Comedian Bridget Christie: ‘I see my flasher’s penis all the time. But I can make horrible things amusing’

‘I must tell you how old I’m going to be when I die,” says Bridget Christie, whipping out her phone to show me a small cartoon gravestone bearing the date of her demise. Fittingly, we’re sitting in a churchyard near her home in London, not far from some actual gravestones. According to the app, Christie, who recently turned 50, has 34 years left. As one of the many people who lost loved ones to Covid-19, death has been on her mind during the pandemic, and her thoughts on ageing have been exacerbated by the arrival of the menopause. In lockdown, preoccupied by the passage of time, she decided to look at the moon every night: “I thought about how many moons I’ve got left to see. I was like, ‘We’re not here for very long – what are you going to leave behind?’”

Her thoughts coalesced into her BBC Radio 4 series Mortal, which tackled birth, life, death and the afterlife. Working with BBC Radio Theatre, where she’d previously recorded standup, she decided to try something different. Whispered monologues, surreal characters (Zeus, the Grim Reaper and dead Bridget among them) and real telephone conversations are stitched together into something quite intimate. Although she got their permission, she didn’t tell her dad, sister Eileen and friend Ashley exactly when she’d be recording their phone calls, lending a naturalness to the chats.

One poignant conversation was about her nephew Luke, who tragically died young. “The stakes were high,” she says, “because I wanted to get it right for my sister. I felt quite anxious.” On the night it went out, the tension caused a “proper, full-on hot flush”. Fortunately, Eileen loved it.

Her new show Who Am I? picks up these threads. I’m told to expect “menopause and death”. Contrary to her expectations, Christie experienced the menopause as a rebirth, a deliverance even. “Fear has stopped me from doing a lot – interviews, water slides, calling people out, certain types of work,” she says. “I’ve come out of lockdown feeling much more confident, caring less about things that have plagued me throughout my life. I feel liberated. I don’t feel bogged down worrying about how I’m perceived.”

She bought a motorbike for her 50th birthday, the first she’s ridden since she was a teenager, with advice and encouragement from women’s biking group VC London and the ex she used to ride with. “They were like, ‘If not now, when?’” She decided to stop wasting time on pointless household tasks – descaling the shower head, finding the correct lids for Tupperware – that go unnoticed by everyone else, and started speaking her mind.

There are “frightening” physical symptoms – memory loss, heart palpitations and hot flushes – which she briefly thought might be signs of dementia or cancer, but psychologically the menopause has been a revelation. “It’s staggering to me how little I knew, how little society knows,” she says. “There’s a massive gap in information. Like on TV, there are no menopausal characters. We don’t see ourselves anywhere and I want to see us sweating or struggling to think of a word. It should be seen. Why not?”

So Christie is taking on the challenge. In the show’s opener, she plays with cliches of the angry, forgetful woman – harnessing her newfound fearlessness. Sometimes it’s needed. While women in comedy face less hostility than they used to, Christie still sees problems. “I think the audience doubt us more – there’s less trust.” Embracing anger has also helped. “The extra anger you get motivates you to do things. Female anger is a good thing. It can be revolutionary.”

In the past, she says, people have suggested she needs to smile more, make her feminism accessible. “Why the fuck do I need to be friendly and approachable?” she says. “You would never say that to Mark Thomas. With this show, there’s a big change in how I want to perform it. I find angry women really funny and actually you still don’t see that a lot in film, TV or standup.” Such double standards are another theme of the show. Why, she asks, do powerful men rarely face consequences for actions that would get women fired or ostracised?

Across the road from this churchyard is Clissold Park, where Christie often runs, and where a key story from Who Am I? takes place. “It happened in there,” she says, pointing to a wooded area. “It was 11 o’clock in the morning. There were people around. He was a young, tall, white guy. He did have the biggest penis I’ve ever seen. He was just standing there in profile, like that!” She sticks out her arm to illustrate his erection.

While she laughs about this flashing incident now, when she first started shaping it into material, she feared the topic might be too dark. But in the end, that’s what spurred her to use it on stage. “I’m seeing his penis all the time,” says Christie. “That’s going to stay with me, and I’m annoyed about that. But you can add to it. How can a horrible thing be amusing? Because it is a horrible thing. But I’m a comedian.”

In a very fun and very visual piece of comedy, she imagines what would happen if the situation was flipped. “How can I change the power dynamic? Because it’s all about power. He wanted me to have a reaction.” The anecdote allows a smooth segue to comedian Louis CK, whose “comeback” tour after admitting to sexual misconduct coincides with Christie’s shows. She says: “He’s doing massive rooms, much bigger than me. If it had been me masturbating in front of someone, would I be? Probably not.”

Christie puts herself in the shoes of another comedian, Ricky Gervais, as well as Boris Johnson, whose “lies” she doesn’t have time to list in full. “The lies are, to me, staggering,” she says. “If Boris was a woman, he wouldn’t be in a job any more.” Gervais, meanwhile, receives her ire for his efforts to be an “edgy” comedian, and his use of transphobic tropes (“I’ve always identified as a chimp,” he says in Humanity). “It’s the same joke over and over again,” she says. “Or some joke about toilets. Just let people go to the fucking toilet.”

Some comedians successfully parody all that, she says, but his claim to humour is undermined by his lack of a consistent onstage persona, the “cowardly wink at the audience”, claiming to be brave for saying these things when the reality is: “No one is being cancelled. You can literally say whatever you like.”

In Who Am I? there are echoes of A Bic for Her, which earned her the 2013 Edinburgh comedy award. Highlights included a takedown of sexist racing driver Stirling Moss and an uncanny impression of Russell Brand. It was hailed as the breakthrough standup comedy needed, prompting headlines such as: “Why feminism has never been so funny.” It was “surprising” that it was so well received, she says: “Because a few of us had been doing feminist material and it had been difficult. Audiences and critics didn’t really like it.” Did she feel that show made a big impact? “No, no, no!” She laughs in horror. “Not at all!”What does she hope her comedy offers people? “One: that they laugh.” She pauses. “If I could do one thing in a show that takes people out of themselves – just one moment – I’d be really happy. But then it would be great if, once they’ve left, they …” Another pause. “No, I don’t think I can hope for people to think differently about something, because I don’t think that’s my job really.”

Still, talking about the menopause is clearly going to have an impact. “I want to be a cheerleader for it. I don’t want young women to dread it and think, ‘That’s it.’ It’s a new stage in their lives and that should be something to celebrate.” But she did debate whether to mention ‘menopause’ in the show’s publicity. “I was thinking, ‘Will that affect who comes?’” She decided to go all in: the menopause will, she points out, affect “one-in-one women”, while fathers, sons, partners and friends will indirectly experience it too. Christie has already been pleasantly surprised by, “bunches of young men really, really laughing”. She thinks she knows part of the reason why. “It’s because I’m their mum, aren’t I? They’re laughing because they recognise it.”

She talks again about her newfound confidence. “Coming out of lockdown and starting to do gigs again, I feel there’s literally nothing I would be embarrassed about. I do think my best work is ahead of me. Now that I’m unencumbered by oestrogen, I’m excited for the future.”

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