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Circuit Training 114: The Exasperation of Bridget Christie

Bridget Christie

Edinburgh, August 2016, and after pretty much every comedian at Latitude Festival went big on the recent Brexit referendum, hardly anyone at the Fringe did; which seemed odd. But those Fringe shows were locked down long before that shock vote, and it's tough to rip it up and start again. One comic who felt compelled though, and to brilliant effect, was Bridget Christie.

Two years on, and the Gloucester-born comic is in big bold letters at the top of the talent-packed 2018 Latitude comedy line-up, so that unorthodox career non-plan is still going well. And she's still equally as infuriated by the Brexit business.

We met in what's becoming a regular haunt for Circuit Training, the café next door to New Broadcasting House, as Bridget was off to do Steve Wright in the Afternoon afterwards. It being radio, that chat probably involved a lot less staring out of the window, shaking of heads and general sighing about the absolute bloody state of everything.

Still, life goes on, and Bridget is doing her bit to right the world's considerable wrongs by popping up across the UK with the show What Now? which channels that exasperation in a more constructive manner. But right now, we're heading back to her 2011 hour, and a memorable ending that caused some issues.

The first show I saw of yours was Housewife Surrealist, where you came on dressed as a bishop, and had a big finale.

Yeah, I liked that ending, little Jesus going up. It was very hard to tour that show because it was hard to explain how that bit worked to the techies. He was on a fishing rod - I reeled It up from the side of the stage.

How did you come up with that, exactly?

I wanted to recreate the ascension, because there's a routine with me saying to my dad 'what, he really went up?' I do like the story of it, but obviously you can't physically go up. There's something nice, magical and fun about telling children that things exist, because they'll work it out very quickly for themselves. I like this idea of believing - I'm much more likely to believe something than not.

I met a scientist once who was so, so clever, knew all about the brain and about everything - but he still liked the idea that there were things that he didn't know, and there might be possibilities. That makes life quite fun.

Bridget Christie

I remember it feeling quite refreshingly novel, hearing a comedian talk like that...

I did write that at a time when it would be very taboo to say on stage that you believed in something. I think it still is, I can't think of many stand-up shows about it. Frank Skinner's a catholic but I don't think he's really gone into it quite deeply.

I suppose most comics wouldn't want to...

...expose themselves. No. I don't why that's more taboo than anything else.

A couple of years on, after the referendum, you were one of the very rare Fringe performers that completely changed your material.

I felt that I just had to write a new show. I was anxious about redoing the whole thing, you can prevaricate and procrastinate about things for months and years, and I've been known to do that, but sometimes you get something and just build a thing out of it.

Did it all just flow out then?

Pretty much - there were loads of things that were making me quite cross.

A lot of very left-wing people are pro-Brexit too - what about your audience?

It's a bit mixed. But this was easier - not as divisive - as the feminism show. The Brexit show, there were people who'd been seeing me for a couple of years, and they'd come up and say 'I voted leave, but can I get a photo...?'

Your tour schedule is an interesting mix of Work in Progress and full shows - presumably you keep adding topical bits?

The world changes - since I've been doing this, Russia has happened, this whole Corbyn thing has been going on for a long time, but the essence of what the show is will continue to evolve. It's a long tour, quite spread out, deliberately. The kids don't like me being away too long, and I don't either.

Bridget Christie. Copyright: Colin Hutton / Hutton Images

Was your first tour tough, in that respect?

The first four or five were incredibly hard, and lonely, difficult. The first tour was the religious one - I was in Belfast airport and I got stopped. They said 'you can't be on a flight with fishing wire'.

It wasn't to do with little Jesus?

Well, I had to explain why there was a little Jesus on the end of the weapon. If I was a religious fanatic, why would I not have a tiny Jesus on a fishing rod? I was taken to a room and had to tell her 'I recreate the ascension of Christ' - I didn't do it for her, no. She let me off.

You were obviously angry about Brexit, but at a slight remove I suppose.

Well, who I am on stage is a slightly out of control, heightened version of my actual self, but I do genuinely feel like that about things. But I've got to the point now where I can't even talk about it. I find it profoundly, really quite deeply upsetting. It's not just the politics and economics of it, it's symbolically what it means that really upset me. I don't want to not be with lovely Europe!

It's been dragging on so long now, a lot of people are clearly exhausted by the whole subject.

It's called information fatigue syndrome, we're getting too much stuff and our brains can't cope with it.

At least you don't have all the Twitter stuff too - you're not really on there?

No, I've had conversations over the years with agents, 'would it be better for me, would more people come to my shows?' I'm doing pretty well, but if they said 'you'd triple your numbers if you were on Twitter...' But it doesn't work like that, I know comics who have got massive followings, and nobody comes.

You had a fairly unorthodox route to success - how do you find the business side? The meetings, the pitching...

I'm very selective.

Do you keep an eye on your Netflix special's stats?

They don't send you them. It's not really my department. Netflix won't tell anyone anything.

