‘The mockery of religion is one of the most essential things’ Christopher Hitchens
I’m in the middle of making a new show, called Theology for the Arches Behaviour festival, and I need to get a few things off my chest. People keep asking if it’s going to be offensive, if I’m going to make fun of people, if people might protest. Here is where I am right now.
We need to start talking about stuff like religion in our country today. It’s a big elephant in the room, it’s covered in football scarves, it’s covered in child abuse, it’s covered in hypocrisy around gay marriage and the role of women. And theatre is a good way to do that. Theatre is a particular social space that’s a bit like a religious community where we can be critical about something and shed some light on it and look at it in a different way.
And I believe that religion should be treated the same as everything else when you integrate into comedy – what we do as a mature society. I think it’s more mature to poke fun and ask questions than it is not to – to accept it and ignore and put up with it.
I like comedy. And one of my big worries at the moment is that my show is not funny enough, or that it’s too crude, or that’s its one dimensional joke, a private joke, or it’s just stupid or I’m banging on about it too much, that I’m making the joke too obvious, that people will get it within 30 seconds of the start and then it has nowhere to go.
But using comedy in this instance for this show is really important to me. Comedy does loads of things. Comedy is a release of tension – and I think if I address it in a comedic fashion people will relax; I know the value of humour in settling an audience; I can play with stereotypes and portray ugly characteristics and arrogance and dominance all through comedy; Comedy shows us what is imperfect – failings and embarrassments and self-deprecation. We are not perfect. Religion isn’t perfect.
So when it comes to religion and comedy, I think, maybe in the past or usually when I see it – Comedy takes atheism as the default. Whereas I’m doing it from within. So does that mean I’m better qualified to do it or does it mean that it’s just a private joke?
Because we’re at a particular point in society where we ridicule religion – we’re much more secular – different from the Life of Brian or early Billy Connolly. We’re in a different place – a different generation. We’re maybe not that bothered so maybe I shouldn’t be worried about offending people.
So what about religion?
Good religion demands you to be critical and look at failings. Jesus was critical. Jesus was very critical. And when religion is something that is to be accepted and swallowed without questioning then that’s when the problems arise. People don’t have the power in Christianity – we’re always looking to a higher being – a God, a Priest, an elder. We’re being asked to look at our flaws but what about the bigger flaws of the constructs that make all this up?
In this sense we give ourselves up to the written word – the Bible and the teachings from school – we were taught to have a sense of wonderment and awe that I’m localising. That might be dodgy territory but for me that’s what it’s all about – poking a stick and seeing hat happens – I can’t help myself. But there once existed a Bible in Scots – it was replaces during the reformation and with the publication of the King James Bible that standardised language in Scotland – because the people who could read and write and were scholarly were the priests. But I still feel this need to elevate our language to this place and say – no – this is how we should say it – this is about people and congregations – not about individual men – white men who created all of this as a business to make money.
Is that too offensive?
As much as I’m willing to criticise and take on the idea of organised religion I am a bit wary that that might look like I’m having a pop at faith and I want to make it clear that these two are very different things.
There is more to religion than belief and just looking at what people believe isn’t the issue that’s to ignore the how and why we receive the information. How it’s fed to us through childhood and education. And that’s’ nothing to do whether someone believes in God, whether someone believes in Heaven or whether someone reads the Bible. That’s not the point. I suppose I’ve never been interested in that – I suppose I’ve always been more interested in the bigger stuff that society puts up with rather than people’s personal choices.
But: If you ridicule religion then I’ll have a problem. I’ll take offence and I suppose that comes back to me making a comedy from within. Some of the material might be offensive to my family – the fact that it’s me saying and doing these things – is that a public rejection of my upbringing? And is that tough for them to see? I would hope that the Catholics in the audience will appreciate the references and laugh at them knowingly, and that the rest of the audience will appreciate the comedy because they trust that I know what I’m talking about.
I’m also asking audience to be critical of themselves. I want them to think about their relationship with God and spirituality and mortality and adhering to a system and all of that.
I think a lot of it comes down to intent and content – expectation – assumptions – I think that’s where offence comes from.
But I’m taking the mickey out of myself – I’m kind of laying myself bare saying this is what I once believed. And this is a personal story of me growing up, trying to make sense of it all.
And is this blog just a justification of my work? That it needs an explanation? Can the work stand on its own without explanation?