For many comedians, the Edinburgh festival is the pinnacle of the year – a 30-day marathon of gigs in cramped, dark venues in which to test their comic mettle in front of audiences from all over the world. Material is written, scrapped, rewritten and rehearsed months in advance.
But this year, on 24 June, a Brexit-shaped problem presented itself to comedians. Performers from Al Murray and Mark Steel to Bridget Christie and Simon Evans all had material that presumed the UK’s future in the EU was safe, or ignored the referendum altogether. And so, with just a month to go until the festival, they had to start from scratch.
Christie scrapped all her material and penned a new Brexit-themed Edinburgh set in the past week. “I’m later with this set than ever before but I couldn’t not change it,” she said. “After the referendum everything seemed irrelevant and different and like the whole world had changed. I looked at what I was doing in my show and realised it just didn’t seem that interesting to me any more.”
Christie’s previous sets have never shied away from addressing politically and socially fractious issues, and she said it would just be “odd not to talk about Brexit”. However, she said that with feelings still running raw around the referendum result, and the short amount of time she had to write and learn the new material, it was “obviously a risk”.
When she tried out some of the material on audiences over the past week, its reception was not seamless. “More so than other issues, you run the risk of really splitting audiences on this,” she said. “I thought feminism was divisive but this? Well … ”
Christie’s show will now be based around the premise that she wants to talk about anything other than Brexit – be that gardening or vibrators – but that she keeps getting distracted as she remembers the result.
The outspoken comedian has a lot she wants to say on the subject, and admitted some of it might raise the hackles of her audience. “I totally reject this notion, which is coming from a lot of people on the left, that we mustn’t criticise leave voters,” said Christie. “Everybody has to admit that there were a lot of people who voted leave for not noble and legitimate reasons. Just look at the 500% increase in race hate crimes after Brexit.”
She continued: “And people saying that the middle classes and the educated elite are demonising the working classes as racists. Well, I’m working class and I don’t accept that at all. Racists are being demonised; it doesn’t matter what their socio-economic background is. We have to talk about it – in the media and in comedy.”