Stand up comedy and the critical voice in mission

June 26, 2012


As  I have worked on writing missional Bible engagement resources I have had to develop some little reality tests to try and keep myself from slipping too far into the norms and assumptions of christian culture. 

It is so easy to take certain propositions or foundational views as given, or to assume plausibilities and ‘proofs’ that have become routine in christian rhetoric. Some of these views are missionally unhelpful, not because they aren’t true, but because they start from a different place than many people who are not part of Christian culture.

This is something to celebrate and to investigate.

I have been a follower of Jesus for 35 years. It’s not a bad thing that I have developed a few faith habits over that time. In fact, I proabably should have developed a few more in that time!

But if habitual thinking and phrasing makes my communication of faith, and my invitation to open the Bible inaccessible to others, I need to do something about it.

And so, I have this routine.

I try to imagine how my writing would be received by those who are known for cutting faith down.

I could take Dawkins or Hitchens as my critical voice, but they are too boring, too pretentious, and they don’t really reflect the Australian mind. I need critical voices that reflect the Australian who is on holidays and has had a couple of beers already.

So, as I write my resources, every 5000 words or so, I’ll stop and watch a little stand up comedy.

In 2010 as I wrote ‘Welcome Mat’, my reality therapist was Judith Lucy. By the time I had ploughed through the 65,000 words, I had watched almost every youtube clip of her material available.

In 2011, it was Tom Gleeson and Wil Anderson who were my Sons of Thunder as I wrote ‘Rewind’.

And this year, Ross Noble is keeping me on the straight and narrow. His routine on ‘Monopoly’ is very instructive.

It goes like this. I listen to these skeptical and profane comedians and watch them take the piss out of religion, faith and christian culture. I watch for what it is that is shields them from being compelled by the grace and love and truth and justice of the gospel. What are the decoys christians have so effectively set in place that it is possible to get hours of comedic material out of religion, without ever being apprehended by the gospel of reconciliation?

So as I write, I try to imagine Judith and Wil and Tom and Ross wandering along the foreshore at McCrae or Barwon Heads, through the caravan park at Mallacoota or Queenscliff. I try to see and hear what I have written through their lens. The voice of humour, after all is a critical voice. If I can see how they might turn the words and thinking and practice into stand up fodder, I gain two things.

One is – I have a healthy laugh at myself. Writers are easily inclined to take themselves and their work too seriously.  So it’s a healthy discipline to consider how Tom Gleeson would make minced meat out of my material. I know I’m no match for his wit – that’s not the game anyway. I don’t want to score point for point, clever line for clever line. No one is convinced by those kinds of interactions, and especially no one will find grace and transformation there. No, in calling in Gleeson or Noble as a writing mentor, I am most interested in where I lose them, not in where I win.

Secondly, it helps to clarify where the pitfalls and defences against the gospel arise.

I really believe in Jesus as Lord. I think he is the genuine article. In the way that I represent Jesus, authenticity is what I’m after. Ultimately, like Paul, I’m likely to be considered a fool. That’s ok.

But I hope that we can find ways to speak of Jesus that have the ring of reality.


  1. Great post. There are painful moments in public theology where its not that (or not solely that) what is said is _wrong_, but that it betrays such a disconnection from the people who are ostensibly its audience.

  2. I just watched the Monopoly clip. Very funny and insightful. Hey, Beth I’m at the School of Min and the speaker David Cohen is on topics that interest you – a musician/worship professor (?) from WA. He hasn’t thought thru the place of children in worship tho, he needs a crash course

  3. well, Geoff – what to say? School of Ministry this week? I’m out of touch! How can we speak of ministry and not have the whole human project in view? The call of Jesus is to think of the other first. If I am a follower of Jesus, I need the discipline of Ross Noble’s voice to inform my thinking about mission, If I am a grown up, I need the voice of the child to inform my thinking about the kingdom…
    It is death to church and scholarship both when we use only ourselves as a frame of reference.

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