufacturer trying to market a pen for women. Fuelled by the infamous fart, the biro bollocks and a couple of key events from her life, Christie decided to tackle head on the issues and nonsense around the inequality that still pervades society, from adjectives used to describe women to the post-Weinstein #metoo movement.
In the book she takes great pains to remind the reader that it is classed as ‘humour’ rather than feminist theory, wary of the criticisms that could dog a comedian taking on serious subject matter, rather than her older material about Guy Fawkes and eating celery. It’s hard enough being a woman in stand up, let alone one vocally challenging the patriarchy. You don’t have to be a comic, or even a woman (second full disclosure: I’m neither), to see how under-represented they are in the media and then how shittily they get treated when they are allowed to share space with boisterous men.
“What I was getting at, before I got distracted by Guy Fawkes and celery, is that eating celery is not the point. I could eat celery for ages onstage as a historical man, but not as present day me. It’s not about celery. It’s about authority, and the occupation of space, which men are much better at doing than us, whether it’s space in a comedy club, a space on a train, or a space in space in a space rocket.”
Bridget Christie, A Book For Her p62
This is demonstrated live by her impressions of Russell Brand – an expert in taking up space – all flailing legs and verbose shouting. “Aw. He’s not the enemy though is he?” Bridget assures us, before adding, “He is though.”
In fact the book is rather like her current stand up, almost stream of conscious, veering from topic to topic and encompassing hilarious deviations. It functions as a sort of mixture between memoir, professional rationale, ideas-journal and self-exploration of the issues around what she considers to be her unique version of feminism (all feminists have their own form, that needn’t be restricted by labels and theory).
It feels confessional in a good way and developmental, as she documents finding her feet and her voice in a post-Fart landscape. This makes the book endearing to read as well as funny. The form of stand up it has lead to really works for her too (not, of course, that she needs my approval for it) and despite the honest hints of self-doubt that pepper the book she seems made for the comedy she has fashioned. I mean, that’s kind of a stupid thing for me to write. She has been doing this for eleven years, she tours relentlessly and obviously knows what she is doing. But it feels like she’s found a wonderful voice that is only gonna get better and the book is very open about that process.
The first half hour of What Now? seemed to be a mix of some familiar material (stuff in the book basically) and jokes that were being tried out – an intentionally disciplined test set or maybe just a warm up for the audience. The remainder was the new show – billed as a night of hope and despair – covering Brexit, Trump, nuclear apocalypse, environmental catastrophe and family life. All to be expected in 2018 I suppose. By her own admission it is her ‘Chris de Burgh show’, saying in an interview, “I’ve tried to write something that lots of people might enjoy.”
It does indeed have broad appeal in content but still packs punches when necessary. She hauls Theresa May over the coals for detaining women in horrific conditions in Yarl’s Wood, puts the boot into Thatcher and addresses aesthetic labia surgery. She does so whilst acknowledging that she’s a white, financially comfortable, able-bodied, heterosexual woman and a fully paid up member of the Metropolitan Liberal Elite (she lives in London! Can you imagine such a thing?).
“Attitudes towards female stand ups are much better now because there are loads more of us. People are used to seeing us now, like recycling bins. Remember when recycling was introduced? We didn’t trust it at all. Now we love recycling bins! We get the recycling bins to look after our kids, drive us home from the pub and lock up when we go to bed. Also there are loads of great female comics. I’m not going to name them because chances are I’ll miss someone out and then they’ll all miss me out of their lists. And I’m never in them anyway since I started doing well and they can’t all patronise me. Bitches.”
Bridget Christie, A Book For Her p58
The book is funny and easy to read and the show was great fun and easy to watch (other than having to hold in a wee for the extended second half, my bladder cannae hack it these days). Hopefully both book and show will not just cement her place as one of the best touring comics of our time, but also offer an entry point to young women who are, according to Christie in ABFH, put off by the word ‘feminism’. Both should appealing and accessible enough to young people, who will hopefully grow up into a world where Christie can afford to dress up as insects and the plague again for old time’s sake because we’ll be living in a fairer more equal society. And cos it’s a marvellously silly thing to do.
A Book For Her – Bridget Christie
Published by Arrow Books, 2015
“I’m not entirely sure about women wearing a “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt. Or men, for that matter. It’s overstating the case a bit, isn’t it? It’s like wearing a T-shirt with “I am not a racist” on it. It makes me suspicious. I assume that most people’s default setting is feminist, until they do or say something that makes me think otherwise. If I went bowling with a friend, for example, and they took their coat off to reveal an “I am not a racist” T-shirt underneath, I don’t think I’d feel relieved at all. On the contrary, it would make me very on edge. I’d spend the whole night worried I was bowling with an ironic racist.”
Bridget Christie, A Book For Her