Bridget Christie faced a tough crowd the night before we meet. She was, she admits, in a bad mood prior to going on stage. “I shouldn’t have checked the news before I went on,” she explains. “I need to be playful.”
Interviews and reviews always tell you that Christie is a feminist comedian. Less frequently mentioned is the way she carved out a space in comedy by being one of conviction, too. When devising material for her electric, hour-long stand-up show, her skits won’t be padded out with easy wins. Not a minute is wasted as she sneaks in thought-provoking, sombre points by adding something light straight after.
The premise of her new show, Because You Demanded It, was, in its first incarnation, her disbelief over how Brexit came to be. Now it has been adjusted to add in her disbelief over how Donald Trump came to be thrust upon America. What will have been added in disbelief by the final date of her tour in June?
“Where do I go from here?” she wonders. “I think there is room in the show for me to take stuff out. It’s really important to keep the bits about the facts and truth because that’s becoming even more worrying now with fake news and the Trump administration and alternative facts, and the way it is creating mistrust.
“That’s how you break society down – not necessarily by changing laws and having an autocratic [society] with no freedom of expression; you just create suspicion amongst people and this feeling that everybody is lying, so nobody is telling the truth. And that is really sinister, because then society turns on itself. We do their job for them.”
The overarching subject, Brexit and her take-down of those who engineered it, remains firmly in place. This isn’t just stand-up, it’s a reminder. “I wanted people to not forget who did what and why.”
Christie believes those who did vote to stay are now muzzled, lacking a voice to represent them. “There are 65 million people in this country and 17 million voted to leave – I don’t consider that a majority,” she points out, before adding that she doesn’t think there should have been a referendum in the first place. “And if there was [a need for one], they should have taken much longer about it. They should have made it really clear what it actually meant.”
The British media and politicians were irresponsible in their handling of the referendum, she argues. The public were never given a clear picture of what was at stake.
“I cannot think of a single, single positive reason for [leaving]. Not a single one. I understand why people might have voted to leave because of what they think the EU represents. But if you told people how much worse off they are going to be – that there isn’t all this money for the NHS, in fact the NHS is going to be much worse off; that it is going to cost us £60bn a year or something; that we have got no trade negotiators in this country; that it is going to take years and years; that it makes Europe weaker against Putin and whoever; environmental reasons, workers’ rights, everything… disability rights.
“This country was filthy in the 1970s. There was human shit on beaches and in our rivers. People forget. Our rivers were polluted. It was disgusting.” She sits back, suddenly deflated. “Migration – it’s not the problem. But look at history – it’s the oldest trick in the book. And we’ve fallen for it again.”
Her take on America is similarly grim. She is deeply perturbed by the picture of Theresa May holding hands with Donald Trump.
“I didn’t think we would be in such a terrible position as we are now, having to hold hands with an absolute maniac in the hope he throws us some crumbs. I don’t think America really cares about us. We’re not in the powerful position in the relationship at all – Trump holds all of the cards. Even if we do get a good deal – which I don’t think that we will, because Trump’s a businessman, he’s not interested – what is that going to be? It’s going to be an absolute fraction. And how much is it costing?”
Her frustration bubbles over. “I hate it here – I hate our representatives, I hate what we look like at the moment. We look like an absolute bunch of lunatics, not one thing or the other, and I don’t want to be part of it.”
Political upheaval has left feminism in a different place in 2017. Christie felt encouraged by the Women’s March in London last month and corresponding marches around the world – a seismic shift in activism that she hopes is an indication of resistance in the future.
“I felt sad and sort of depressed, but also really optimistic because feminism… it’s been a long, long journey and there have been ups and downs. Over the last 100 years there have been amazing protests all around the world and in all different countries over particular issues – single-issue campaigns. But this one felt so universal and so easy to understand. There would have been people who would never ever have thought that they would go on a women’s march before.
“And actually, the good thing about Trump and Brexit is that – maybe in the same way that Trump supporters and Leave voters wanted to kind of mess up the status quo a bit – maybe that would be good for the Left as well. Maybe we became a little bit complacent.”
Christie was born into an Irish Catholic family in Gloucester, the youngest of nine children. She left school at 15. Her career before comedy included brief forays into local journalism and an unsuccessful stint as a milkmaid.
In her memoir A Book for Her, she explains how she went from obscure comedian, stuck in the “bowels of stand-up comedy” for 12 years, to award-winning and lauded. The breakthrough came after she swapped surreal stints, dressing up as an ant and donkey on stage, for material that hit straight to the heart of feminism.
It remains surprising to her that people wanted to listen. Indeed it seems like she is still trying to explain her success to herself. “Well I am,” she laughs. “I’m 45 now and something kept me going, didn’t it? I don’t know what it was… It is pretty random though.”
Her audience, she believes, is made up of people who have sought her out because of something she has said – not people who decide on a whim to see her for a night of entertainment. “Because I’m not on television and I’m not famous, I’m not passively consumed by people. They’ve made a decision to see me; they must have read something about me, or it’s been word of mouth, so they know what they’re coming to see.
“In fact, once I turned up in Wales on tour, and this poor old usher – he was so confused. He was about 60. I think it was in Aberystwyth or some mining town… and I got there and he went, ‘Ahhh, the entertainment has arrived!’ And I just thought, ‘Ohhh, mate – let’s give you 10 minutes’.” Christie was performing one of her “really militant feminist” shows at the time. Did he find her entertaining in the end? “He did actually, yeah.”
Christie eschews social media and has no interest in having to explain her work. “At the end of the day I am a comedian, so I will talk about things in different ways. I might be ironic, I might be over the top, absurd. I might be ludicrous. I might look like I’m being flippant. I will employ all of these tricks and devices to try and make a thing that I’m talking about funny. I won’t succeed all the time – it’s not possible to.”
She is now writing a sitcom inspired by Brexit Britain. The plot follows a middle-aged woman, stuck in a rut for years, who has decided to return to her home town in Gloucester until she can figure out which direction her life should take. “It’s basically me if I didn’t get a very unexpected break at the age of 42.”
Then there is her forthcoming project for BBC Radio 4, Bridget Christie’s Utopia, where she meets four people who believe they have found utopia – whether that be by refusing to read the news or by living a completely sustainable life.
The notion of hitting reset – of going back to the drawing board, –underlies both projects. “It’s the next step on from the show. The whole series is, ‘I don’t feel happy with my country, with what’s happening. Whose utopia do I take on in order for me to be happy?’”
She hopes people will engage with the concept – if for no other reason than to reassure herself that she isn’t alone in suddenly feeling so alienated.
“I’m sure I can’t be on my own with this,” she says, more to herself than to me. “I can’t be.”