Christ comedy show exercises Norwich theatre
2011: “Hands up who here believes that Jesus was the Son of God”, said sandal-wearing comedian Richard Herring at the start of last Sunday’s performance of his controversial show ‘Christ on a Bike’ at the Norwich Playhouse. Review by Mark Sims.
The house lights went up to reveal roughly six people, including myself, with their hands aloft, amongst 60 odd audience members. I was somewhat relieved not to be the only Christian present (our number beating that of the four protesters outside) and encouraged that I was not the only Christian who, rather than judge the whole show by its promotion and publicity as some have done, opted to attend with an open mind to see what all the fuss was about.
“I have no problem with Christians protesting,” Herring said on his Warming Up blog
“but would prefer it if they did it from a position of knowing what was in the show”.
The promotion did its job in giving an accurate hint of the show’s, yes, blasphemous and vulgar content but also a genuinely questioning attitude to the Bible. An atheist, Herring admits to a lifelong obsession with Jesus, catalysed by his Christian upbringing and his theory that he might actually be the returned Son of God, which lead to this show. The title was inspired by a childhood dream in which the comedian was challenged to a bicycle race by Christ, illustrated on-stage by Herring mounting an exercise bike.
The performance was, of course, not really about discouraging Christians in their beliefs but making fun of the Bible. This was a comedy show, not a Richard Dawkins lecture, after all. The comedian responded to Christian protests of his reaping what he sowed in mocking God by predicting that this probably meant God would merely mock him back, but that Herring could take a joke as well as make them and would look forward to watching a divine comedy show aimed at him. As an atheist, Herring was unlikely to heed warnings from a book he does not believe in and openly mocks.
I do not consider myself to be a strict Christian but the overall crude humour was often too much for my taste and I did squirm in my seat at times. Herring, now 43, often came across like an overgrown rebellious teenager, ranting at Jesus. Yet, childish humour with intelligent thought often behind it is his style and I occasionally found myself laughing despite myself.
Proceedings did get a little more in-depth, with Herring pointing out certain Biblical inconsistencies as he saw them, some of which were thought-provoking, such as his musing on how close an actual star would have to be to mark out the stable in which Jesus was born without burning everything nearby. The most impressive routine involved Herring reciting Matthew 1’s genealogy, memorized through a hilariously convoluted acronym, singling out certain archaic names, e.g. ‘Salmon’ and the ludicrous idea of a man with a fishes’ name. The irony was not lost on Herring, here.
A final show of hands revealed that the same people (myself included) still believed what we had at the start but, alas, Herring had failed to convince anyone of his own Messianic status, leading to the ‘revelation’ that he was not, in fact, the Son of God. Nor did he believe Jesus to be, rather, Christ was just a good bloke whose teachings we would all do well to learn from and apply to our lives.
Herring accepted others’ right to believe, “whatever gets you through the night,” he said, expressing mock disbelief that Christianity had even reached the people of East Anglia, (whom he also called “wonderfully non-conformist...and cool) on his blog
When all was said and done, there was nothing more challenging from an atheistic perspective than what most Christians have heard before, certainly not enough to justify judging Richard Herring as “evil”. If anything, some of the points and questions raised in ‘Christ on a Bike’ might even lead to non-believing audience members investigating things further?