wed 19/06/2024

Are You Having a Laugh?, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Are You Having a Laugh?, BBC One

Are You Having a Laugh?, BBC One

Former MP questions whether comics have it in for Christianity

Comic Marcus Brigstocke and Ann Widdecombe have a heated debate

How do we know Jesus Christ was a Jew? He was still living with his mum at 33 and she thought he was God Almighty. Are you offended? I sincerely hope not and profuse apologies if you are, but that was the first religious joke I remember from my Catholic childhood, and which managed to take a swipe at two religions for the price of one.

I also remember - and on my occasional forays into church still do - hearing priests crack jokes about God and the Pope from the pulpit. Maybe it's a Catholic thing, because I have never heard a left-footer make the complaint that Ann Widdecombe - former Conservative MP and a convert to Catholicism after the Church of England allowed women into the ministry - explored. To whit, that comics have got it in for Christianity, a juicy subject for Holy Week.

An array of comics including Marcus Brigstocke and Steve Punt were brave enough to be interviewed by a woman for whom the word "formidable" was invented and who has a spirited interviewing style. Such is Widdecombe's impressive pulling power, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, no less, appeared (George Carey, pictured below), as did the priest on whom the excellent Rev. is based, TV pundit Mark Lawson and Monty Python's Terry Jones, who talked about The Life of Brian, which has what Punt called the “jaw-droppingly offensive” crucifixion scene.

The comics, as you might expect, stood their ground, saying they had a right to say whatever they wanted; jokes about Christianity are “fair game, making up for 500 years of people telling them how to think or feel.” There were some choice moments. Carey took a relaxed approach to what Widdecombe thought was sacrilegious humour - “The mature Christian response is to have a sense of humour” - while Brigstocke, like many comics an avowed atheist, appeared genuinely taken aback that she felt a personal sense of bereavement every time she thought about Christ dying on the cross.

By the end of the programme, a remarkable thing had happened: Widdecombe had the notion that maybe she was being too sensitive - and if comics are telling jokes about Christians, at least it means religion is still part of our culture. As Punt pointed out, in order to understand the jokes in The Life of Brian you have to have some knowledge of the Bible.

A really interesting question was only briefly explored; why, if comics are so fearless in their guying of Christianity, don't they mock Mohammed? The answer is screamingly obvious – because they really don't want to risk a fatwa being issued against them by Muslim zealots. Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr don't appear quite so cutting-edge now, do they? I suspect Bill Hicks (referenced in the programme) would have taken on that fight without a second thought.

Widdecombe intelligently explored many avenues on this topic – perhaps too many, as the number of talking heads nearly hit double figures and nobody was given enough time to elaborate a point. In this she was poorly served by director/producer Emily Davis, who was for ever cutting away to clips of stand-up comics such as Ricky Gervais or Dara Ó Bríain, or to shots of Widdecombe walking in and out of churches. She also loved using tricksy camera angles. But the programme ended on a fantastic God joke by Tim Vine, as told by Brigstocke. Widdecombe found it very funny. Job done.

By the end of the programme, a remarkable thing had happened: Widdecombe had the notion that maybe she was being too sensitive


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article


ann, why the double standards? you are "deeply hurt" when someone flavours the flesh of your god (bread) , but you are not "deeply hurt" when you MOCK the god of JUDAISM. does judaism MAKE any claim about YHWH coming out of a womans vagina, getting BEATEN up by bunch of pagans and then hung/nailed to a cross? THIS IS DEEPLY offensive to jews.

Spirited interviewer she may be, good researcher she is not. She described Bill Hicks as an "atheist", anyone who has listened to even half an hour of his material would have been able to tell her how spectacularly wrong she was with that statement. I suppose she made the assumption that just because he mocked certain groups of Christians (not Christianity itself - important distinction), he must, by definition, be an atheist. Not exactly a way to win over the other side. Furthermore, to prove Christians actually can have a laugh like the rest of us (so patronising, we all know Christians can have a GSOH, it's just you don't have one, Ann), she gives us a demonstration of 13th century toilet humour. Need I say more?

Does she really expect to belong to an organization that rapes children, preaches hateful practices, denies science, gets massive tax breaks AND not be mocked too? She is an ignorant person who needs to believe in hokum to feel alive. Her being on TV is more tragedy than comedy.

I think the reviewer above hit the nail on the head. The reason why comics don’t mock Mohammed and Islam is because don't want to risk a fatwa being issued against them by Muslim zealots and Christianity is a fair game.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters