Herald Arts chats to comic Bridget Christie ahead of her set at Stratford Play House on Saturday
Loved by television critics and the public alike, Bridget Christie’s new Channel 4 show, The Change is a landmark moment in small screen entertainment. As well as being funny, moving and mysterious, it’s the first time the menopause has made its way onto mainstream TV. Which should come as no surprise from the woman who has been pushing boundaries throughout her 20-year career – and giving us a good laugh along the way.
Ten years after Bridget Christie’s award-winning show, A Bic For Her took the comedy world by storm with its hilarious sharp-eyed look at feminism, Christie has another axe to grind. She’s going through the menopause and although her experience of brain fog and hot flushes may have led to the show’s confused title, ‘Who Am I?’, Christie’s comic timing is tighter than ever.
With a clutch of comedy awards under her belt, highly acclaimed podcasts, books and radios shows to her name and now a much-loved TV show, Christie is at the absolute top of her game.
What prompted you to write The Change?
“Well it evolved over a long period of time. I wanted to write a story that I wasn’t seeing on screen. I wanted to see more middle-aged women having adventures, not being defined by their relationships or their families, and I’d always wanted to write something based in the Forest of Dean. But the central character, Linda, wasn’t going through the menopause when I first started writing it, because I wasn’t going through the menopause – it was seven years ago. But I’m glad it took that long to commission because the story evolved organically and became a much richer, more satisfying one in the end. When I look at those earlier scripts, they were missing something. And that something was the MENOPAUSE.”
You’re used to writing funny lines for you to deliver on stage – what was it like to write lines for a whole cast and across an entire community of people?
“It was joyful! I wrote with particular people in mind, of course not knowing if they would come on board or not, but it was extremely helpful to imagine them saying the lines. Writing for the likes of Paul Whitehouse, Jerome Flynn, Jim Howick, Monica Dolan, Tanya Moodie, Liza Tarbuck and Omid Djalili – and all the cast, just felt like a ridiculous privilege. I felt like I really knew my characters and had to respect them and be true to them.
An instinct kicks in when you’re writing for other characters and sometimes, half way through a sentence you’ll go. “Hang on, they would NEVER say that!”
What was it like to see the whole thing come to life on screen – and be so wellreceived?
“I’m still pinching myself. It was the most incredibly rewarding process of my working life and the critical and public response to it was way beyond what I or the team could have dreamed for. I don’t know what will happen in my career from here on in, but this was a real defining moment for me that may never be repeated, so I’m just aware of seizing the moment and draining every last bit of joy out of it! We’ve had hundreds of messages from members of the public, menopausal women, young women, men, across the spectrum, saying how it’s touched them, and it’s just been really overwhelming to be honest.
How much of you is in the central character of Linda?
Well we both ride a motorbike, have two children, and went to the Forest of Dean as children, but she’s not me. I have a job I love that is very rewarding, so I never felt like I’d lost my identity or purpose, thankfully, but I feel like I really know and understand who Linda is because I know so many women like her, who put everything on hold to bring up the children and then realise they kind of forgot themselves along the way somewhere. For me, even though I feel like I know Linda the best out of all the characters, she was also the hardest to write, because she goes through the most changes and also with that main character you have to strike a fine balance – they can’t be too extreme as they have to carry the story along but also they can’t be boring either – so you just have to try and find that sweet spot in between.
You’ve been working as a stand-up comedian since 2004, but 2013 was a real watershed moment for you when A Bic For Her won a slew of accolades, including the Edinburgh Comedy Award. Did that feel like a turning point for you as a writer/performer?
“In 2012, I did a show at the Edinburgh Fringe that had feminist themes in it and I got really slated for it. And that criticism made me angry, so I thought ‘I’m going to do a whole show about feminism next year and I don’t care what people think about it.’
