The comedy festival has finished for another year and I am sad but also quietly relieved. I’ve loved watching stand-up comedy since I first saw the Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala on television at the age of 14 or so. But festivals can be such a whirlwind and this year I struggled with the late nights more than before. Grandmotherly, I know.
This year I saw a bunch of shows as a Beat magazine reviewer. It’s a great deal, because I like comedy and writing and free tickets. But it also meant that I got asked this question a lot:
“So as a Christian, how do you feel about being a comedy festival reviewer?”
The short answer is, “pretty fine”. But sure, I see why you’re asking.
I’ve been asked variations of this for a few years now, since I got involved with Melbourne Uni student magazine Farrago. I’d mention to someone or other at church that I was writing for Farrago, and my goodness, if I had a dollar for every time they responded, “But isn’t Farrago really anti-Christian?” it would almost make up for all the work I did for free.
There were definitely people involved with Farrago who were not fans of Christianity/Jesus/any form of religion. And there were articles in the magazine expressing those views. But I was used to that! It was a university! It was planet Earth! There are people here who are “anti-Christian”! (And side note, if Christians are going to use the phrase “anti-Christian”, I think we have a responsibility to think about what we’re “anti”, and how we treat other people who are in difficult situations.)
When I was around, Farrago had three Christian editors in two years and a few Christian sub-editors, as well as a bunch of people who were not Christians but who, oh wait, didn’t hate us and made sure our glasses were topped up with non-alcoholic drinks (JOKES) and were happy to have robust exchanges of views.
But Christian friends who weren’t involved in Farrago didn’t necessarily know that and would ask a lot of questions. What about when you have to edit articles you don’t agree with? What if you had to edit an article about why hard drugs should be legalised? Or what if you had to edit an article by an atheist about atheism?
So I was kinda prepared when Christian friends starting asking how I felt about reviewing comedy shows. There’s just so much swearing, they said. And jokes about sex. And jokes about being drunk. And stand-up comedians make fun of Christians all the time, right? Right? So what do you say in your reviews?
You know what?
This is actually not as big a problem as you imagine it is.
The majority of articles I edited at Farrago were university news stories or film reviews or coffee reviews or recipes or lengthy musings on the future of journalism or ponderings on what it’s like to be a feminist today or investigations into the company that runs Australian detention centres or opinion pieces about the latest war in the Middle East.
The majority of comedians I saw this festival told jokes about funerals, becoming a parent, corporate improv gigs that ended badly, the differences between Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne, generic boy bands and how the western suburbs seem far from the rest of the city.
Of course there are exceptions.
Once at Farrago I had to sub-edit an article about S&M. It was a well-researched investigative piece by a great writer who visited an S&M club and interviewed people there. I am a delicate lady and it was a bit of a shock. But it wouldn’t have caused any dramas if I’d told my editors I couldn’t edit it. It was a strong piece of journalism and I subbed it like I would have subbed any other article.
A couple of times during this festival, comedians made jokes about Jesus. One was musical comedy trio The Axis of Awesome, which was otherwise the best show I saw all festival. Difficult! So, I wrote them a glowing review and included the line, “Be warned that there’s a Hitler joke and one song making fun of the Holy Ghost, if that’s a warning you need. But these are soon over.”
Another was The San Fran Melbourne Comedy Show with Andrew Roberts and James Moffett. There were many more problems with this show, which I outlined in the most critical review I have written for some time. I also mentioned their joke about crucifix-adorned breasts as part of a list of the cheap shots they took.
I’m pretty satisfied that my faith is robust enough that I’m not going to listen to one comedy song about the Holy Spirit and spiral into crisis. Now, that might not be the case for all Christians, and if they refuse to listen to such a song on that basis then that is totally fine too.
Writing in the first century, the apostle Paul had this advice: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.”
He has more to say but his point was that it wasn’t morally wrong for the early Christians in Corinth, Greece to eat meat that might have been sacrificed to idols. BUT if eating the idol-sacrificed meat was going to get in the way of their or others’ faith in Jesus, they shouldn’t do it.
It’s not an exact analogy but by this logic, if seeing and reviewing stand-up comedy shows that briefly poke fun of Jesus would get in the way of my faith, it would be best not for me to do it, but as is, I think that it’s okay. One Christian friend said she’d be happy to see fairly clean stand-up, but she didn’t want to see anything with swearing or gutter humour or jokes about religion. So by Paul’s logic, it would be a bad idea for me to drag this friend along to a show with those elements.
I can see that friends are worried I might feel forced to endorse things I don’t believe. But fortunately I’ve never felt stuck in that situation.
Christians are called to be in the world, but not of the world. In practical terms, it’s a good thing for us to spend time outside our Christian friend bubble, but when we do, we still have the same faith and set of convictions about how we should behave. To others this can look like being a Christian is mainly about “being good”, but it is actually mainly about faith in Jesus.
It is a good thing for Christians to work in areas where there are not many Christians. And next time you meet a Christian journalist/actor/investment banker, that might be worth keeping in mind.