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Talking Politics And Humour With Comedian Bridget Christie

Photographed by Idil Sukan
A veteran of the stand-up comedy circuit for over a decade, it’s in the last few years that Bridget Christie has truly made a name for herself as more than just a “funny woman”. She is now internationally recognised as a “clever woman”, “a woman who has written a book” and “an opinionated and actually quite well-informed woman”, while still being a “funny woman” at the same time.
And “If you’re still unsure about what a woman is,” writes Bridget, “a woman is often contextualised in social situations to make it easier for you to understand the point of her.”

For those who haven't yet heard of Bridget, some more info: a comedian, author and left-wing commentator, she is on telly sometimes, being witty on programmes such as Have I Got News For You. She has a sort of on/off Guardian column, which is excellent, and in which she exposes the logic of the Tory government as deranged. She has also written a book, called A Book For Her, mostly aimed at girls, which Jon Ronson called “a kind of genius” and Caitlin Moran described as “a cool, clear glass of sane in a world of unbearable woo-hoo.” And finally, she is still doing stand-up, all across Britain.

So that’s what Bridget does. And if you don’t know her work we urge you to go and find it: on YouTube, in your local branch of Waterstones, or in the newspaper. Here, she speaks to Refinery29 in quite a self-deprecating manner about how she got where she is in her career today, why left-wing comedy is better than right-wing comedy, and what she would have the world do differently.

Hi Bridget, so I remember from one of your stand-up gigs that you said you went to drama school – did you always know that you wanted to go into stand-up comedy or was it acting you were into?

It was always comedy – from about the age of four really. I thought I would be a comedy actress. I do love doing serious drama and plays but I was always cast in the comedy parts in am-dram things, and then in drama school things. Even if they weren’t comedy parts I would accidentally do them in a funny way. So I think I always gravitated towards humour. It was a big thing in our house. If you could make people laugh you'd be more likely to be listened to. I was fighting with eight brothers and sisters so I needed people to know that I existed.

With nine of you I guess everyone needed to have their 'thing', like the seven dwarves...
Yes exactly.

Did going to a strict Catholic school have any bearing on your need to see the lighter side of things? I went to a strict all girls' Catholic school and, well, laughter was all we had.
[Laughs] No... it wasn't too bad. Just a regular school. Boys and girls. But I do get that humour is how a lot of people deal with things. It can make appalling things much less frightening. Me and my dad talk about really dark things to do with health and death quite often, and we have such a good laugh about it. Although it’s not everyone’s way.

The chapter in my book about FGM is another example, I ran that past [the co-founder of anti-FGM organisation Daughters of Eve] Leyla Hussein ... and her mother... and they said that sometimes it’s good to laugh at ideologies and violations of human rights, precisely because they are so awful. You can talk about it in a depressing way.... but I want to talk about these things and I'm a comedian so I sort of have to be funny.

I suppose people are more likely to listen to you if you're being humorous and, well, not too evangelical. I think that's something you really achieved in your Guardian column.
Oh thanks. I've finished that now, thank god. They asked me to do 18 columns and I thought, 'I don’t have 18 thoughts in my head.’ It’s quite stressful doing them. They wanted me to be topical but you have to write them a week ahead, so by the time Saturday came around it would feel old. I found them quite hard, to be honest. But lots of people read the columns and came to the shows, so it was worth it.

You've been doing stand-up for over a decade. How would you say your live performance has changed over time?
I have been doing stand-up since 2003 but I feel like I only started in 2013. I used to do ridiculous things that no one came to and that I wasn’t being paid to do, but in 2013 I decided to ditch the costumes and only have a microphone and talk about things I’m actually interested in and it went surprisingly well, so I’ve had to carry on working which is a shame. That decision was an age thing for me as well, I’m 44 now... at 40 I thought, 'What am I doing? Is it worth me going out and getting a babysitter to do this stuff where I’m pretending to be other things? Why don’t I try to be a financially viable act?'

It’s funny actually... I think what I’m doing now is more mainstream than what I used to do, even thought it's very much about feminism, and feminism is still quite an alienating, polarising thing to talk about in comedy clubs.
On that topic, I know that you don’t want to only speak to people with the exact same political views as you, because what good would that do? But those people are, of course, more likely to come to the show. How do you get around that?
Well I’m not only preaching to the converted because there’s this guy at the Telegraph and another one at the Mail and another one at the Times who give me good reviews and then people who are not so lefty read them and come see me and then they’ve got this lefty character on stage and they don’t like it and that’s good, I think.

I would like to think people are coming to see Bridget Christie the comedian rather than that woman who has the same opinions as me, because your stuff should appeal to everybody whether they agree or not. I could find a right-wing character funny even if I didn’t agree with what they were saying, I would still laugh at their jokes if they were funny. But right-wing comics don’t tend to be that good. They state things in a one dimensional way, and say they’re standing up for the common man, but actually they’re just being unimaginative bigots. People say left-wing people are dominating stand-up and if they are it's cause they’re just good: Mark Thomas is really funny, Mark Spiel is really funny, and she’s not a stand-up but Caitlin Moran is really funny. It’s not just about what you’re saying, it’s how you’re saying it.
I like that you make jokes in the show about how you don’t have a very diverse audience, like, you tackle that head on.
It might not be true but I’d like to think all sorts of people come to my shows, then when I look out I see loads of white, middle class, lefty liberals. And what's interesting is that I can talk about all these horrendous things people are experiencing in the world, but when I say the word 'black', people are horrified. We’re so nervous about saying it. You ask a white person what colour their bag is and they’ll go, 'Oh gosh, umm, a type of dark navy?' It’s ridiculous. Thank God for political correctness, and obviously we never want to go back to the 1970s or 80s in that respect, but white journalists and comics should talk about stuff like gender and race without worrying they’re pitching it wrong, or otherwise they’re not engaging a diverse audience.
Do you see your comedy as activism in a way? It’s very politically engaging...
I think anything is activism. We have an idea that activism is marching and campaigns and signing things, but you can be an activist by calling someone out who has said something. In that sense, I suppose my comedy is activism, but anything is really. We all make choices every day – the things we do or don't buy, the places we go to – everyone’s an activist on some level, it doesn’t have to be public.

And finally, you've written your first book, A Book For Her. How did you find writing it? As someone who is used to doing live performances, which are obviously quite ephemeral, was it nice to put things down in writing?
Yes! But I should have given myself more time. The book was commissioned before anything big had really happened for me, then I got a bit of a profile, then I had lots of online abuse, and I got distracted. I sort of paralysed myself. I didn’t know who it was for, and I was worried about living up to my peers, and the feminist writers who changed my life, especially because I'm not an academic and I haven’t studied theory.

It was only once I cracked what the book was - 'How does a comedian write about something like feminism?' - that I was liberated, because that’s what I know. It’s just somebody’s story about how they worked feminism into their own life and their professional life. Once I understood that it was okay.

Writing or stand-up then?
Stand-up. That’s my love. I wouldn’t consider myself an author or anything.

To book tickets for Bridget's tour: A Book For Her is out now in paperback.