An atypical week

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I’m sometimes asked what’s a typical week for me. There is no such thing. Last week for example, an atypical week…

 

Saturday:

A charity gig for The Gravel Road Trust. It’s a small and noble cause that does great things, helping people through the toughest times. It’s the brainchild of Nick Battle, recording industry supremo and thoroughly nice chap, so he compered and sang some songs, including a beautiful country-style song: ‘She’s A Better Man Than Me’. Also on hand: Kipper, who records with Sting, and David Grant, from off of Fame Academy and CBeebies’ Popbox. I was the only comedian. So I chose, instead, to sing a song. Cos I like a challenge.

 

Sunday:
To Leicester, for BBC1’s The Big Questions. It’s Question Time for a Sunday morning religious programming slot. It’s Nicky Campbell with aggressive questioning for nuns. It’s quite a melting-pot: so our show, as well as tackling humour about religion, also threw together some Catholic journalists with some believing there was more to be exposed from the abuse scandal, plus some fervent anti-hunting campaigners were put head-to-head with the man who runs The Hunting Channel. He was incredibly rah, and I think most people fancied letting him loose on a game reserve, while the rest of us stalked him with a spudgun. It was fun. I wasn’t going to do any jokes on it, but comic Jeff Mirza was on and told a few. So I couldn’t be the only comedian not to tell jokes… It probably came across like laughter-hungry comedians, but then that’s us.

I sought a church that evening for a Sunday service, and by chance was flyered on the way on… with a picture of my own face. Turns out I’m doing a gig there in a month’s time. Didn’t even realise. They thought I was a month early. I was confused, they were confused.

 

Monday:

Leicester Comedy Festival sits first in the Comedy Festival calendar. Resultantly, whether they know it or not, they generally get comedians’ first attempts at knocking a show together. The shows then develop and go on to other festivals, culminating in Edinburgh in August, before maybe a tour for the lucky few. My show this year was different: I had no plans for it after Leicester. That meant this hour of work-in-progress was in fact work-that-had-entirely-progressed. That said, I’ll put it in the back pocket for a future year. The show went nicely so my Leicester 2014 show may yet live on.

 

Tuesday:

I’m doing a charity gig in the summer for Gatwick Detainees’ Welfare Group: an organisation who visit detainees being held in what’s basically a prison on a parking lot backing onto Gatwick runway. It’s for, in theory, illegal immigrants, which sounds great in the papers, but in reality is anyone ranging from asylum seekers running away from war and torture, to those applying for Visas but whose time ran out before the paperwork could get filed. This was the case for the guy I visited, a beaming twentysomething Nepalese student called Bishal. Charming yet bewildered fellow, he was. He’s behind bars because he paid the wrong lawyer to file his Visa application, and the lawyer ran off with his money instead of filing the paperwork. The Home Office don’t allow leeway though, so the poor lad’s unable to study until the legal process has gone through, which could take… Well, the only difference between real prison and this detention centre is that actual prisoners know roughly how long they’re in for. Some of these detainees at Gatwick have been there for years. Still, looks good in the rightwing papers, doesn’t it Cameron? Spare a thought for them.

 

Wednesday:

Not Going Out returns for its last series, so we’re busy writing and rewriting it over the next few months. This was a day doing just that. My role is relatively little: the script’s written up by the time I get it, just ready for some gags and alternate lines to be thrown at it.

 

Thursday:

I’m working on a radio sitcom pitch, a TV sitcom pitch, a third book, a fourth book and a fifth book. This was a day spent writing on all five of those, which is why all five are progressing incredibly slowly. Especially since you can add ‘Words With Friends’ to this mix too.

 

Friday:

Some days I wake up and I’m a writer. Other days I wake up and I’m a comedian. Today? Both. Proofreading my forthcoming second book by day (a collection of lighthearted retellings of the book of Genesis, available for preorder, of course, on Amazon and elsewhere), and a gig by night. The gig was the first night of a new club near Andover. A few people in, but it was Valentine’s night, so they were all couples, so they all don’t laugh as much as big groups do. A great chance to work with lively master of ceremonies Simon Feilder and a US comic who’s appeared on Letterman and the like, Al Lubel. A scary drive home dodging the UK’s biggest storm for 20 years, reminiscent of scenes from 1995’s Helen Hunt movie Twister, and then home. Ready to start another, probably equally unusual week.

