How Bridget Christie made a joke out of feminism

Bridget Christie.
Bridget Christie.
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After a decade in relative obscurity, Bridget Christie tells Yvette Huddleston how she found fame through making feminism funny.

Few people have done more than Bridget Christie to explode the tired old stereotype that there’s no such thing as a funny feminist.Over the past few years the multi-awarding-winning stand-up has managed to make talking about feminism hilarious while at the same time communicating serious and urgent points about gender equality.

She has a nice line in self-deprecation even when she is being hard-hitting and her entertaining memoir A Book for Her is candid, thought-provoking and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Christie is currently on a UK tour which arrives in Leeds this week. Although linked to the book, the show is definitely a comedy performance, not a literary event.

“There are about five minutes in the show from the book in the second half and about the same in the first half, so it’s not a book reading,” she explains. “But what’s been really great is that, because I do a book signing after the show, I get to meet people. Normally after a show you just leave.” The show was originally written for Edinburgh last summer where it garnered rave reviews, but it nearly didn’t happen.

“I wrote the book quite fast last year between January and April and I didn’t think I would have time to write a new show,” she says. “And then I suddenly realised I was a comedian and people come to see me as a stand-up, so I wrote one.” There is no doubting her sincere passion about all the issues she covers in her routines, but her commitment, first and foremost, is to comedy.

“I always think it doesn’t matter what I’m talking about – if I don’t make it funny then I’m not doing my job properly,” she says. “Even if people don’t agree with what I’m saying, I hope I’ve made them laugh.”

It takes a great deal of tenacity to keep plugging away writing, performing and touring, waiting for that elusive “big break”, something which Christie knows all about. The book charts her decade of relative obscurity on the comedy circuit performing in various elaborate costumes and disguises including as Charles II, a donkey and an ant, until a sudden epiphany four years ago.

As she notes in her introduction: “You’ve inadvertently become a critically acclaimed and financially viable stand-up act by talking about feminism after 11 years doing stand-up about nothing at a personal monetary loss to massive public and critical indifference.”

The book commission came at a good time. “My editor heard my radio series that went out on Radio 4 in March 2013, but nothing had really happened to me at that point,” she says. “I was 42 then and I was thinking about how to go forward. They just gave me a book deal – I didn’t ask for it. I thought OK then, thinking I would have lots of time to write it. Then work just went mad.”

The radio series – Bridget Christie Minds the Gap – was a hit and another was commissioned, while her 2013 Edinburgh show A Bic for Her won numerous awards including the Foster’s Comedy Award (formerly known as the Perrier), later becoming the bestselling comedy show at the Soho Theatre that year. And she still had a book to write.

“I’ve got a couple of really good friends who are feminist writers and campaigners who are my heroes and I got into a bit of a state thinking about writing the book,” she says. “Then I thought, I have two choices – I can worry constantly what people are going to think about it or I can just get on and do it and I’ll have to deal with not everybody liking it. I wanted it to be funny and accessible – and also to give an insight in to how someone does their job and someone’s journey. I hope that new comedians will read it and be encouraged by it.

“I think it’s really important to have older women in a position that can be inspiring. Patti Smith, for example, is a huge inspiration to me. She is 69 years old and you see this powerful, amazing woman – I want to be a really great 69-year-old stand-up. There are lots of women coming through now in comedy and I hope that they carry on. There are all sorts of different reasons why women get to a certain level and then stop. It’s important to push through that sometimes.”

Apart from the stand-up shows, the book and regular appearances on radio and television – in 2014 she was nominated for a Radio Academy Award and a British Comedy Award for Best Female Television comic – Christie also recently had a stint as a guest columnist for the Guardian’s Saturday magazine, finishing just before she set out on her current tour. Characteristically, she downplays this, explaining that she was covering for another columnist’s maternity leave.

“The Guardian said they got so many letters when I stopped that they’d like me to do some more when I have time. Although I found it incredibly intimidating, it was really worth doing them.”

But stand-up is definitely her first love. “They are very different disciplines. Stand-up is so amazing and interesting. You have to kind of ‘unwrite’ a routine. You have to say what you want to say in a way that sounds natural and fluent – you can’t do that with a column. Stand-up has to sound like you are speaking to people, having a conversation – it’s much looser. I am always very conscious on stage of timing the space between laughs, making sure it doesn’t take too long to get to the joke.

“You are telling a story and building towards something – I really enjoy that. You will never crack stand-up – it’s like alchemy. I feel as though I’ve only just started, really; I’m only just working out how to do it. I feel I’ve got it all ahead of me – every new thing I write has to be better than the last.”

Bridget Christie is appearing at The Memorial Hall, Sheffield on April 13 and at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds on April 14. A Book For Her is published by Century Random House, £8.99.