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31 January 2014

Stand-up and be authentic

Stand-up and be authentic

Who is the real Jim Davidson? Another series of Celebrity Big Brother finished and the bookies' favourite, Jim Davidson, emerged victorious.

Interestingly, the controversial comedian has surprised many with his gentle, non-confrontational, father-like behaviour, which stands in stark contrast to his potty-mouthed public persona. Thought of as a relic in the showbiz world and known for offensive jokes, public expectations were not high when Jim entered the House. But he was often a source of comfort for housemates and a fount of wisdom at times. 

Stand-up comedy has rightly moved on from the stereotypical 80s isms Jim is famous for, and we only have to turn on our TV to see how popular it has become. Although controversial and frequently pushing boundaries, stand-up is an accepted genre used to comment on some very difficult social issues. In some ways, comedy has become the barometer by which we assess the accepted morality of the masses and a popular critique of culture.

But where does the Church come in? Are we not born for such a time as this? At a time when stand-up comedy is so popular, the Church is being questioned over monologue communication methods. Why the double standard?

Some are suggesting preaching has had its day. Others reject the one person, one microphone approach as a cultural oddity. But for me, given the popularity of stand-up comedy, this does not hold.

I have to own up, I'm a preacher. I'll need to find a new job, or learn to drink more tea and say "there, there" a lot if the critics are right. As part of my training to become a Baptist minister I undertook a six-week comedy course that culminated with a performance in one of Liverpool's comedy clubs.Without doubt this was the scariest thing I had ever done.

At that stage the focus was to see what I could learn from stand-up comedy that could translate into my speaking. Road testing my material, usually around being a minister of a church, I appeared wherever they would give me the stage. For me, comedy was becoming a tool for mission.

When researching my dissertation on "Can stand-up comedy be used as a missional tool in comedy clubs?" I spoke to many Christian comics who answered no. They preferred to talk about presence evangelism and being authentic but rarely, if ever, reference faith in their routines. Can we fully claim authenticity if we omit talk about our faith?

Having gigged for a year I understand why comedians don't talk about their faith. The very mention of Christianity in comedy clubs gets peoples defences up. This is not conducive to making them laugh and obviously we need to remember we are there to make people laugh, not preach.

If stand-up comedians can promote their atheist worldview in a humorous way then why can't we equally talk about faith? Are we content being confined to a Christian comedy sub-culture, in the safety of church halls, or will we risk 'coming out'?

We have the ideal opportunity to engage in our culture in a relevant way but it is vital to be authentic to who we are if we are going to be true to the Gospel and faithful to comedy. Adapting our message into the context of stand-up comedy is possible, it's just a matter of how. Monologue is a perceived weakness, but in it lies real strength. Come on, stand-up and be authentic.

Have you heard the one about the Christian stand-up comic who never mentions their faith? What a joke!  

Rev Allan Finnegan is a budding stand-up comic and minister of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Netherton, Liverpool.