There are only three things in the world that I hate, and one of them is this article.
Ann Widdecombe, who's only famous for being fucking awful, has been paid by the taxpayer to voice her boring opinion on the BBC, and I watched the whole thing like a big idiot because I didn't realise it was an hour long.
It's wonderfully ironic that Ann Widdecombe would reference Father Ted in her opening paragraph, before embarking on an article that just screams "Down with this sort of thing". Are You Having a Laugh? – Comedy and Christianity follows no one's favourite former Tory MP as she explores comedy's "abuse of Christianity". I didn't even realise Ann Widdecombe was into comedy, but apparently she's enough of an expert to present a show all about it. Personally, If I were looking for someone to host a programme on the relationship between comedy and Christianity, I'd probably get someone who has actually seen Monty Python's Life of Brian. But I guess I'm weird like that.
Instead, Ann Widdecombe watches excerpts from the controversial classic and deems it unfunny, thereby undermining every subsequent opinion and making her basically wrong. Obviously I'm being facetious, humour is entirely subjective and if she doesn't find it funny then that's fine. But then it just seems like Ann Widdecombe is giving her opinion on what is funny, and I don't particularly need to know that. She loves panto, incidentally.
I would, however, argue that you really ought to see the entire film before you can make an informed judgement. And yes I appreciate the hypocrisy, given that this blog is mostly me slagging off films that I've not seen. But then I'm not presenting a show about them on the BBC. Constantly arrested for obscenity, the comedian Lenny Bruce would beg judges to be allowed to do his act for the court. Instead, police officers would just read out transcripts of his shows, free of all context and nuance, condemning a desperate Lenny Bruce: "This guy's bombing and I'm going to jail for it."
Ann Widdecombe describes the end of Life of Brian as "quite horrific", which seems unfair. It's many things, but horrific is not one of them; smart, silly, sensitive, satirical and ultimately uplifting. "Always look on the bright side of life..."
Her other main target is the Goodness Gracious Me sketch in which the Indian characters go to church, and end up putting chutney on the Communion bread. The sketch was banned and cannot be aired, so we have to watch Ann Widdecombe watching it. Why she is allowed to see it while the public aren't is unclear, but she calls the ban just and feels "wounded" by the sketch. She claims that "the body and blood of Christ were mocked" but I'm not sure that's the point of the sketch at all; it's about a clash of culture, as is every fucking sketch in Goodness Gracious Me. The punchline is surely not on Christianity, but on the ridiculous Indian stereotypes.
Her argument is that Christ just should not be mocked; "comedy should keep its hands off what is sacred." She puts this to comedian Marcus Brigstocke who replies, "it's not special." And he's completely right. Nothing should be outside the reach of comedy. In fact, comedy is probably the best way of dealing with these controversial issues. Lenny Bruce called comedy "the only honest art form", before being driven to bankruptcy and ultimately death by a legal system which objected to his mocking of religion.
One of the show's best comments comes from writer Cole Moreton: "People are making up for 500 years of Christians telling them what to think and how to feel." Comedy tackles Christianity as it does any aspect of society, especially one that exercised so much control for so long. Religion ought to be held to the same scrutiny as any issue, and as Marcus Brigstocke explains, "There are not lines that we as a society should decide cannot be crossed. There just aren't." Anne Widdecombe's claim that Christ is "too big to be mocked" is meaningless; nothing is "too big to be mocked." On the contrary, the bigger something is, the more it invites mockery. Not literally, I'm not saying we should bully the tall, awful though they are. But a crucial role of comedy is to puncture the inflated, and it doesn't get much bigger than claims to divine authority.
Do comedians use religion to get an easy laugh? Sure, so stop watching Mock the Week. Some of the best comedy satirises religion and does it incisively and sensitively; Richard Herring's Christ on a Bike, Stewart Lee's 90s Comedian, Robin Ince, Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce, South Park and of course Life of Brian. Not Ricky Gervais. But they don't "abuse" Christianity, they highlight its hypocrisies and ultimately stem from compassion. And you might get offended along the way, but you don't have a right to not be offended. Personally, I'm offended by Ann Widdecombe's views on sex and abortion and women priests. But you don't see me going on about it...
Then Baroness Warsi shows up and says fuck nothing of interest.
I'll leave you with some beautiful blasphemous comedy from Tim Minchin, thanks for reading!