“I paid who?!” A true tale of the perils of online banking

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Domestic transactions: made ever easier with online banking, but with risks…

My wife is a full-time mum, which we all know is harder work than many jobs (certainly harder than mine), yet in terms of direct pay… well the kids don’t cough up much. Plus no bank would except what they do cough up.

So I put some hard-earned pennies over to my missus’ bank account every so often, and did one such transaction a few weeks back. M’wife gave me details of which account to send it to, and apparently it was the everyday account (with the bank with the free pens), rather than the rainy day account (with the bank who give you extra, but no free pens) that she jokingly calls the ‘Starting Anew’ account. I can’t say I like the name.

Two weeks later, she asked if I definitely sent that money over. It had never arrived. Hmm. Mustn’t have clicked ‘Confirm’, I thought, so checked, and sure enough it was confirmed as sent, although the statement only shows the account name I entered, rather than the account details. I phoned my bank (with the free pens). “Just because it says her name,” they said, “It doesn’t stop it going to someone else of a different name if you got a digit wrong.” Huh? Some safeguard that is. “Well, people spell names different ways sometimes. We can’t expect them to get it exactly right.” Oh but you can. You can if the upshot is my money goes to a complete stranger.

“We can confirm you got at least one digit wrong. You should have entered a ‘20’ first, but you did ‘30’ so it’s gone somewhere else.” A thousand pounds, this was. Slipped through my fingers because I slipped with my fingers when tapping numbers in. I felt physically sick. I need that money, I said. I need to know where it is, and I needed you Mr Banker to get it back! Holding the phone, it was like I was on a particularly hostile edition of Deal Or No Deal. “Well it’s been two weeks now, sir, and it’s left our bank. Once it’s gone, it’s a) up to the incorrect recipient to return it if they wish, and b) up to you to persuade them.” (I never warm to anyone using ‘a)’ and ‘b)’ in speech, particularly when they’re telling me I’ve lost a thousand pounds.)

I am normally very careful, I insisted, recalling that our pre-schooler and baby were both present and clawing my leg when I was doing that payment. I’d have to dock their pocket money for a few decades to recoup the cash. “We can’t get the money back. But what I’ll do is put a tracking procedure on this, and you’ll get a letter in the next 12 days, detailing exactly who now has your thousand pounds. You can write to them, if you’d like it back.”

Like it back…? My thousand pounds. Now theirs. My heart sank. Times are tough. If I’d slipped up and sent a tenner to the wrong place, I’d be kicking myself, but would probably eventually let it lie, and just take a few extra free pens to make up for it. But a thousand pounds? To some stranger? Whom I had to now convince, with no bank support, to just return it if they wanted to, if they hadn’t already spent it?

I contemplated if I received unexpected money into my bank account. Would I spend it? Alert the bank? I couldn’t say for sure. From now on, I’ll definitely be alerting the bank. (Unless it’s a thousand pounds, in which case I may consider it divine reward for this occasion, and spend it as quickly as I can before anyone comes looking for it.)

Twelve days of sleeplessness ensued while I waited for the recipient’s details to arrive in the post. My wife was as gutted as I was, but didn’t blame me, knowing the chaos and distraction kids tugging at your leg can bring. Privately she probably thought I was an idiot and started packing her Starting Anew bag.

The letter arrived. With kids racing around seemingly non-stop since the whole crisis had begun, I nervously opened it. Wifey looked on. We scanned down to find the name and contact details of this person. Who would I now be begging for our money. Please let them sound nice, I thought. I started stereotyping in my head. I was more likely to get it back from a Rev Dorothy Harting of The Vicarage, Upper Mallow, than from a Rex Wilkins, Cell 204, Reading Prison, so thought my prejudiced brain. I prayed for it to be a Dorothy Harting.

The name and address on that letter shocked me. It was our address, and my wife’s name. The account details made it clear: I had sent it to her rainy day ‘Starting Anew’ account. They apparently give you extra, just not pens or regular bank statements on this account, so we had no idea this savings account for once had a grand’s worth of savings in it.

