There's a head-turning gasp from Bridget Christie midway through our interview.
“No,” she says in horror. “Oh my God. No. No, no, no, no, no.”
You would think I had asked her if she stabs kittens for fun, but after catching the comedian on a recent Room 101 and with a best-selling book to her name, I simply suggested she is moving into the mainstream.
“I don’t think I’ll ever think I’m part of the mainstream,” she says. “I’m not really on TV, I’m not on social media, lots of people don’t know who I am, lots of people hate me. No, every year I feel I’m starting again.
"I know I have been building, and hopefully all the things like A Book for Her and new shows every year are building towards being more popular, but I feel like there's a huge mountain to climb in having to fill rooms."
The building work appears to be proceeding well: when we speak her book is No 1 on the Kindle chart, and she currently holds the box-office record at London’s Soho Theatre. As per her onstage persona, Christie is a curious mixture of confident, unapologetic, nervy and humble. Armchair psychology suggests the latter stems from eight years in the lower echelons of the comedy circuit, losing money at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival while dressing up like Charles II, wearing a donkey costume, or eating a banana painfully slowly in front of practically no one.
Then came feminism. A Book for Her suggests it all changed on April 30th, 2012, when a bookseller picked the women's studies section to, er, relieve a gaseous build-up, suggesting that's what he thought it was worth. But judging by her vitriol, I suspect the turning point preceded that, when she read a review suggesting she must have slept with someone to get in the business, a point that might have touched another nerve, since she is married to fellow comedian Stewart Lee. (Her response in the book: "There isn't a casting couch in stand-up comedy. There isn't even a couch. That's why we're always standing up.")
Since then she has been involved with a new wave of feminism along with the likes of Caitlin Moran and Shazia Mirza. She won the Foster's Comedy Award at Edinburgh in 2013 for A Bic for Her, the title of which comes from the range of pens designed for dainty lady-hands.
“I’m really glad there’s misogyny because it turned my career around,” she says, with a large guffaw that surprises a little, because of course she doesn’t laugh at her own jokes while performing. “It’s pretty nonstop for me now, which is a shame because I’m a bit knackered.”
Her revised brand of stand-up is draws her audience in to well-rehearsed one- liners or deadpan anecdotes, with a punchline that is comedic or political, but hard-hitting either way. She tackles a larger range of commentary than most comedians would dare.
It must get exhausting taking on the full breadth of injustices?
“Some mornings I’d be on the floor on a heap, thinking I don’t want to read any more, I don’t want to know any more. Sometimes people ask why I patronise people so much, because they know about inequality and violence. But they don’t know. They don’t know the numbers, they don’t know it’s happening in their own towns.
“These problems, they’re the reason casual sexism isn’t acceptable. A lot of women find it really offensive, because two women are killed a week in Britain alone, there’s still a 20 per cent gender pay gap, childcare isn’t affordable, and society doesn’t support us to become independent. So that’s why pens are annoying.”
Pro-choice in Belfast
Christie's campaigning isn't solely for the stage. The day before we speak, she took part in Care International's Walk in her Shoes rally along with Annie Lennox and Bianca Jagger. She has also created a video to raise awareness of female genital mutilation with fellow campaigner Leyla Hussein; and regularly plays fundraisers, including one in Belfast for pro-choice organisation Alliance for Choice.
Christie is the daughter of Peter Christie, from Boyle, Co Roscommon, and the late Mary Ann Kelly, of Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim. She must be enthused that the pro-choice movement is gaining momentum in the Republic?
“It’s complicated in Ireland; abortion is so tied up with religion,” she says, treading carefully, before ditching the pretence entirely. “It’s absolutely horrendous and barbaric, and I don’t really know how Ireland can . . . It’s not a civilised way to treat your women. It’s absolutely beyond belief that it’s like this now.
“I went to Galway a couple of years ago and I didn’t say anything too serious in my show, but it still felt difficult for them to listen to stuff about women’s rights. They’re quite behind.”
She laughs again. “I’m really trying to fill up these rooms, aren’t I? Headline: ‘Ireland is backward and barbaric and I’m going to be in and out as quickly as possible’.”
Gloucester-born, she and her eight siblings escaped a strict Irish Catholic upbringing, she says. “My parents were quite involved in the Irish community and church in Gloucester, but they didn’t force it on to us. My friends were made to do Irish dancing and all that, but I felt that my parents left Ireland, and they didn’t want to pretend to still be living there.”
An important year
Christie dropped out of school at 15 to become a comedy actor, eventually seguing into stand-up to allow her to keep a day job. The first of her Edinburgh shows took place in 2006, which was also the year she and Stewart Lee wed. They now have two children, aged five and nine, and the pair are fastidious about planning tours around childcare duties.
“When they’re older, I’ll do more international work,” she says. “I do get asked to go to different countries – America, Australia, Russia – but it’s not practical for me to pursue. I’m especially interested in America; the themes I discuss are universal, so even though I’m quite British in tone and outlook, I think what I talk about is a global thing.”
In the meantime, she is moving towards television, which is many a comedian’s end goal, but for her a medium to use sparingly. “When I won the Foster’s award, there were a lot of TV offer-y things coming in, but it was just I didn’t know whether I suited a lot of the things that came in. You should know your skill set and work to your parameters.
“But I’m not against TV. I do the stuff I like, and I’m going to embrace it this year.”
Part of this involves a stand-up special for BBC Worldwide, being recorded in May, and other projects are on the cards too. She better not find too big a platform, I joke, for if the world listens and misogyny is wiped out, she’ll be out of a job.
“There’s absolutely no chance of this being sorted out soon,” she says, with a belly laugh. “I’m not going to live 117 more years. So I think I’ll be all right.”
- Bridget Christie appears at the Sugar Club, Dublin, May 9th and 10th