Bridget Christie is about to take her Brexit material on tour. We caught the show for our February Cog Night. Michael tells us what he thought (and gets a bit melancholy about the hubris).
Bridget Christie was the darling of the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016. Every review was five-stars, everyone was talking about how she’d scrapped her intended show (Mortal) and rewritten a whole new one after the Brexit vote.
Because You Demanded It was, according to the critics, edgy, raw, ranty, peppered with releases of frustrated energy. It captured the mood of the nation, or at least that of the Guardian-reading Remainer Londoners crammed into the Scottish capital for three weeks.
In Edinburgh, Christie always plays The Stand, a basement club that estate agents would describe as ‘intimate’. I went to the festival but it didn’t occur to me to pre-book and by the time I’d arrived in the city she’d completely sold out (of tickets, not integrity).
After Edinburgh the show transferred to Leicester Square Theatre, a venue that she and husband Stewart Lee seem to really like; they play there for weeks at a time. She was booked in for months so it felt like there was no need to rush to buy tickets.
When we were choosing our February Cog Night we noticed that the London run was coming to an end. Christie was taking the show on tour and if we didn’t book now then seeing it would require a lot more logistics.
Tickets were booked, the team were excited and we set off for the glamour and glitz of Leicester Square (well, a pretty tatty, 400-seat theatre off a urine-soaked side street, where the bag searches and disinterested staff did little to make us feel welcome).
Christie announced herself and bounded onto the stage telling us she had a good feeling about us; we felt like the best audience she’d had for this show.
The show’s central conceit is that Christie is so upset by Brexit that she has instead written about her new love of gardening. She spoke about how some people think that foreign plants like Fuchsias use up too much British soil and starve out the English rose but actually that’s not true, there is plenty of soil to go round and the foreign plants give a lot more than they take and contribute to our economy through the sale of extra trellis.
Christie maintains the feeling of breathless, sometimes stumbling, spontaneity which must be difficult after months of performing the same material.
Actually my favourite skit was a couple of minutes where she imagines a conversation with a man who’s installed taps with an integrated LED light. It has nothing to do with the show’s thread and I like to imagine that Christie has added sections like this so she can improvise each night to protect herself from becoming bored by her own material.
Plumbing references aside, the show is an hour of anecdotes and observations that loosely weave together to form a kind of narrative.
There’s five minutes in the middle where she recounts the story of Izzy Suttie calling to implore her to look at the Mail Online. They published a photo of Christie, dressed as Charles II, in a story where the picture editor obviously didn’t pay attention when he (or she) was looking for an illustration of the big-haired monarch.
The story is included to demonstrate how stupid Daily Mail readers are. Comments under the article refer to the noble King’s expression as he rides into battles. But Charles II lived in the 17th Century and this is a photograph of a woman, with a drawn on moustache, dressed in curtain material, on a painted horse.
She breaks off from her ‘planned talk or horticulture’ to mention the Brexit vote and talk about how those same readers are the ones who voted for us to leave the EU. They believed the ‘alternative facts’ of the campaign: the bus with the lies about NHS contributions, UKIP’s Breaking Point poster, The Sun declaring the Queen’s voting preferences.
It’s fun laughing and feeling superior. But by now there’s something that’s unsettling me. It’s this snooty superiority that is so often quoted as the reason for the backlash against reason, against so-called experts and their so-called facts.
Christie explains how she is nostalgic for the early days of Brexit, for the early days of Trump. We all agree. This show would have been hilarious last summer when we were all in a kind of collective hysterical shock.
Back then, Brexit was our biggest worry but it didn’t seem real. Christie talks about Cameron’s live-mic humming, Michael Gove’s reptilian clapping, and Boris Johnson… being Boris Johnson. Back in the summer it all felt so ludicrous, we clung to the hope that it was all a dream, or at least that the nation would wake up and dismiss the referendum as a momentary lapse of reason.
But those jokes aren’t funny anymore. A public school spat has split our nation. Boris Johnson isn’t a bumbling buffoon, he’s the Home Secretary.
And the lack of funny has gone global. Donald Trump isn’t a figure of fun, he’s the Commander-in-Chief.
The liberal consensus that kept us happy and safe and tolerant seems to have been short-lived. As Christie points out, perhaps our cosy contrition wasn’t the solution, it was the catalyst of the problem. Perhaps we just became blind to hatred and bigotry. Perhaps it was under our noses all along and it was our arrogance and sense of righteousness that blinded us to them.
She refers to a BBC news report where the interviewer asks a man about his views on Brexit. Why did he vote to leave? The man seems unsure but talks about fish quotas. Fish quotas! The man’s arm is full of swastika tattoos – ask him about the tattoos!
By now the room is filled with laughter. There are people crying tears of approval, others whooping like it’s Oprah in the eighties.
But we’re the 48%. We can be pretty sure of that because Christie invites anyone who voted the other way to leave and find a more palatable show – but they should be aware that they won’t get their money back and they won’t be readmitted even if they change their minds when they realise how much less satisfying the other comedy shows are.
There’s nothing wrong with preaching to the converted (although I can’t help thinking it must be tiresome for Christie to be doing so for months). It makes us feel safe to be amongst hundreds of people who all agree but, as she points out, it’s this bubble-living approach that distorted our view and meant we couldn’t see the backlash coming.
If I’d seen the show in Edinburgh, in August 2016, I know I’d have found it hilarious. But now it’s 2017: I’m scared, disillusioned, sometimes angry, but mostly confused. It’s as though those Daily Mail comment writers have taken over and I don’t know how to deal with that. I want to laugh at their actions but I don’t want my hubris to be part of the problem.
This is a great one-hour comedy stand-up show; it’s not meant to solve the world’s problems. Christie is very funny and accomplished in her craft. Do go and catch her Because You Demanded It tour.