It was a giant relief that it had reached my wife after all. I instantly knew one thing though: of all the people I could have sent that money to, there was no way I was going to get it back now.

The top 5 biblical movies – and the worst…

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The publishers of an excellent forthcoming book retelling stories from Genesis in entertaining style (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Genesis-Bibluffers-Guide-Paul-Kerensa/dp/0232530750/) asked me to write up my favourite five biblical films, so you can see those here…

http://www.dltbooks.com/magazine/1987-paul-kerensa-s-top-five-bible-movies

…And it reminded me of a blog post I did years ago about what I’m pretty sure is the worst biblical film adaptation ever abominalised:

 

Noah’s Ark (1999):

Starring Angelina Jolie’s dad as Noah, and Clara Doc’s wife from Back To The Future III as Mrs Noah. Now I don’t mind the odd liberty being taking to dramatise a story like this. And I’m sure not everyone reading this will be familiar with the finer points of the Noah’s Ark story. But I’m sure all of you must know that nowhere in the original text does it even hint that there are pirates

That’s right, NBC suggest that God wiped out everyone on the planet, apart from Noah, his family, all the animals, and, oh, the odd ragtag bunch of angry villagers who cobbled together a few planks to make something that floats. Scenes like this make this look sub-Waterworld, which is saying something.

Furthermore, while the original version has Noah welcome his wife, his sons and their wives onto the ark, in this version, Noah piles on his wife, his sons, and then three random women. It’s only during the course of the ark’s journey that the three sons start getting randy, a bit assaulty, so Noah intervenes and says, “Hey! You’ve got to get married first!”

You’d have thought God would be angered by this Noah’s sons’ lusty intentions, but he’s too busy playing with Noah’s head by offering him mirages of dry land, then laughing when Noah realises it’s just an illusion. Ha! The prankster God, so seldom seen in the King James Version. Yet here he’s also the impulsive God: at the end of NBC’s ‘Noah’s Ark: Beyond The Thunderdome’ (it might as well be), God decides that actually he’s going to kill Noah, his family and all the animals after all. Noah begs God, but to no avail. So Noah starts whistling. It is a funny whistle. He even does a little dance with it (in Jon Voight’s most demeaning screen appearance since – no, including Anaconda). God likes the whistle/dance combo, laughs, and lets Noah off. I must have missed that bit in Genesis.

Hang on – if that’s what changes His mind, why has no one else done this since? When Hitler pulled out his gun in his bunker, did he pucker up, do a few bars of Deutschland Deutschland Uber Alles, a little jig, and Bob’s your Onkel?

Oh, and Mrs Noah tries to kill all the animals she doesn’t like. And they all go mad, like in Cast Away. They start chanting and wanting to sacrifice each other, and I wouldn’t put it past them to have conversations with a football called Wilson. Then there’s a peddler man, who, like the pirates, somehow survived the flood. He’s played by James Coburn, and sells useful items, novelties, party tricks… Noah doesn’t buy anything, which must nark the peddler a bit, because I can’t imagine there are many boats around. Unless as well as Noah’s Ark, there’s also Jeff’s Ark, Steve’s Ark, etc, which I wouldn’t put past ’em.

Some countries saw sense. Malaysia banned this film – although not based on quality, but because it bans the depiction of any prophets of Islam, including Noah and “pirate leader” (according to NBC) Lot. For once, Sharia Law and decent film criticism overlap. In America, it unfortunately was a little more viewed: it was NBC’s most-watched movie for the next 5 years. Yeech. It’s scary to think of how many Americans now think of Noah as some kind of stoned pirate fighter with a penchant for whistle-dances.

What churches can learn from comedy clubs (& vice versa)

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My word, it’s been a long time since I blogged. That’ll never do. To build up to some sort of regular blogging again, let me post something that I blogged elsewhere a month or two back: A vague look at some things that churches and comedy clubs can learn from each other…

http://www.darton-longman-todd.co.uk/magazine/1926-churches-and-comedy-clubs

…The website is the publisher of both my 1st book, ‘So A Comedian Walks Into A Church’, which you can find on their site, and my forthcoming 2nd book, ‘Genesis: A Bibluffer’s Guide’, which you can’t buy till March (although pre-orders welcome).