It must have been one of the first UK stand-up specials on there...

It was, yeah, I haven't properly capitalised on it, I know it's done quite well in India, and there was talk of going to America, but I'm not really interested, just at the moment. The kids are little. I'd love to get established here first.

Bridget Christie Minds The Gap. Bridget Christie

For Fringe-goers you're synonymous with 11am shows at The Stand, so you're in a special club: Christmas mornings, airports...

Airports, right. places where you can drink in the morning.

Ah! Yeah, people did drink in the show, pints in the morning. I didn't go last year, and the only thing I miss is the deadline for having the show ready, having that month to really hone it before the tour.

How would you describe this current show, to, say, an elderly relative who doesn't know comedy?

I think it's about trying to have a balance, and switch off, and someone who thinks they don't really know what's going on, and that they're at a point in their own life - I'm 46 now - like, what am I doing? What's the country doing? Am I having a midlife crisis while the country is?

Are you?

I don't think I'm going to have one. I'm anxious, but because of everything else.

Getting famous relatively late must help with that.

Yeah, if I wasn't working I might feel a bit more confused about what I'm doing. I never wanted to be famous, but in my 20s I did want to be an actress, it just never worked out. I wouldn't say I'm ambitious. I like to do good work, but I think that's slightly different. I don't want to be well known.

Were you influenced by other comics, early on?

There was stuff that I loved but there wasn't someone on the circuit who I was really copying or emulating. I just did what I wanted. I had no plan, no idea at all really. I didn't realise how hard finding your voice is. I didn't even know what that was.

Bridget Christie. Copyright: Richard Hardcastle

Did you always want to talk about serious stuff too?

I don't think I would've had the maturity to do it earlier. If I'd not done really stupid things that had gone badly for years, I don't think I'd have had the confidence. You see, I don't mind it going badly.

It's certainly a unique comedy career - that show about FGM clearly wasn't you trying to get on Live At The Apollo.

No, but people did say that I did that to be famous - of all the things! That's not what you'd talk about if you wanted to be famous; it's probably what you do if you don't want to be famous. But that's what I wanted to talk about. You have to do what's right for you, because you know something, you can really feel when you're not being truthful.

That's what the new show's about actually - what's caused most of the problems in the world at the moment? Lies. If we're heading into a second cold war, most of the problems have been caused by lies. In real life, what causes the most upset is people lying to us. So it's really about being more honest, about who we are as well. When I feel that I've been dishonest to myself, that's when I feel worst.

The FGM thing, anything that I've done, if I thought 'this'd be really good for your career,' I've not done it. I've probably sabotaged my career about 90 times in the last [few years]. But is it sabotaging it, in the long run?

It's having a more lasting impact - you did a bit about everyone suddenly ignoring scientists, which stuck with me.

That's the Brexit show - the devaluing of truth. And the normalising of lying, which we can't allow, for it to be normalised. There's no shame attached to lying anymore, it's used as a tool and a weapon, it's very clever what Trump and Putin are doing. People don't care anymore.

It's true: Trump gets in while so many famous women are speaking out. So how do you feel about all these actresses jumping on your feminist bandwagon?

Ha! In terms of comedy, there were a few of us talking about it right back in 2011, Kate Smurthwaite, Josie Long, Danielle Ward, me, and it was not popular at all. It was really embarrassing for people. But now if I do a circuit gig it's become quite a popular topic.

But a lot of us have stooped going on things, panels, because of the stress and annoyance of having to say the same things over and over again. Even the Today programme, absolutely inane questions, and Newsnight, I mean Jesus Christ. That 'The Trouble with Men' special...

I always wondered whether #EverydaySexism had much impact outside of our liberal social media bubbles, but #MeToo is on a different level.

What changed, between #EverydaySexism and #MeToo, now lots of men thought that they were going to be named and exposed, that was the difference. They shouldn't have to be scared into realising that their behaviour is inhumane.

Bridget Christie

It shows how much needed to be revealed though.

And how much there is still to do. How old is #MeToo? You've already got Piers Morgan saying 'alright, that's enough now, do we really need to talk about this?'

What do you do to switch off from all this awfulness then, when you're at home?

Work! But my favourite thing for a long time is Detectorists, I absolutely love it, I think it's absolutely flawless. It's the best thing.

Do you get more downtime when you're on tour, or are you working then too?

I've got a few projects on the go at the moment, which I need to get on with; two TV things that I need to sort out, I'm really excited about those, touch wood. So I've normally got something to write, whether it's a column or a radio thing, a treatment, script. This is why I don't understand how people are on social media - I'm so behind with everything all the time.

You've worked for newspapers a fair bit: I've just been reading about the Telegraph's 35% gender pay gap...

Oh my god, 35%! I wonder if I get the same as my male equivalent.

Who would that be?

I don't know. Who's a male who's doing... there isn't one, is there? That's interesting.

Published: Wednesday 11th April 2018

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