IN WHICH A CHRISTIAN, HUMANIST COMEDIANGETS ALL SERIOUS ABOUT HIS MATERIAL

Here is a whole chunk of Tim Minchin in concert. It starts off with a song about God and stuff and this is followed by Tim riffing on religion. It ends with another (though this time, very short) song.

For all sorts of reasons I am a huge fan of Tim Minchin. I think he is a genius. Of course, I find the material you have just watched lazy, predictable and shallow. But that's because I'm a Christian and Tim is doing his iconoclast thingie on things that I hold dear. Or, to put it another way, he gets too close to the bone for my personal comfort. But that's fine. Humour is usually shallow and based on stereotypes rather than individuals. Even when a humourist attacks an individual the joke usually works because the individual is divested of his or her complexity and objectified as a stereotype that, the comedian hopes, will be seen negatively by the audience. In Tim's religion sketch he is basically saying that people who believe in a god and all that religious stuff are stupid and that, because he doesn't believe in anything other than what is empirically obvious and provable by scientific investigation, he is very clever, in deed. In fact, using the subject matter of the sketch, he cleverly implies that religious people have not "evolved" to the "superman" level of human evolution that he enjoys. The audience, who at this stage in Tim's career, only attend his concerts because they are already fans, identify with Tim, seeing him as a messiah figure, and, therefore, are encouraged by Tim, through this association,  to feel equally superior. But, again, I have no beef with this, it's how comedy works, in part, and I am a comedian. I guess that one of the reasons humour "evolved" in human beings was so that dangerous enemies could, by having the mick taken out of them, be made to appear less dangerous. I expect cavemen used to sit around the fire on a winter's night discussing how small the willies of the neighbouring tribe's warriors were. Nothing has changed much, except we are now a tad more sophisticated. For example, in the Anglican Communion, those who oppose change belittle their enemies by accusing them of having incredibly small orthodoxies.

So, Tim as a humourist has, in my opinion, every right to present the material that he does in the "broad brush stroke" way that is a tool of the comedy trade. The point of this post is not to attack Tim Minchin. The point of this post is to discuss what is permissible for a Christian comedian.

I employ many of the same techniques as Tim Minchin. In particular I go for the shock response from my readers. I do this because I am both naturally inclined to be iconoclastic and also I choose to do so because it is a technique new to, or, in my opinion, a rediscovery of something ancient, in Christian comedy. It makes me stand out from the crowd and has given me some notoriety and an audience. But, even though I will go places with my comedy that other Christians fear to tread, at least in public, I still feel constricted as to the material I can post because of self censorship and pressure from my peers. For a start, because I am a religious person and, therefore, have to put up with being told I'm stupid by every trendy comedian on the British circuit and every jobbing humourist working in the British media, I feel loathe to dish the same dirt out on atheists as a group (a sort of selective "do unto others..." mentality on my behalf). And, even when I have a go at individual atheists because they are being pompous or otherwise annoying, I get comments from readers along the lines of "What is it with you and Richard Dawkins?" Which is a bit weird because I doubt that many liberals, a few years back, wrote to American leftist comedians and demanded to know what it was with them and George W. Bush.

I'm allowed to attack fundamentalists, of any religious persuasion, as everybody hates them, including God, Allah et al. But here is the big irony, although my liberal minded readers will defend to the bitter end the right of an atheist to say whatever they like about religious people, those same liberals can be incredibly thin skinned when a humourist from their own ranks makes fun of their pomposity or annoying traits. For example, I find the reaction I get from supposedly right on liberal Christians, when I take a pot shot at American ideals, so amazing and satisfying that I just keep having to do it over and over again.

Now that I am no longer a priest under the authority of the world's most scaredy cat liberal bishop, I am beginning to realise the freedom I now have to push the self imposed and peer imposed limits of good taste in Christian comedy. Such censorship has been imposed on Christians by white, middle class puritans and is a nasty, bastard child of the modern era. I look back to Chaucer and the anticlerical writers of the medieval period for my inspiration. Heck, I look back to Jesus who really took the piss out of the authorities and the pompous religious types of his day. I suggest that if any of you are so delicate that you really can't have any of your sacred cows prodded with a stick by an out of control mad priest (ex), you convert to Islam where you will be actively encouraged to blow to smithereens any body who writes something you don't agree with personally.

From THE GUARDIAN (5th. August 2010):

Christopher Hitchens writes in the latest issue of Vanity Fair about the cancer of the oesophagus that is afflicting him. He does so, as one might expect of him, with candour, intelligence and wit.

He also reveals in the article, Topic of Cancer, that the disease has spread to his lymph nodes, and that one tumour, located on his right clavicle, is large enough to be seen and felt.

