Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Bible Bashing Britain

Right, most regular readers to this blog are clearly rubbish. Did I not state, quite clearly, the other week, "Any days I don’t update this please send me a long email telling me I’m a wanker who can’t stick at anything." It's right here! As it was only one person contacted me to point out my epic fail. In my defense, no-one says you have to Blog every day. This is the best Blog I've ever read and is only updated a couple of times a week. So there.

There's always excuses isn't there? Always something to blame. I'm going to plump for that old chestnut of busyness, and it's almost sort of true. I've been gigging the last three nights, which is nice and makes me feel like I'm actually getting somewhere with all of this, been attempting to write a brand new 5 minute set for the upcoming gigs, and have been attempting to watch both series of Vic Reeves Big Night Out from beginning to end. It's all kept me rather busy.

The gigs have been really nice, especially since Sundays gig at 1 Mighty Craic in Belsize Park, and Monday's Soho Comedy Club gig, were actually infront of proper stand up audiences as opposed to open mic crowds. I don't mind the new-act circuit, but my stuff always seems to go better at the more established clubs. Maybe the pro's make me up my game. It was last nights gig (an unplanned return to Party Piece in Stoke Newington...I'm back there on the 21st if anyone's interested) that finally jolted my return to blogging. I bumped into another stand up on the open-mic circuit, whose name I shall keep to myself for now, who -for the second time- took me to task on the Bible-based material he'd seen me perform before.

(I should point out at this point that I've already shelved this particular material for now...not because I don't like it, but because I wanted to refresh my set and every month or so I chuck the whole lot out and start again)

As I've said before I quite like getting critique from my bigger brothers and sisters on the circuit. I'm very much a new act, still within my first 20 gigs, and need all the help I can get, so I'll always listen gratefully. The comic in question told me -and this is paraphrasing from memory-

"There is virtually no point in doing stuff about the bible or religion in this country. No body cares, in America you can get away with it, but over here no-one cares and when a comic talks about the bible I just switch off".

He went on to point out that Bill Hicks had already said it all, and really even that had dated now. This is the set in question:

I quite like it, it stands out from a lot of other peoples stuff at my level, and I think is a lot closer to the comic that I want to be. I don't think I'm quite good enough yet to pull off this type of work, but it's definitely what I'm aiming towards. should I take the advice to drop this line of comedy all together? After all, it's coming from someone whose done a lot more gigs than I have? Should I listen? Are my instincts wrong? Does the UK really want to hear jokes about religion, or is it genuinely outdated now?

It's true that you don't tend to hear all that much biblical based shenanigans on the new act stand up circuit, (with the exception of the brilliant Matt Parker who does a bit on the same obscure bible reference as I do, by compete coincidence. I have a sneaking suspicion his is funnier than mine too) although I've never thought this was because there wasn't call for it. I thought it's because it's hard to write in an accessible and funny way without causing offense. or at least too much offense. After all there is a long tradition in UK comedy of poking fun of the seemingly serious and self important, of deflating the sacred with profanities (see what I did there?) and thumbing our noses at the pompous. The Bible, with its weight of tradition, dry language and association with a reactionary outlook is a prime target, a representation of the old fashioned and the dull. It's very tempting to take these very familiar shapes and phrases and spin them into jokes, and some of the very best comics have done just this. Observe Stewart Lee here as Jesus:

Lee is an absolute master at this type of material. His intelligence and knack for pointing out the absurdities in the everyday mean he has been drawn back to the Bible throughout his career. A classic routine in his Stand Up Comedian takes apart attitudes to blasphemy in a hugely skilled way, but even back in 1995 he and Richard Herring were using basic biblical principles for really very silly laughs.

Even so, Stewart Lee (famously only the 41st Best Stand Up) hardly rates as a household name. Maybe the advice I'm being given is more to do with being as acceptable as possible, rather than the more alienating affect of 'alternative' comics? Mind...Eddie Izzard is very famous, isn't he?

Throughout his career Izzard has been doing exactly what I've been doing, finding bits of the Bible that don't quite sit right and poking the absurdities at your face until you can't miss them. He's covered everything from St Paul's letters to the corinthians to The Pope. His most recent show, Stripped, takes potshots at God all the way through, notably Creationsim.

I can keep going:

Dylan Moran...

Ross Noble...

Rowan Atkinson...

Andrew O'Neil...
The moment The Pope Learns the Truth about God: by Andrew O'Neil

Glenn Wool...

And I could go on.

I suppose the argument could be that most of these comics aren't actually using the words of scripture as I was, more using the basic bible-ness of the Bible as a spring board to their own flights of fancy. But it's okay, because here's Richard Herring doing the entire first page of the new testement...

I won't continue to hurl videos your way dear reader, although I have had a whale of a time researching this. I hope I've made my point though, because from Stewart Lee to the Life of Brian, religion, the Bible, God, Jesus and the Holy Wotnot have provided an obvious backdrop from which to launch a comedic offensive.

And okay, I'll concede that you won't often get 10 minute disections of the Bibles oddest moments at your local working mans club, or Jongleurs, but then I'm not sure that's the kind of comic I want to be. I was really pleased with the little routine I wrote, and if the general public find it alienating, boring or out dated, then at the very least I feel like I'm in in good company

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