The History of the World via 100 Movies (work in progress)

So for a thing, I’m putting put together a list of ‘The History of the World Told Via 100 Movies.’ I have 90. What am I missing? Or indeed any here that shouldn’t be? I suspect this will turn into 200 Movies very easily…

1. History of the World Part 1
2. 50 Million Years BC
3. The Ten Commandments
4. 300
5. Julius Caesar
6. Cleopatra
7. Gladiator
8. Ben-Hur
9. The Nativity Story
10. The Life of Brian
11. The Passion of the Christ
12. King Arthur
13. Beowulf
14. Monty Python & The Holy Grail
15. The Vikings
16. Macbeth
17. The Lion In Winter
18. The Adventures of Robin Hood
19. Henry V
20. Braveheart
21. Apocalypto
22. A Man For All Seasons
23. Elizabeth
24. Elizabeth: The Golden Age
25. To Kill A King
26. Cromwell
27. Waterloo
28. Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
29. Marie Antoinette
30. The Last of the Mohicans
31. The Crucible
32. Zulu
33. Young Victoria
34. An Ideal Husband
35. The Alamo
36. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
37. Young Guns
38. Mrs Brown
39. Gangs of New York
40. Titanic
41. All Quiet on the Western Front
42. War Horse
43. Chaplin
44. Citizen Kane
45. Michael Collins
46. Chariots of Fire
47. Bonnie & Clyde
48. LA Confidential
49. Singin’ In The Rain
50. The Untouchables
51. To Kill A Mockingbird
52. The Last Emperor
53. The King’s Speech
54. The Sound of Music
55. Casablanca
56. A Bridge Too Far
57. Saving Private Ryan
58. The Pianist
59. Downfall
60. Stand By Me
61. The Right Stuff
62. Walk The Line
63. Good Night, and Good Luck
64. The Motorcycle Diaries
65. Grease
66. Dr Strangelove
67. Apollo 13
68. Thirteen Days
69. JFK
70. Platoon
71. Dirty Dancing
72. Casino
73. The Last Waltz
74. The Ice Storm
75. Almost Famous
76. Dazed & Confused
77. All The President’s Men
78. Munich
79. In The Name of the Father
80. The Killing Fields
81. The Lives of Others
82. The Hunt for Red October
83. The Breakfast Club
84. Wall Street
85. The Devil’s Double
86. Trainspotting
87. Brassed Off
88. United 93
89. Four Lions
90. The Social Network

Two Popes walk into a restaurant…

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Last week, an occurrence rarer than Haley’s Comet, a blue moon and an NHS management resignation occurred…

 

B:            Your Holiness?

F:            No, Your Holiness…

B:            No, I insist, Your Holiness…

F:            How about ‘Our Holini’? Latin plural.

B:            Love the Latin. Do, sit.

F:            Thanks. I still think a simple white rose in the lapel would have sufficed to help recognise each other.

B:            I don’t know, I like the big hats. And I hope you don’t mind the Pizza Express but it gives us anonymity, while at the same time offering the Italian cuisine befitting two Vaticanisters.

F:            Is that the technical term?

B:            No, but speaking of technical terms, you’ll want the handover details.

F:            Ha! Yes. Be good to know where the bodies are buried… That was a turn of phrase. There are no…

B:            No.

F:            Great.

B:            No, all you need to know is that the bathroom light needs flicking on and off a couple of times – never got round to fixing it, and you just get used to the quirk of it. Oh, and the password for the @pontifex Twitter account is (LEANS IN, WHISPERS) ‘password’.

F:            Cunning.

B:            Some of the cardinals do Dress-Down Fridays, but only under the cassocks. In fact every day is Dress-Down Friday under the cassock, now I think about it.

F:            Brilliant, well I can’t wait to get started.

B:            Me neither. Let’s eat. Waiter! I think he’s ignoring us.

F:            Let’s take the hats off.

B:            If we must. Oh, and these are the keys for the desk drawers. Top drawer there’s a Bible. Second one down, another Bible.

F:            Nice.

B:            Third drawer is just paperclips. You can never have too many paperclips. Fourth drawer’s locked, apparently since the early 1700s, so (SHRUGS). And fifth drawer is more paperclips. Actually you can have too many paperclips.

