Comedian Marcus Brigstocke is now well into his God Collar tour, a 1 man show with 1 main topic. As a preacher who struggles to hold people's attention for 10 minutes, I'm repeatedly struck how, through the medium of comedy, we're happy to listen to ideas and arguments being developed for a couple of hours. As long as there's a regular punchline, audiences can still think. Well over 2 hours of Brigstocke on Sunday night in Yeovil was a good workout for both the mind and the diaphragm.
And Brigstocke has certainly been thinking. "I have a God-shaped hole, but none of the available deities seem to fit." Much of the routine is about reasons not to believe - religious wars ("religion and war are like Ant and Dec, you never see them apart."), misogyny, obsession with rules, and so on. But at the same time Brigstocke is very honest about his desire to believe, and his conviction that there's something more to life than just reason ("sometimes I'd rather be happy than right"). The second half is quite personal, talking about his experience of family, children and bereavement, and the encore turned into a 30 minute Q&A session with the audience, giving Brigstocke the chance to land some precise blows on global warming and Top Gear.
It's an excellent show, if you can cope with a few crude bits. Along the way there is a pop at everyone from IPhone users to Nestle. Brigstocke is nothing if not even handed, from Muslims - "bags are for things, not people, grow up!" - to atheists "you're not cleverer than everybody else", there's something to annoy just about everyone. He points out the weirdness of agnostics who haven't really given the massive question of God any thought, and gives a superb summary of the difference between Protestants and Catholics.
There was plenty of challenging material. Noahs Ark, that famous childrens story, provided the lead in to a discussion of how many people in the Bible get killed by God. As for the rainbow as a reminder to God not to destroy the earth "if there's one thing worse than a murderous deity, it's a scatterbrained murderous deity." This is one Christians have wrestled with for centuries, ever since Marcion carved up the Bible in the second century to leave out the nasty bits.
More positively, Brigstocke spoke about 'Goodbye' (= 'God be with you') being a 'beautiful' thing, and how things like children and death are times when the God-shaped hole is more obvious. Talking of the death of his grandfather, and his best friend, Brigstocke muses on how comforting the idea of an afterlife would be, and then reminds us that this is exactly the same idea behind 9/11. Coincidentally, the comfort of an (imaginary?) afterlife is also at the root of Ricky Gervais's plot in The Invention of Lying.
Lots of other good stuff, I'm tempted to quote lots of the jokes but that would spoil it for anyone who might be tempted to catch him. I'd recommend it. It made me laugh, made me think, and makes me glad that the man behind We Are History is still going. The fact he's prepared to ruthlessly skewer Richard Dawkins probably helped! He'd done his homework on the local area too - which might have something to do with the fact he went to school in Bruton. On the downside, some pretty crude sexual references, and I'm not entirely sure that a bloke who habitually exposed himself to others is anything to admire.
As a Christian, I felt he was pretty fair about Christianity, with one or two exceptions, and most of his jokes about it were ones I wished I'd thought of first ("Christians are more obessed about gays than gays are"). He talked of having Christian friends and plenty of conversations with them, and I could believe it. This is the kind of atheist I'd be happy to have a pint with. Intelligent, fair, honest, questioning.