‘I was even on the same side as Peter Stringfellow…’
Bridget Christie on the topsy-turvey world of modern politics
Written by Veronica Lee in Chortle on September 4th, 2018
Bridget Christie is, by her own admission, a worrier. Climate change, cyber espionage, Brexit, Trump, plastic/air pollution, nuclear threat, inequality, the world we’re leaving for our children, Doritos for women – they all cause her anxiety. But when we meet to discuss her latest show, the Gloucester-born comic certainly isn’t doom and gloom; she’s a cheery presence who laughs easily.
What Now? is a follow-up to 2016’s Because You Demanded It, the left-leaning, pro-EU comic’s heartfelt response to the referendum vote. The hiatus was deliberate: ‘I wanted to leave a bit of space between Trump being elected, the Brexit vote and 2017’s general election,’ she says.
‘Everything was moving too fast, things I’d write in the day already sounded out of date by the time I did them at gigs in the evening. I have found the news cycle exhausting.
‘Although I do mention them in parts, the new show isn’t all about Trump or Brexit because I think people have Brexit/Trump fatigue now. Because You Demanded It was a very emotional response to what had happened, whereas What Now? is a bit more reflective: OK so that’s happened, this is where we are now, what shall we do? It’s a much more light-hearted and personal show than previous ones, I think, and that is very much deliberate.’
So what is Bridget’s broad take on where we are? ‘I don’t think anyone – however they voted in the referendum or the general election – got what they wanted, and now it’s chaos. But for me there is a funny side to it all on a purely personal level; people I’ve always disagreed with, I now find myself empathising with, thinking what a reasonable person they are.
‘Michael Heseltine, a dyed-in-the-wool Tory who shoots squirrels and strangled his mother’s dog when it bit him, was on Newsnight talking about the long term economic and social implications of Brexit and he was so impassioned and eloquent about the whole thing I started crying. I thought to myself, what the hell is happening? I think I need a break. As a pro-EU feminist, it’s very discombobulating. I was even on the same side as Peter Stringfellow.’
I ask Bridget how she makes really serious subjects – including female genital mutilation, which she talked about in 2014’s An Ungrateful Woman – funny? ‘For something that serious, it’s important to know the subject well, to do your research, and what was most important to me, talk to survivors.
‘I wanted to find the absurdities in it and the flawed logic. Sometimes, though, I will want to talk about a subject but just can’t find the way in, and I have to leave it aside until I do. Or just not do it.
‘Writing comedy about serious subjects is like solving a puzzle. But it’s a privilege, too, to be able to talk about these things, to have a platform; you just have to remember that you don’t have to be right or to solve anything, you just need to make it funny, and knowing that frees you up.
‘With What Now?, I wanted to write something fairly mainstream, light and fun that lots of different types of people might enjoy; I’m calling it my Chris de Burgh show.
‘But seriously, I am worried about how politicians’ lies are now just something we accept, and if this continues, I don’t know where we go from there. I think journalists have a real responsibility now to call them out on them and not just move on to the next question. It’s toxic and dangerous and we can’t allow it to become normalised.’
But there’s cause to be optimistic, she says. ‘When I was touring Because You Demanded It, a lot of people came up to me afterwards and said they had voted Leave but enjoyed the show because I was articulating some things that they feel the same way about.
‘At the end of the day, lots of us are worried about the same things – the NHS, education, social care, housing, climate change – and sometimes its better to focus on the things we have in common rather than the things we don’t’
Speaking of optimism, Bridget’s series Utopia, about people who have found happiness in life, was on Radio 4 in February and she is currently developing some television projects, including a sitcom.
In 2015 she published her debut book, A Book for Her, and last year was the first female British stand-up to be given a Netflix special, which gained her a new following around the world.
But we won’t be losing her any time soon to the States, as Bridget doesn’t like being away for too long from home in north London, where she lives with her husband Stewart Lee and their two children, a boy aged ten and a girl aged six, whose innocent musings sometimes prompt her material. ‘They tell similar kinds of lies to Trump,’ she says. ‘The difference is, they are children and don’t have access to the nuclear codes…’
Notwithstanding What Now?’s lighthearted approach, Bridget’s fans have come to expect shows with a large political content, so I ask her if she would ever write a show about, say, fluffy cats?
She hoots: ‘I think my audience might be a bit shocked – but I love cats, I’ve got three, so I wouldn’t rule it out.’