"My father had died, and very swiftly, too, of cancer of the oesophagus. He was 79. I am 61. In whatever kind of a "race" life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist."

Among the online comments, all from well-wishers, is one offering prayers for Hitchens's recovery.

I might well have called that ironic. But I see Hitchens is way ahead of me by observing: "Irony is my business and I just can't see any ironies here."

So, should there be limits to what a comedian can poke
fun at? In particular, are there limits to what a Christian comedian can poke fun at?

From LEHIGH VALLEY LIVE:

A game called "Alien Attack" at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Big Time celebration in Roseto encouraged players to shoot darts at the head and heart of an image of a suited black man holding a health care bill and wearing a presidential seal.

Irvin L. Good Jr., president of Hellertown-based Goodtime Amusements, said the game wasn’t meant to depict President Barack Obama, but he acknowledged he’s received two complaints since its April debut, including one complaint at the Big Time.

“Yes, a woman talked to me about it,” Good said today. “She said she was offended by it. I said if you are, you might want to be. But you’re interpreting it as being Obama. We’re not interpreting it as Obama. The name of the game is ‘Alien Leader.’ If you’re offended, that’s fine, we duly note that.”

When it was suggested the health bill and presidential seal might lead players to believe the game did depict Obama, Good said, “You may be right there.”

Our Lady pastor the Rev. Jim Prior said he didn’t learn of the game until a parishioner complained after the carnival. He said he “most certainly would have put a stop to it” had he known sooner.

“We’re used to this kind of bigotry and prejudice, and we abhor it but it’s the way of the world,” Prior said. “Even the Divine Father himself is vilified in today’s culture.”

Thanks to Ellie for the link to the the dart throwing story.

Comments

IN WHICH A CHRISTIAN, HUMANIST COMEDIANGETS ALL SERIOUS ABOUT HIS MATERIAL — 12 Comments

  1. That is a stunning essay, MadPriest.

    “…he is basically saying that… because he doesn’t believe in anything other than what is empirically obvious and provable by scientific investigation, he is very clever, in deed.”

    Excellent!

    And:
    “For example, I find the reaction I get from supposedly right on liberal Christians, when I take a pot shot at American ideals, so amazing and satisfying that I just keep having to do it over and over again.

    Also excellent. (And I’m an American, folks, in case anybody doesn’t know.)

    But this, dear friend, is my favorite:

    “Now that I am no longer a priest under the authority of the world’s most scaredy cat liberal bishop, I am beginning to realise the freedom I now have…”

    Ah, yes. I do know what you mean. Me, too. (There are some implications to that, I think, that I’m pondering but there’s a lot more pondering that needs to be done about it before I truly know what said implications really are.)

  2. I like this response: “If you’re offended, that’s fine, we duly note that.”

    Very succinct. You’re free to be offended or not offended, so long as you’re not having misplaced expectations, and/or blaming the wrong party for your offense if you do get offended because you went into it knowing that there was a possibility of being offended.

    😀

  3. There are so many balloons out there that need deflating that folks must rise to the calling. Glad you are one of them.

    This estadounidense does not take offense when you go after the U.S. and its denizens.

  4. RE: “…those same liberals can be incredibly thin skinned when a humourist from their own ranks makes fun of their pomposity or annoying traits.”

    You’ve been hanging out with UUs!

    wv: intomb

    You do the honors.

  5. And re: “I suggest that if any of you are so delicate that you really can’t have any of your sacred cows prodded with a stick by an out of control mad priest (ex), you convert to Islam where you will be actively encouraged to blow to smithereens any body who writes something you don’t agree with personally.”

    Or become a Viking whereupon you too can sail off to a distant island nation, march in, take everything of value in sight, kill the women, rape the sheep, burn down the monasteries, offer sacrifices to heathen Gods and be home in time for dinner.

    Sutton Hoo style ship burieal optional. 😀

  6. Prayers for Hitchens, whether he wants them or not (or perhaps, ESPECIALLY if he doesn’t!).

  7. As one who is fond of humour, and who uses it to attempt to make up for my deficits in normal communication, I appreciate your post MP.

    I agree as well.

  8. I’ve changed my mind a lot on this issue recently so I really appreciated this post (especially when you said ‘a sort of selective “do unto others…” mentality on my behalf’). That and I’m tired of being surrounded by people who think anything they say on matter sof science/religion/philosophy is inherently more correct because they are of the ‘secular’ persuasion… *sighs*

    At the moment I feel so long as I’m pointing out their hypocrisies, (the more dangerous) fallacies, inconsistencies and goodness-knows-whatever-else-isies, rather than retaliating because I got oh-so offended, then perhaps it’s not so bad if I get a bit sharpish. But who knows. I’ll probably go back to my wussie standby in the end.