What Now? review: freewheeling gags and first-rate grumbling ★★★★
Written by Tristram Fane Saunders in The Telegraph on September 22nd, 2018
Bridget Christie has won a devoted following with her laser-focused shows about topical issues, forcefully setting the world to rights on everything from sexism (in 2013’s award-winning A Bic for Her) to Brexit.
By contrast, What Now? finds her baffled, easily distracted and a bit all over the place. And that’s precisely what makes it such fun. Worn down by political upheavals and petty concerns alike, at 47 the Gloucester-born stand-up has reached the stage “where even bath bombs don’t cheer me up any more”.
Cue some first-rate, self-aware grumbling from a “white, able-bodied, heterosexual rich woman” whose anger at inequality can be instantly derailed by her annoyance at, say, having an Aperol spritz knocked over by a peacock at an upmarket festival.
Earlier versions of this show drew heavily on jokes from her popular Radio 4 series Utopia, but in its latest incarnation What Now? feels fresh and freewheeling, evolving to keep up with recent events; there’s material on Putin’s response to the Salisbury poisoning, and even on Theresa May’s Salzburg speech.
There are plenty of passing shots at politicians – Trump, Corbyn, and David Davis all get a kicking – but the political satire can feel easy and over-familiar. The funniest moments are often the most trivial, and fortunately it’s these that dominate the show.
A boring quarrel with her husband about a frozen chicken is re-enacted with such pin-prick accuracy that it moves past mere rib-tickling into something of weird, cathartic power. In its slowly drawn-out hilarity, it felt a little like a Stewart Lee routine – which, in a sense, it is: the pair have been married since 2006, and a section on trying to keep the romance alive provides another highlight.
It’s when Christie ties the personal and the political together that sparks fly. The best example is a #MeToo-tinged meeting with an openly sexist TV executive. With boggle-eyed mock glee, she tells us how delighted she was to meet someone who had seen through her “feminist act”. It was a chance to relax, finally stop pretending to care, and enjoy a good natter about how awful women are. Watching it, anyone who has ever quoted that old chestnut about sarcasm being the lowest form of wit will find themselves proved definitively wrong.
What makes that routine work so well is the way Christie throws her full body into the performance. She’s a gifted physical comic, and her octopus-limbed impression of Russell Brand offers another gloriously over-the-top living cartoon. (Adding the cherry to the cake, she pretends to chide the audience for not appreciating its subtlety: “Don’t you know who Russell Brand is? This is brilliant!”)
Christie is one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary comedy; this might not be her slickest or most groundbreaking show, but it’s still a genuine pleasure.