F:            Great. Well I thank you for your service, and wish you a happy retirement.

B:            Oh I’m not retiring.

F:            You’re not? Why’s there a glint in your eye?

B:            See I was thinking, now there are two Popes, for a limited time only, we can make the most of this. ‘The Pope’ can do twice as many public appearances for a start. I’ll let you have the Popemobile, I’ll have the Pope-segway.

F:            There’s a Pope-segway?

B:            And a Popegostick. It’ll be great – like having a doppelganger! A papalganger!

F:            You and your German words.

B:            Sorry, but hey, if it’s Spanish you’re after, how about… ‘La La La La La La La Bamba!’

F:            Sit down, Your Holiness, please! What are you doing?

B:            Singing! It’s my second idea. You and me, together, on the road. ‘The Vatican Two’!

F:            Like the council in the 1960s? I don’t think people will get the reference.

B:            Album one: ‘Everybody Talk About Pope Music’. Album two: ‘The Vaticancan’. Album three: ‘Old Red Shoes Is Back’. Album four: ‘Preach For The Stars’. Album five…

F:            Stop, stop. I don’t want to sing. I just want to serve the Church.

B:            Fine, fine. This poping, it’s a young man’s game nowadays. How old are you now?

F:            76.

B:            Exactly, whippersnapper. Speaking of which, neither of us are getting any younger – let’s order. Does the waiter even know we’re here?

F:            We should have gone over the road: Frankie & Benny’s. Get it? Frankie & B…

B:            It’s Emeritus now.

F:            Yeah but Frankie & Emeritus doesn’t really work.

B:            You da pope.

F:            No you da pope.

B:            Pope out.

F:            Word.

B:            Logos.

F:            Backatcha.

B:            Waiter!

When I surveyed the wondrous cross-section of UK Christianity

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The Church of England apparently got in a bit of hot water with a prayer survey they’ve undertaken. Well we’re all about God of God, Light of Light, not poll of polls. And it’s very difficult to count results when you’re doing a prayer survey – a lot of people are kneeling, and you don’t know if someone’s hand in the air means they’re saying yes to your question or maybe they’re a Pentecostal.

For my book (out yesterday, Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/So-Comedian-Walks-Into-Church/dp/0232529795/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362738146&sr=8-1, but I’d recommend the independent non-tax-avoiding Hive link here: http://www.hive.co.uk/book/so-a-comedian-walks-into-a-church-confessions-of-a-kneel-down-stand-up/16927686/), I conducted a survey too.

Its results form the epilogue of the book, but here are some nuggets that my 268 respondents told me:

49% are Anglican 

30% are Evangelical

21% are Charismatic

18% are Baptist 

16% are Methodist

7% are Pentecostal

4% are Roman Catholic

…Wow, add that up and that means 145% of people are churchgoers. Oh, except there’s some overlap of each category, because some are Evangelical Anglicans, and some are Roman Catholic Methodists (not many, granted). Oh, and I deliberately targeted the survey at churchgoers, so that’s why there are so few atheists and Jedis.

Other findings:

 

Descriptions of church ranged ‘growing church-plants’ (presumably like hydrangias) to High Anglican ‘bells and smells’, via ‘Anglo-Catholic mixed with Charismatic Evangelical’, ‘Post-evangelical’ and even the baffling ‘Revangelical’, which must either mean that it’s evangelical again, or that it’s a spelling mistake. Some were part of ‘church without walls’: groups in cafés, or a market traders’ church, or what one described as ‘radical panto-style’.

Some commented to me that Christianity could be let down by ritualistic ‘Sunday-only Christians’. 71% said that ‘church’ happens on Monday to Saturday, more than on Sundays. Yet Sundays were still seen as sacred: ‘I’d like ‘Happy Sunday’ to become a regular expression, like ‘Happy Christmas’,’ said one surveyee.

76% thought their church focused strongly on biblical teaching, while 19% felt it not to be a priority, with a further 5% who said the Bible was barely taught at all. The statistics were similar for sung worship and prayer.

Most said that instead, the emphases of their churches were on serving the local community and welcoming newcomers. It meant that half felt church wasn’t challenging enough, but there was a real sense that local church should be a hub of help. Some said we could go further: ‘We’re too concerned with ‘style of worship’ or the colour of the floor. We need to be serving the community around us.’

