Don’t call me Shirley/I open this comedy show in the name of Allah!

‘Surely you can’t be serious?’ says the pilot to the doctor in the 1980 film, Airplane. ‘I am serious,’ quips the doctor, ‘and don’t call me Shirley.’ Ah, they don’t write ‘em like that anymore. Though that shouldn’t stop you quoting them. Airplane, the news told us last week, came third in a survey of the funniest lines in film history put out by Sky. For reference, ‘don’t call me Shirley’ is the correct response to any question that opens with ‘surely’. In the same way, you owe it to yourself to answer ‘what are you on about?’ with ‘about 25 milligrams’ and ‘what are you talking about?’ with ‘about 30 words a minute.’ These are the rules, as I see them, because I believe the joke is almost always worth it.

But then, I care about comedy (if you just said ‘then why aren’t you funnier?’ –sshh). I have suffered for it. I’ve been arrested for it in a bank (for writing a note saying ‘I have a gun some gum’), had demands for my dismissal because of jokes on my personal website and been sent to bed without any supper many, many times. Which is why I feel for Keith ‘addicted to life’ Richards of the Rolling Stones, who last week had to release a statement explaining that a story about him snorting his father’s ashes was, in fact, a joke.

Nothing kills a joke, a one-liner or an amusing comment like having to explain it and nothing murders a vaguely amusing aside (Keith is not, let’s face it, John Cleese) than the postscript: ‘joke!’ And I’m afraid we Christians are the worst. It’s not that we are not funny—loads of us are. And it’s not that we can’t appreciate a joke—we clearly do. But in public, with our ‘professional Christian’ hats on, material that we do find funny is often spurned for the sake of the corporate image. At home we’ll love a bit of Eddie Izzard or Billy Connely, a Python sketch or South Park. But at the church meeting The Simpsons is about as risqué or transgressive as we’ll let it get.

Now maybe you genuinely like your comedy gentle. Personally I do not. And I am not suggesting that everyone’s taste or theology can accommodate the darker, harsher, more extreme side of cutting edge comedy. But let’s get some perspective: when The Life of Brian was released, there were not a lot of Christians wearing ‘I heart Python’ T-shirts. Yet, today, quote ‘he’s not the Messiah, he’s…’ in Lambeth Palace or even the hallowed halls of Baptist House and there’s a good chance you’ll hear a chorus of: ‘a very naughty boy!’ Today’s Avant Garde is tomorrow’s Establishment.

So when Christians (publicly, at least) promote comedy just because it’s ‘clean’, while I see the merit, I do gag a little. It’s potentially another way we present ourselves as holier than we actually are to the world. Finding something funny doesn’t mean you condone it. It means you see the ridiculousness, the irony, the horror in need of catharsis, the funny side… Last week’s news also featured a new Muslim comedy troupe touring the UK. One of their gags features a traditional Arabic greeting followed by ‘for the non-Muslims in the audience, that means “we are going to kill you!”’ Jokes like that are not gentle, but the shows’ publicity will probably appeal to many Christians because they feature clean comedy and no alcohol. Luckily for Christian comics, the freedom we are saved for means they can still perform in pubs. I wonder if we could apply the same idea of freedom to what we’ll allow ourselves to laugh at in public.

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6 Responses

  1. Liked it. You are a funny man. Who demanded your dismissal?

  2. I am not so sure he was joking…lol.

  3. Nice blog!

  4. I’ve never seen a Christian comic before.

  5. lol. Jesse DuPlantis is pretty funny…

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