Today is Charles II’s 380th birthday and as he is one of my favourite English kings, I thought I would mark this auspicious occasion with a couple of very special blog posts.
First up is a Very Special Interview With The Comedienne Bridget Christie, while later on the Very Interesting Tale of Mademoiselle Hortense Mancini, one of his most flamboyant but less well known mistresses.
Hope you all enjoy today’s offerings!
I must admit that I have felt really nervous about writing this post as I am a rubbish interviewer (which you are about to discover) but as I was starting to get a bit fed up with the sound of my own voice, I thought that I really ought to bite the bullet and just get on with it. After all, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Well, quite, but we won’t dwell on that.
My choice of victim for this interview may seem a bit left field but bear with me, I wanted to do something a bit different to mark the birthday of Charles II, who is one of the only two English Kings that I can really get enthusiastic about (the other is Henry V but you will have to wait until his birthday to find out why) and as I am not very funny, I thought it might be a better idea to ask an actual comedian to write something for my blog. Haha, I know, I’m such a cheat. Maybe I should hire a comedian to write the whole thing.
This wasn’t my only motivation though – the thing is that my husband is a huge fan of stand up comedy which seems to involve making me watch DVDs of comedians, all of whom are male and I’m terribly sorry but this irks me a bit. I mean, there’s clearly no shortage of female comedians, many of whom are great, but why don’t they get the same attention as the men? After all, pretty much every man on the planet thinks that he is funny, you only have to go down to the local pub to realise that but it is very rare indeed not to meet a woman who can’t make you laugh.
You see, there is no way that we women could get through the hideous trials of female life such as playing hockey in the rain in tiny skirts, the sales at Harvey Nichols, smear tests (I chatted about Paris in the Spring throughout my last one), childbirth and termagant mothers in law without at least some semblance of a sense of humour. I dread to think what life with small children would be like without it – it certainly carried me through the hideous realisation over dinner recently that with each passing day, our youngest son looks more and more like Boris Johnson (‘No child of mine is going to look like Boris Johnson,’ my husband remarked. ‘Maybe he isn’t your son after all…’ I replied).
Anyway, bearing all of this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to approach a comedienne (I love that word, it’s so French and dramatic sounding) to let me annoy them a bit. The fact that this particular comedienne (it’s just so lovely to type out – you should all try it), Bridget Christie is also an enthusiast about Charles II was even better. In fact she has even presented two shows about him at Edinburgh and elsewhere in which she dresses up as Charles, various denizens of his court and even the Plague.
Now, since having children I Don’t Get Out Much (if you are now imagining the sort of life that would lead Virginia Woolf to weep embittered tears over her typewriter and take long walks along riverbanks, you’d be sort of right) so I managed to miss the two Charles II shows but I have watched some videoed segments and really loved them – in particular Samuel Pepys’ thoughts on blogging. I’m not really a fan of the slick, polished school of modern standup that embraces Michael McIntyre and, latterly, Bill Bailey – I much prefer the shambolic, set wobbling but ultimately endearingly quirky quality of Christie’s work and her wry but extremely engaging comedic style. Basically, she’s like the super cool History teacher that you wish you’d had at sixth form.
Bridget Christie has a new show ‘A Ant’ at the moment – which apparently involves ‘cat-litter, priests, rude mothers and ghosts’ as well as a support turn by ‘the first ever and so far the finest Ant comedian on the circuit – A Ant (Winner Nivea Funny Ant Competition 1993)’. It sounds unmissable so I think you should all go and see it – she and A Ant will be at The Stand, Edinburgh from the 6th to the 29th August (but not the 16th), with shows at 4.15pm and there are shows in London and Brighton this Summer too.
Anyway, enough of my rambling, let’s get on with this.
Me: First of all, I was wondering what attracted you to Charles II, besides the resemblance. He certainly lived in interesting times didn’t he and his own personality seems to have been a complex one, although it’s hard not to love a man who adored his dogs so much.
BC: It was him, really, his character, his story, and the period. He never had a proper childhood, I felt, what with seeing his dad executed and all. But he never lost his sense of humour or positive outlook on life. I based the show around him because I thought I looked like him, then I used the character of him to introduce other notables of the time. A funny thing happened recently though. History magazine had a photograph of him on their front cover and one of my friends said he looked exactly like my dad – which totally freaked me out! I’d never made the connection before, but he really does look exactly like my dad. Only my dad’s got a quiff, not a full wig. They even have the same moustache. I don’t know what to think about that. Let’s move on.
