Thursday, September 21, 2006

Religion and Comedy

Religion and Comedy

Nik Peachey, teacher, trainer and materials writer, British Council writes that one of the most under exploited and neglected areas within language learning is humour, and I fervently agree with him.  The comedian has a captive audience, so does the teacher.  He quotes various experts and researchers on humour as a teaching tool insofar as it helps the students to relax, to cope with stress and consequently be more open to learning.  Also he points out that it is important to teach our pupils to learn to laugh at their mistakes, and even at one another’s mistakes, without laughing at the people who made these mistakes.  There is much wisdom and sound humanity here.  Thanks, Nik, for making your thoughts and ideas available to others like me out here in cyberland.  You can access Nik and other scholars at this link: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk

Think of all the things a teacher can explore when treating of the topic of humour or even in using humour as a method in teaching, e.g., prejudice and bias in jokes (and hence in society), as a way of coping with the problems of life, as a way of seeing things (problems, reality) from a different perspective.  It has always struck me that humour allows us to exaggerate, to use hyperbole, to say ridiculous things, to make small things big and big things small, to redefine the limits of problems and even, in the words of the guru Edward de Bono, to think laterally.  All good things indeed.

It has also struck me over the years how intelligent comedians are.  It takes a very clever person to make other people laugh.  So let’s not get too snobbish and dismiss this marvellous comedic tool in our armour for coping with life.

Why, then, are all these thoughts about comedy in my mind?  Why also have I entitled this post as Comedy and Religion?  Well, my friends, the reason is really rather simple.  I was at a marvelous one-man show at the theatre fringe festival last evening.  The title of the show was Jesus: The Guantanamo Years: written by and starring Abie Philbin Bowman and which is currently playing at the Spirit theatre in 57, Middle Abbey Street, Dublin, 1.  

Abie Philbin Bowman’s one man show parallels Jesus the preacher and Jesus the comedian. Observing that laughter is the ultimate celebration of life, creation and human intelligence, Philbin Bowman asks the question ‘So why does no major religion encourage laughter?’  It would seem from my last two posts that religion encourages disagreement, angry debate, no debate, hatred, contempt for others and finally murder and war rather than laughter and consequent happiness and positive feeling.  All of this mayhem caused by religion as witnessed over the history of humankind, of course, is so far removed from what the founders of religions wished to do. Expect plenty of laughs, some songs, a bit of audience participation and a Pythonesque puppet-show in this performance of Jesus: The Guantanamo Years.  It has already won favourable reviews at the Edinburgh Festival and has played a few times elsewhere in Dublin.  This hour-long show is alternatively silly and disarmingly serious. One minute Bowman tells how after three inmates killed themselves, the Pentagon declared the suicides an act of "asymmetric warfare", and the next he breaks into song, with 'Villain Killing Dylan' being a particularly amusing number- "Hey Mr Laryngitis play a song for me..."

While he describes to us what is going on in Guatanamo Bay, he manages not to clog up his act with too much information. As well as being a strong attack on US foreign policy, the show is also just as much about religion. I think that Bowman manages to raise good questions about religion and the purpose of religion in this comedy with has such a serious purpose.  He raises deep and disturbing questions about the policies of Mr George W. Bush, about the so-called democracy we have in the West, about human rights or rather the lack of them, about our treatment of prisoners, about how we really have corrupted the message of Jesus which was, of course, a message of Good News, about liberation from self-deceit, about treating others well and about non-violence.  We get all of this in an hour which really is a tour de force by a really smart and intelligent young man, who essentially wears his heart on the sleeve of his orange prisoner suit to reveal a marvelously sensitive soul.  It is encouraging to know, as Shakespeare put it, that we have a possible brave new world that has such people in’t.” (Miranda's speech in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act V, Scene I).  With a little help from each other and with the guidance of the likes of Mr Bowman, we might just about get there.
Above I have appended a picture of Abie which I downloaded from his Beebo site which can be accessed at http://AbieTalks.bebo.com

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