An Ungrateful Woman
An Ungrateful Woman ★★★★★
Written by Steve Bennett in Chortle on August 9th, 2014
At the risk of propagating the inherently misogynist language that sustains the patriarchal hegemony, Bridget Christie’s follow-up to last year’s prizewinning show is a ballsy effort.
Emboldened with the mandate her Foster’s victory gave her, she has taken her campaigning feminist comedy into seemingly impossible territory in making female genital mutilation, or FGM, funny.
Unlikely as it seems, she achieves it – and with even more confidence, flair, insight and wit than last year’s A Bic For Her. She circles around the horrors of the issue with jokes about how it can’t be joked about, but also addresses it head-on, before expertly puncturing her own earnestness, just before the audience really start to feel uncomfortable. It’s a nimble, virtuoso display of how to meld important, hard-hitting opinion with brilliantly funny observations, draped in astute sarcasm.
Her show also encompasses wider issues of everyday sexism, building on the foundations she laid down before. The skill is in not making the subject seem ‘worthy’, though it undoubtedly is, but highlighting the sheer preposterousness of the situation. The ensuing jokes by no measure ‘write themselves’ – it’s clear this hour has been expertly, painstakingly crafted – but the inherent stupidity of misogyny both blatant and covert gives her a head start.
She deploys irony by the barrel, but in a way that should shame anyone who’s ever cracked an ‘ironically’ laddish gag. She mocks herself as some sort of extremist for even raising these issues, claiming to hate feminists and thinking that the subject would turn out to be such an unpopular career choice that she’d finally be able to give up comedy and be financially supported by her husband. How wrong she proved to be, lending a grudging air to her opinionated diatribes, softening them. But it turns out feminism is an issue quite a lot of people care about.
That husband, not named in the show, is, of course, Stewart Lee – and Christie has some fun with the cognoscenti in painting her ‘fictional on-stage’ partner as a reactionary, racist oaf. But this is merely a side issue to Christie’s main beefs about the portrayal of women in adverts – only ever wanton or vacuous. The framing device for a whole chunk of what might seem her more difficult material is an audition she attended for a Muller yoghurt commercial, which she considers, in forensically meticulous deconstruction, would amount to giving fodder to rape apologists.
The complex, but lightly-applied, structure swirls around an H&M billboard contorting Giselle Bundchen into a deeply uncomfortable pose, which is described with vivid surrealism; the medieval-sounding ‘anti-rape pants’ that put all the onus on women not to get themselves raped, silly girls; and how her forthcoming appearance on ITV’s Celebrity Squares with Warwick Davis is helping to advance the feminist cause.
It’s astonishing how much she’s packed into the hour, both in terms of sneaking serious content under the radar, and in the number of brilliantly funny ideas surrounding it. This is a taut, layered, inspired and witty show, given weight by being a crucially important one, but never in danger of collapsing under its gravity.