Then the following year, for my 2013 show, that was when I properly started trying to figure out how to talk about serious things in a silly way, It’s a puzzle that is still irresistible to me because I still don’t think I’ve nailed it. But yeah, that’s when my writing process changed and it felt like a big moment for me – writing-wise. I think there was also a sense of getting on with it and not messing about anymore.”
Ten years later, you’re taking on another female ‘taboo’ – the menopause. Are you expecting a similar backlash to 2013, or are you finding the material plays well with all ages and genders? Especially now you’ve won a legion of new fans through appearing on TV shows such as Taskmaster.
Again I thought it might be quite a hard sell, but I started running the material in at little comedy gigs, where audiences are predominantly 20-something, and I’d see tables of young guys just laughing their heads off. I thought they might be laughing at something else, so I asked them what was going on and they said ‘That’s our mums’. That was very interesting for me, because it made me realise that the menopause wasn’t this niche subject, and only interesting to women of a certain age – it was something much more universal than that. I found that young women in the audience responded well to it it because it’s something in their future, and it’s about their relationships with their mothers.
And on tour, when I’m signing my books at the end of the show, there are loads of teenage boys and young 20-something men who have watched Taskmaster and Ghosts, getting their books signed. So whilst I might have originally wanted to speak to menopausal women and women my age, an oft-overlooked demographic especially on the comedy circuit I found that the reach was, in reality, much much wider than that. It’s either you, or your wife, or your mum, or your sister.”
Articles about the menopause and books by celebrities covering the topic are now appearing on a regular basis for the first time. Why do you think the menopause is having its moment now, given that women have been going through it forever?
“The only thing I can think is that there are a handful of women aged around 50, who have decided to talk about it, write books about it, speak about it publicly, or do comedy about it. Sorry I don’t have a better reason!
But these things don’t happen overnight. My new TV show for Channel 4, The Change, has been seven years in development. All of the books that are coming out now, they haven’t just been written. So, I think sometimes people’s work just ends up colliding. The menopause may feel zeitgesty, but it might just be a coincidence!”
How do you go about putting a show together? And is that something you enjoy – the preparation before the performance?
“Yes I love the writing process as much as, if not more, than the performance. I’ll often write the end first and then work backwards from there. Sometimes I’ll have an idea that’s been floating around and that you can’t quite grab hold of, and it doesn’t go anywhere. Sometimes it’s much quicker. It’s always different.
A show is never finished but I love getting it to a point where things feel like they belong there, it’s really fluid and you’ve got a good mix of silly things and ideas, and it all moves forward – that stuff is really addictive to me. Other jobs come along, and to get commissions in radio and TV is absolutely incredible, but stand-up is what I’ll be doing until I die. If I’m still getting booked, that is.”
There’s a brilliant joke about brain fog in Who Am I? during which you try – and fail - to remember cake ingredients. But in the process of doing so, you come out with line after line of hilarious possibilities. Given that you actually are experiencing brain fog these days, how do you remember it all with such finesse?
“I’m much more eloquent on stage than I am in real life, because I’ve written something and learnt it. I do find learning lines easy.
You also talk in the show about how woman over 50 are often overlooked or unseen. Does it feel important to you to use your platform to address that?
“Yes. When I see another shit, one-dimensional female character over 50 in a TV show or a film, I think about my incredible 50 plus friends, and women in the public eye or sport, doing incredible groundbreaking work and at the top of their games. They’re leading campaigns, they’re activists, they’re running businesses, they’re changing games in their fields – but where are they? Why are we not seeing them?
You’ve said that, despite its challenges, you’ve found the menopause hugely liberating. In what way?
“I’ve found that I care less about what people think of me, and I’ve became really excited about my future. I feel truly and deeply who I’m supposed to be, accepting all of my flaws and faults and just feeling really good about myself. And I think that’s a hormonal thing. Also, I’m in the public eye, there are plenty of people to bring me down should they so wish, why would I do the same? And it’s not about being arrogant, or overly confident, it’s about doing my best, being a good person, being grateful for what I’ve got, and exercising a bit of self-love and self-care.”