As she prepares to bring her ‘A Book For Her’ tour to Cardiff’s Glee Club, Bridget Christie chats to Emma Smith about critical acclaim, backlash fears, and championing the rise of women in comedy.
You’re currently touring with your debut book ‘A Book For Her’, in which you’ve discussed feminism, misogyny, politics, and -rather boldly- FGM. How important is it for you to be so fearless with this commentary? And do you think audiences are becoming more socially aware of these issues?
If you’re talking about something as divisive as feminism or politics, you have to be completely fine with people disagreeing with you, even despising you. Once you realise you’ll be hated and loved in equal measure, and also that whatever you say, however carefully you think about your material, that someone, somewhere, will be offended, it liberates you. The things I write that I think will be the most controversial or polarising, invariably end up being the least problematic. I did go through a phase of worrying about what people thought, but it was exhausting and took up too much time so I’ve genuinely moved past that now, and I’ve found that writing is much more fun now that I’m not distracted or bogged down with backlash worries.
Stage and books are very different mediums, and translating from one to the other is often quite tricky to do, let alone do it well. What was your process for writing the book?
I didn’t know what the book was for ages, and obviously I had no experience of writing one, but once I worked out what it was about (a stand up writing about feminism), then it was much easier. I really tried to write it in my own voice and just concentrated on trying to make it as funny as I could.
Comedy is a very male-dominated industry, and in the past few years I’ve noticed a lot of very funny and intelligent women are coming through and getting the recognition they deserve. How do you feel comedy has changed, in recent years?
I’ve noticed that there are loads of brilliant, intelligent, hilarious talented women doing really well and that audiences don’t immediately go to the toilet or the bar when her name is introduced by the compere, and that the alternative circuit is absolutely thriving. The UK has the best, most diverse and exciting stand up circuit in the world and I am hugely privileged and honoured to be a part of it.
Your previous show ‘A Bic For Her’ was the top-selling comedy show in the history of the Soho Theatre. How proud did that magnificent achievement make you?
Well I was very pleased, especially after doing years of shows to no-one at a personal monetary loss. I felt like I’d made real progress in terms of being a financially viable live act, but I’m never complacent, I never presume people will automatically come back year after year. Now that I have a reasonable-sized following, I feel like I need to latch myself on to them, like a nit.
Unlike most comedians, you’re a very private person; staying away from social media and not discussing your family and personal life in your work. Did this make developing your on-stage persona easier?
The onstage persona just naturally developed over a 2/3 year period when I started talking about things that genuinely bothered me, so it wasn’t necessarily a conscious thing. I didn’t “invent” the character of me as such. Onstage me is just a slightly more ludicrous, exaggerated, confused version of the real me. I’ve never really talked about my family or personal life previously just because I don’t like the way it makes me feel, and I wouldn’t want to upset anyone for money, but I don’t know what I’m going to write about from one year to the next, so I may start doing more personal stuff if I feel comfortable with it. Also some of the best comedy I’ve ever seen is deeply personal stuff, so we’ll see. It just comes down to what your comfortable with. We all have our own boundaries.
After having a string of acclaimed shows at consecutive years of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; does that make writing the next one more daunting, to meet those expectations?
Yes definitely. I am aware that I need to keep topping or at the very least equalling previous shows, so that people keep coming back. I’m also aware that I may be due a bit of a critical backlash as the press have been very supportive these last few years. We’ll see. I’m trying my best, guys !
You also write for The Guardian, with a lot of your articles receiving great acclaim. Do you have a preference between writing, or performing?
Thank you. I love performing, but I do enjoy writing too. Although I did find the columns a bit of a struggle, I must admit. Having an opinion once a week for 18 weeks and being witty about it nearly finished me off, but I’d definitely do it again as it was a great discipline and great exposure, with lots of people coming to the tour because they’d read them. Also, you have to write them quickly and because I was having to do school runs and fit them in around other work, I always felt like I was rushing them out in a blind panic. Anyway, ideally I can continue to do both.
You’ve been a stand-up for over a decade now, what’s the most interesting thing to have happened at a gig?
Once, in Edinburgh, a woman brought her dog in to the show inside her handbag. She was sat in the front row and her bag just started barking and moving along the floor.