Bridget Christie - at war for the donkeys and ants
By Kernan Andrews
EVER NOTICED how men who are comedians will just be called comedians, but women who are comics will almost always be referred to as ‘female comedians’, as if their gender requires them to be labelled as a separate and distinct category?
It has often caused Bridget to ponder and is something which has influenced two of her shows, 2010’s A Ant and this year’s War Donkey, and Bridget is bringing the latter show to Galway this month as part of the Bulmer’s Galway Comedy Festival.
Bridget Christie was born in Gloucester in the southwest of England to Irish parents who, as she told The Guardian, “moved to England independently, only to find each other”.
“Dad’s from Boyle and Mum is from Manorhamilton so they weren’t that far away from each other, but they ended up meeting in London and had nine children,” Bridget tells me during our Tuesday afternoon interview, and she is passionate about being Irish and a Gloucesterite.
“I consider myself massively Irish. You don’t want to be a ‘plastic’ or anything but it’s very much part of who I am,” she says. “I sometimes wish my parents hadn’t come over here but stayed in Ireland, but then they would never have met, so they never would have had me, so that’s a bit self-defeating isn’t it?”
Yet her parents’ origins and current location have, in reality, given Bridget the best of best worlds in terms of her identity. “I feel very alive around Irish people and I feel the same about people from Gloucester,” she says. “I feel confident when playing to Irish people and Gloucester people. I am all these things so I am lucky.”
Bridget will make her Galway debut when she presents the acclaimed War Donkey at this month’s Bulmer’s Galway Comedy Festival. Described as a “masterpiece” by GQ, the magazine ranked it number five in its list of the 10 essential shows from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. For her part, the Gloucester-Irish comic is “ridiculously happy” to be playing the city.
War Donkey is the latest in a series of critically lauded shows from Bridget, such as Housewife Surrealist (2010), A Ant (2010), My Daily Mail Hell (2009), and the two-part The Court of King Charles (2007/2008), which combine social commentary, outrageous costumes, zany humour, and a good dose of surrealism. Indeed The Guardian called her an “avant garde comedian of prodigious talent.”
Donkeys, ants, and ‘female comics’
Noting the limitations and expectations placed on women comics, Bridget points out how “the fact that we’re women is always mentioned in reviews and as comedians we’re expected to do something about gender or with being a woman”.
Keen to avoid falling into this category, Bridget consciously kept away from subjects of gender, male/female relationships, and ‘women’s issues’ in her stage shows, but in 2010 she began to feel these categories, so often taken for granted, needed to be questioned and satirised, hence A Ant.
Resplendent in an ant costume, Bridget satirised how ‘ant comedians’ (ie, women) are treated as novelty acts on the circuit, expected only to joke about ‘ant’ issues. Yet despite the fact that over the last number of years some of the best comedians to emerge from Britain have been female - Sarah Millican, Zoe Ward, Shazia Mirza, Bridget herself, etc, the old stereotype of ‘ant comedy for ants’ remains.
“It’s still the same, it hasn’t changed in three years since that show,” Bridget says. “I had avoided gender issues before and after A Ant but I thought it was important to raise them again.”
However War Donkey is not A Ant pt 2. It is a much wider look issues of gender, sexism, and “where women stand in society”. The genesis for the show, perhaps even the final straw, was a series of incidents which all happened to Bridget one particular day.
“It was so weird,” she says. “It was the thirteenth of April. I read a review of myself that shocked me. I can take critical reviews but this one was written in the most offensive and crude sexist language. I couldn’t believe the language that was used. This was just weird, but it made me ask, is it really OK to say these kind of things if you are trying to be funny or ironic? It also got me thinking on how women are written about.”
Later that same day, Bridget happened upon an episode of The Only Way Is Essex where two young women were getting Botox before heading out that night to a pub quiz.
“I didn’t realise some young women were getting that done in order to go to quiz nights!” she says. “I began thinking about how we are made feel about our bodies and the hypersexualised nature of our culture. You have to ask, are heading in the right direction, and a lot of this is part of the PC backlash. Looking around I didn’t see many people addressing these issues, at least not in comedy.”
The challenge in topical/social-commentary comedy is to get your point across and remain funny and entertaining and not let it become, in Bridget’s words, a “boring lecture”.
“I feel sense of responsibility not to mess it up when I’m talking about something important,” she says. “You’re trying to change the perspective that feminists aren’t dungaree wearing Cromwellian misery-guts, but you have to make people laugh.”
And it’s something she has succeeded in. “Yes, this is an hour about feminism, but it’s an entertaining, often very funny hour, appreciated by the males in the audience as much as the females,” said Spoonfed.co.uk, while TheArtsDesk.com declared: “It’s a brave comic who takes on such weighty matters, but Christie speaks passionately and hilariously about them. What could be a lecturing or hectoring is neither, but funny and insightful.”
“I will have my donkey costume and something will drop down from the back of the stage but there’ll be no smoke machine,” she says. “It’ll be mainly stand-up with some silly stuff.”
One last thing, in the comedy festival brochure’s section on Bridget, it says Bridget knows how “Hitler chose soups in restaurants”. Enlighten us please?
“I’m obsessed by the Mitford Sisters,” she declares. “I was reading letters by Unity Mitford who was a supporter of the Nazis and a friend of Hitler. In the letter she said: ‘Met the Fürher today. He was so lovely. He couldn’t decide which soup to have so he flipped a coin. He’s just so dreamy.’ I just couldn’t believe it, it was such strange language to use about Adolf Hitler!”
Bridget Christie present’s War Donkey in An Taibhdhearc on Thursday October 25 at 8pm. She will also appear in the Róisín Dubh on Wednesday 24 at 9pm as part of Tony Law’s Shitbox. Tickets are on sale through www.bulmersgalwaycomedyfestival.com and www.Roisindubh.net, as well as in Xtra-Vision stores, OMG on Shop Street, and most venues.