Can Christians do comedy?
There are some cases where professional comedians have a Christian faith “on the side” as it were -Think of Cannon and Ball or Tim Vine. I’m not being disparaging here in the use of that phrase. Their faith is something of a private affair and the only impact that it makes on their performance is the choice of material and the language used in its delivery.
The problem –if it is a problem- in the first case, is that of a split personality. It’s something that we all do, I guess, like splitting a work persona from home life.
In the second case, the Christian comics always run the risk of being thought light-weight, frivolous and, well, not serious about their faith. But further, it recalls something that C.S. Lewis said about his creation of the character Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters to point out Christian failings in a semi-comic way. He said (and I’m quoting from memory) that it was rather arid territory that he didn’t care to inhabit for too long. I guess if you’re constantly poking fun at foibles, you become something of an accuser, a pointer of fingers. From there it’s an easy slide into sneering and cynicism.
Oscar Wilde was far from being a Christian comic, but he observed the danger of his own success in that way. “At table, I only have to say, ‘Pass the Mustard’ and everyone collapses into laughter.” The point is: he was no longer taken at face value. He couldn’t be straight-forward any more. Everything was a jolly game. How depressing.
There are a few Christians who attempt to use comedic insight to make us consider the world afresh. I’ve seen this in the writing of Fred Buechner, Madeline L’Engle and a very few others. It seems to me that this is what Simon Page is doing in his recent novel Missing Gretyl. Beneath the scatological veneer of burps and “bits” is a serious man using comedy to analyse the world. The very awfulness of the obnoxious Gretyl, her greed and grotesquery, masks a parable about decency, faithfulness, the meaning of love and the importance of stickability in marriage- among other things.
It’s a very English piece of mayhem, though it may translate to American sensibilities in the way that Benny Hill has! The danger there would be that the surface vulgarity would be mistaken for the substance (and hence dismissed, or brushed aside like something unpleasant on the pavement). It’s reminiscent of some of the Enderby material in Anthony Burgess, the slapstick of Kingsley Amis and the crudities of Tom Sharpe, but the context is very 21st Century London with its massive racial muddle and confusion of identities. Since this is my own family background, I can readily identify the context that Page explores.
The story is woven through an intricate web of marital frustration, disappointed hopes and chicanery in the mode of a darker Only Fools and Horses. The plot twists like a North Circular underpass, combining elements of farce, Stepford Wives, the Costa-del-Sol ex-pat English underworld of gangsters, fraudsters and hit-men (and hit-women –why is that not a word?) and…. And through it all strides the eponymous heroine, huge, ungainly and yet somehow, eventually, sympathetic.
Gretyl is too powerful a creation to avoid reincarnation, so I anticipate further adventures of that amazing lady.
- As fools graced by favor (lanternhollowpress.com)
- The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (dailypaul.com)
- Christianity..HAHAHA. (pierscheney.wordpress.com)