Me: Were you ever daunted by the prospect of basing a comedy act around a period in history? We are always being told that interest in history is waning so did you find people were perplexed by what was unfolding before them or did they actually get it? Was it sometimes like that really annoying thing that some people do when watching a French film, when they laugh overly loudly at any jokes just so that everyone around them can be clear that they understood what was said?
BC: I wasn’t daunted by basing something in the past at all. I love history and actually, I never gave a moments thought to how it would be received, which is probably why I’m not as commercially successful as I’d hope to be after six years in comedy. When you write a solo Edinburgh show, it should be about something, because an hour is a long time for people to listen to you and if you’re not passionate or interested in what you’re talking about, they won’t be either. In terms of TV and radio, that is a different thing altogether. In my little experience of the commissioning process, channels seem reluctant to commission anything that might be deemed historical, and will only develop one historical project at a time.
But historical could mean anything couldn’t it? Yesterday is now history isn’t it? Anyway, Blackadder was a huge hit and that was set in the past. If they’re so against having anything from the past on, why do they keep repeating everything? Comedy commissioning is unfathomable to me. It’s irrelevant where its set, or in what period. Surely, it’s in the writing and the performances. I tried not to write too many “in-jokes” in my Charles II shows because I thought that would alienate about 98% of my audience, who had just come to see an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show. I tried to make the references much broader. Once, though, a Charles II expert came to see it, sat in the front row and kept tutting all the way through. I don’t know what she was expecting.
The poster had my head superimposed on to the body of a King Charles Spaniel. Anyway, the premise of the show was that Charles II had come to the future to have a look around and comment on the modern world, which he thought was a bit rubbish.
Me: What other historical figures would you consider basing an act around? Charles’ cousin, Louis XIV was said to bear a very close resemblance to him so maybe he would be a good subject? I always get the impression that he was quite humourless though – probably due to all that ridiculous fawning that went on around him. Or do you think that next time you would go something that doesn’t involve a huge wig?
BC: I think I might be done with historical figures just for the moment. My latest character is an ant who does observational stand up material about being an ant. I’m trying to be more commercial. I wonder if TV and radio comedy commissioners will turn this down on account of there being another ant stand up in development?
Me: Frances de la Tour is one of my favourite actresses – it’s my ambition to be just like her when I grow up. It must have been amazing for your Lady Teazle (Bridget played Lady Teazel in a 2009 Fringe production of Sheridan’s A School for Scandal) to be compared to her!
BC: Yes, I think Frances De La Tour is brilliant, much much much better than I will ever be. It’s a nice quote to have.
Me: I also read that you are working on a sitcom about the Mitford Sisters – that must be incredibly exciting! I don’t think the British passion for the Mitfords will ever die down so a series about them is bound to be a huge hit. Are you able to talk about it at all?
BC: Well, I’ve handed it in to the BBC. They will get back to us at some point. I’d love to do it. The Mitfords were incredible.
Me: Anyway, back to Charles II – I can never decide if I feel sorry for his wife or not: on one hand she had to put up with his mistresses, his terrifyingly French mother, his weird moods and having people like Rochester hanging about the place while on the other she seems to have sincerely loved him, while he was very fond of her plus she got to wear much nicer dresses once she came to England. Which side do you fall on?
BC: I felt sorry for her. It was an arranged marriage though, so what can you do? I think he got the better deal, and could’ve been more discreet.
Me: Speaking of his mistresses, if you had to play Shag, Marry, Push Off A Cliff with Barbara Castlemaine, Nell Gwynne and Louise de Keroualle, how would it go?
BC: Push Barbara off a cliff. I think she was vile. Marry Nell Gwynne. Shag Louise de Keroualle. You?
Me: I would marry Nell, shag Barbara and probably push Louise off a cliff as she seems to have been a bit simpering!
Finally you must get so bored with being asked this, but if you could live in any period of history, which one would you pick? I always pick Revolutionary Paris or Marie Antoinette’s Versailles, much to the horror of anyone who studied Modern History at A Level.
BC: Erm. Could I be very, very rich during the Restoration please?
I have to say that I can’t imagine anything on the planet that I would rather watch than a sitcom about the Mitford sisters and really, really hope that the BBC pick it up. Interest in the Mitford family has never waned and it would be great to have something with a historical bent that isn’t Austen or, God help us all, Cranford being made.
Anyway, thank you so much to the lovely Bridget Christie for agreeing to do this! I felt so nervous about writing this as having a comedian on board for a post could go in either one of two ways – either it would drag my standards up and make me funnier OR it would show up just how unfunny and boring I actually am. Let’s not talk about that.
Good luck Bridget (and A Ant) with the upcoming shows!