December, 2013. I was 28, and my life was in the bin. I’d been laid-off from two different dreadful secretarial jobs within six months. I’d also: broken up with a boyfriend, given up my flat, collected my father from jail, and sat at my grandfather’s agonising deathbed.
Right after my grandfather’s funeral, I moved into my mother’s apartment. I laid my futon on the floor of her dinette, as my also unemployed brother had already long since claimed her spare room (which, we would soon find out, had a terrible mould problem). I remember laying there one night, on my futon, on the floor, by the dining table, watching the memorial candle for my grandfather casting a flickering halo up on the ceiling, like a tiny, Jewish, bat-signal of despair. And I remember thinking, “This is it. This is literally the bottom. Every aspect of my life is a fucking disaster. Thirty is just around the corner, and I have failed at everything. I’ve completely failed at life… I am a failure.”
Thus began an episode of my life in which anything that wasn’t knitting and watching Doctor Who in my pyjamas, in bed, seemed like a pretty big ask. In fact, I was watching so much Doctor Who that one time when I did leave the house for groceries, I overheard someone asking where to find garlic, and my brain replaced ‘gar-lic’ with ‘da-lek’. I froze in my tracks, and my heart skipped a beat.
Basically, I was a little bit in danger of losing the plot.
And this is precisely where you would have found me, when I found Bridget Christie.
I had been hearing her name for some time, and that August she had made headlines when she won the Fosters Award at Edinburgh – an award that had only rarely ever gone to a woman. As I had done many times before, I Googled her, trying to get a sense of what her work was like, but found almost no trace of her performances on YouTube, or elsewhere. And, as I was in California, and she wasn’t doing any gigs outside the UK, I couldn’t just pop out and watch her in person. Thus she remained shrouded in mystery.
But that December, I put her name into my American iTunes, and discovered that her BBC Radio series, Bridget Christie Minds the Gap, was somehow, miraculously available (whereas other British programs I’d searched for were not). So I spent a total of $7.96 on the four episodes, and changed my sad little life forever.
Bridget Christie’s comedy was unlike anything I’d ever heard. First of all, she completely avoided all the major, stereotypical gimmicks of female comedians – she wasn’t trying to play herself off as slutty, or ditzy, or bitchy. She came off as someone unreservedly enthusiastic, abundantly cheerfully, and authentically nice. She gently played up the fact that she was a little bit awkward, nerdy, and neurotic. As such, I completely identified with her, saw my own self, heard my thoughts and tastes reflected in her humour, in a way I never had with any other comedian.
But it wasn’t purely out of narcissism that I latched onto this woman. No. It was because her comedy was an all-out feminist onslaught. Comedy? About feminism? I mean, there are many great comedians out there who do material that definitely qualifies as feminist – but it isn’t the sole purpose of their set. They don’t walk out on stage and immediately state point-blank that they are about to hammer you over the head with a bunch of reasons why feminism is great and important. And people who do want to tell you point-blank why feminism is great and important rarely want you to laugh, about anything – and I studied feminist theory at the University of California and the LSE, so I should know.
But here was this woman, talking about Western body culture and consumer culture and rape culture, and all kinds of horrific, depressing shit like that, in great detail, yet managing to draw unbridled, bursting laughter from a BBC audience. Because her comedy was an amalgam of so many things at once: silly voices and fart jokes, sarcasm and irony, hammy sketches and old-fashioned spouse-jokes, statistics, indignation, and heartfelt empathy. All intricately and expertly woven together.
Each of the four episodes had a theme, and the final episode was about women in comedy. “This week I’m talking about funny women. ‘Oh, this won’t take long’ I can hear the listeners saying.” She proceeds to delve into the somehow-persistent idea that women aren’t funny, and then into why there haven’t been more women doing comedy. She addresses the claim by some TV commissioners that they are simply unable to find funny women. “Where are they looking? Monasteries? Male saunas? The Bank of England?!” She calls-out male MCs for doing a terrible job of introducing women at comedy shows: “you never ever ever have to flag up the fact that the next act is a woman, ‘kay? She’s not a strobe light.” And she concluded that the reason that biases against funny women persist is that “society is still not used to outspoken women dominating space.” Comedy isn’t just a matter of rattling off jokes, “it’s about authority and the occupation of space.”
I listened to those four episodes, over and over. I listened to them in bed, I listened to them in the car. I laughed at the jokes, and found myself mulling over the serious ideas behind them. I’d spent my whole life loving comedy, and getting off on making people around me laugh; yet I’d always believed that I ought to spend my time trying to do something ‘important’ – i.e. inexorably serious. But after listening to Bridget Christie’s series for the fourth or fifth time, doing something funny suddenly seemed as though it could be very important… and it seemed as though someone like me could do it.
And so, after many years of saying I didn’t want to be a writer, and not writing, and in fact spending decades doing anything but writing, I wrote something: a comedy script. I’d never written a script. I’d never written anything funny. Yet there I was, finishing a TV pilot, and storyboarding the rest of the series. It was just a crummy draft, and despite a lot of edits since it may never be any good. But I did it. Instead of being so emotionally and creatively locked-up that I could barely make it through a day without wondering why I’d bothered being born, I was getting up, and getting to work, and putting my full focus into making something – something that would hopefully be funny.
I got so hopped-up on this idea of becoming a funny woman, and being around funny people, that I even scrounged up the money to fly from the US to the UK the following summer, for the explicit purpose of going to the Edinburgh Fringe. I saw a lot of great gigs there, including some power-house female comedians: Sara Pascoe, Josie Long, Lucy Beaumont, Helen Duff, Anna Emerson, Eleanor Tiernan, Eleanor Morton. But the first ticket I bought, and the first gig I filed into, was and of course had to be Bridget Christie at The Stand. It was packed, and it was great.
And then I met her. The night I went to see Sara Pascoe’s killer show Sara Pascoe vs. History (which went on to become her fucking amazing new book, Animal), Bridget Christie was waiting to say hi to Sara after the gig. And like a complete weirdo, I followed them from a discreet distance for a little while. Eventually, Sara went off with friends in one direction, and Bridget went the other. Alone.
And I thought, “Oh crap. This is one of those moments. Where you have to do the thing, or spend years kicking yourself for coming all this way, only to not do the thing.”
So I walked up to her, and said these exact words: “Hi! I don’t want to be creepy, but you’re kind of my hero.” And she was totally lovely about it; asked my name and shook my hand. She wished me well, and wandered off into the evening. It was a tiny encounter, but it seemed a good omen on my quest.
It’s nearly two years later now, and I’m writing, nearly every day, about all kinds of things, and can’t write fast enough to keep up with all the ideas. And I’ve just married one of my favourite writers, and we spend lots of time editing and discussing each other’s work and making each other laugh. Scripts are slowly emerging, and pieces of stand-up sets, and I think soon I may be ready to confront my crippling stage fright. But even if I don’t ever get up there, or I do and it’s a disaster, that’s okay. I’ll still be grateful to Bridget Christie for getting me excited enough to get out of my massive rut and on the road to doing things that I actually enjoy, and for making me realise how vital it is to our culture that more women get out there in the world and just be funny.