Bridget Christie has become only the third female winner of the major comedy prize at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Her show, “A Bic For Her,” was one of two feminism-themed shows to win honours at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards.
Adrienne Truscott’s provocative piece tackling issues around rape jokes won a special “spirit of the Fringe” prize, which was awarded by the competition’s 10-strong panel.
Former winner Steve Coogan, who has just launched Alan Partridge’s debut on the big screen, returned to the scene of his triumph 21 years ago to present Christie with the main Edinburgh Comedy Award for best show.
The win for English comic Christie, the runaway favourite for the honour when shortlist was announced last week, comes 18 years after Jenny Eclair was named the first female winner of the then Perrier Award. Laura Solon, the only other female winner, triumphed in 2005 in the contest, whose previous winners have included Lee Evans, Al Murray, Frank Skinner and Dylan Moran.
Christie - who described her winning show as being about “radical feminism” - told Scotland on Sunday she had been coming to the Fringe for nine years “without anyone really coming or paying attention.”
She said “something was in the air” at this year’s Fringe in terms of the number of shows tackling feminism and sexual politics.
“I think we have all just collectively - not just in comedy, but across society - all suddenly gone: ‘Is this not sorted yet? Can you really say that? Is that really happening? Is that a fact?’
“I think we’ve all just thought that it is about time that we really need to start talking about it and sorting everything out.
“I was the only female candidate on the shortlist, but there are actually a lot of brilliant women on at the Fringe this year. I hope they don’t mind me accepting the award on behalf of all of us.
“I’m very shocked to win, but it does feel like a time of change and that there was something in the air this year.
“On paper, a show all about feminism, and quite radical feminism, is quite a hard sell and for it to win is almost not about me. There’s just been a collective feeling around.”
This year’s awards marked a significant shift away from the major venues, with Christie performing at the Stand Comedy Club, and both Truscott and the best newcomer winner John Kearns performing in free shows - at the Voodoo Rooms and a nee pop-up venue set up next door to a pub by promoter Bob Slayer in South College Street.
Christie said she was “not sure” she would even have come to the Fringe this year if Tommy Sheppard, The Stand’s founder, had not offered her a room to put on her show. Sheppard has, however, disowned comedy awards, insisting The Stand does not support them in any way.
Nica Burns, director of the awards, had sparked controversy at the start of the festival by warning that too many acts performing in free shows were unprepared and did not have enough material.
She said: “The Free Fringe movement was founded by Peter Buckley Hill to shake things up and my goodness it has certainly done that. It’s come of age this year with not one, but two winners, where you only pay she you leave the venue.”
Ms Burns hailed Christie’s “beautifully written, delightfully delivered show” which she said also gave audiences plenty to think about while being “high on the laughter count.”
She added: “Bridget has experimented with a lot of different shows over the years, but this year she has an incredibly confident show, with no props or costumes.
“It’s very funny, but has a lot of real thought behind it and is a very well-written hour. It makes a lot of points about feminism, which are performed with such playful delight that even the worst misogynist wouldn’t take offence at.
“It is the perfect fusion of exceptional writing with a delightful performance, which is also extremely funny and thought-provoking.”
Truscott, one half of New York cabaret act the Wau Wau Sisters, was struggling to find a venue for her show, entitled Asking For It, which she performs semi naked, until she secured a last-minute slot at Bob’s Bookshop, where audiences can pay £5 in advance to book a ticket, or can turn up and get free entry in return for a donation when they leave.
Truscott, who won the panel prize with her first ever stand-up show, said: “I’ve done this festival many times and love it here, but the show wasn’t finished and when I decided to call it ‘Asking For It’ everybody knows the cultural connotations of that. I could have been really crucified.
“But the whole thing has been really beautiful. It’s been all hands on deck in the venue. It felt very fringey, raw and real.”
Ms Burns added: “It is an incredibly bravura show, which we just couldn’t imagine would find a home anywhere else other than the Fringe first time around - and it has worked. It could have been a complete disaster, but it’s actually been a huge talking point. She absolutely held the audience the night I was there and makes people think all the way about what she’s talking about, which is a massive achievement.”
Kearns, the only free act on the shortlist for best newcomer, follows in the footsteps of previous winners like Harry Hill and Tim Vine.
He said: “There is a lot of discussion about free stuff here, but it it wasn’t for Peter Buckley Hill and the Free Fringe, which I’ve been doing since 2008, I wouldn’t be able to come. I work and take all my holidays to be here every year.”