The modern need of a food bank is a topic I bring up on tomorrow’s Pause For Thought – catch it on Radio 2 at 5:45am, or more likely, Listen Again. And you can hear me further waffling about Christianity and comedy in a BBC1 documentary tomorrow (Wednesday 27th April) at 11:05pm. 

One day I’ll get around to putting more of these survey results up here. For now though I’ve just got to ask: what in the world is radical panto-style church? (The devil? “He’s behind you!” “Oh no he isn’t.” “Oh yes he is…”)

Don’t be a rhymer, Be sublimer

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Hey Christians! Do you rhyme things? Do you write worship songs? If yes to both, then this article isn’t aimed at you. This is for the rhymers who aren’t full-timers. The amateur iambicquers. The poets who just won’t forego it.

Songwriters are allowed to rhyme. The Poet Laureate is allowed to rhyme. But outside of these spheres, the composition of natty slogans by matching a couple of syllables together does rankle somewhat, does it not.

Follow some of the Twitter faith-minded, and you might see the odd ode masquerading as a handy soundbite:

@preachynteachy1982 Just prayin’ #justsayin

@yawnagainchristian73 At a loss? Look to the boss on the cross

@revtrev64 Convertin’ the hurtin’. Am grateful not hateful. #youjustheardtheword

Don’t get me wrong. I love a ‘rap’ as much as the next chap. Sometimes in the realm of Marketing, a convenient soundalike can be helpful. But just remember it is Marketing speak. So yes, you might feel well smug that you’ve just summed up your entire theology/philosophy/raison d’etre in three bitesized words that roll off the tongue like water off a quack-hack’s back. Comic Relief have just been delivering ‘Funny For Money’ – that works, but again, it is marketing. And sometimes things that rhyme aren’t that simple. By its very nature, the rhyme reduces the idea, often to comic effect, as with comedic character L Vaughan Spencer’s “Don’t Be Needy, Be Succeedy” mantra.

I’m sure no Londoner can forget Philip Howard, the Scouse preacher that used to occupy the corner of Oxford Circus with his mini-megaphone. “Don’t be a sinner – be a winner!” he’d continually shout at shoppers, resting only for sleep and a glance at his rhymer’s dictionary. He’s been accused and cleared of harassing a passer-by (being a passer-harasser), and Westminster Council tried and failed to give him an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (so he has no ASBO).

I’ve got a soft spot for the walking talking London landmark, and certainly without his rhyme, he wouldn’t be in the consciousness as he currently is. Equally I can’t really argue with his sentiment: I’d rather be a winner than a sinner, as would I’m sure many of his passers-by. Unfortunately some have pointed out that another sentence that rhymes is: “Do be a sinner, and a winner.” So just because it rhymes, it doesn’t make it right.

I’d certainly echo that thought further to the right down the Christian spectrum. American church campaigns to “pray away the gay” leave me and many centrist or leftie believers feeling rather cold and wanting to put some distance between us and our fundie cousins. Yet they continue to peddle their leaflets to the gay community, offering to “sinister to the minister” and “convert the flirt”. The rhyme sugar-coats. It sounds a lot more user-friendly than “reprogram the homosexual”.

So be wary of what you’re being marketed under the guise of a rhyme. While some surely work and are accurate and nice and decent and speak to us, they’re all just out to sell us a point of view. And by all means, spread the good word. Reach out to different parts of the community. And if it helps you witness to West Country caravanners, then please do buy that bumper-sticker:

On the A303 and Devonbound? Make sure you’re heavenbound.

…If it aids your fish ministry, then print on your waders:

Salmon or perch? Hear a sermon in church.

…If it supports your blood-group-based testimony, then shout from the rooftops:

I’m Rhesus positive and Jesus positive!

…If it assists you taking your message to the upper-facial bronzing salon, then by all means:

Evangelise to the tan gel eyes.

 It may rhyme to say, “Don’t be a sinner – be a winner”, but the same’s true of: “Don’t be a sinner – or a winner”, “Be a sinner and/or a winner” and “Don’t be a sinner – have Pot Noodle for dinner. It won’t make you thinner but oh look it’s Frank Skinner.”