Does God have a sense of humour?
Paul Kerensa has been on the comedy circuit for some time, and has written extensively for sitcoms such as Miranda and Not Going Out. He's also a Christian, and shared with Christian Today about how his faith impacts his work.
CT: Hi Paul. Can you tell us how you got into comedy in the first place?
PK: I tried acting and wasn't very good at it at all, so I thought I'd try something else. Once you've gone down the acting route it feels like stepping into an office job would be letting down the acting side of you, so I started to think could I juggle? But I'm rubbish at juggling. Could I do magic? No, I'm bad at that as well. So I thought I'd try stand up comedy just once, and I loved it! There's no script to learn, no directors or other cast to listen to, and it's a huge gamble – if it goes well then great, but if it goes badly there's no one to blame - but I quite like that gamble.
CT: Is it a difficult industry to be involved in as a Christian? How do you draw the line between what's funny or rude or offensive?
PK: It's really tricky, there are a fair few atheist or agnostic comedians, a handful of whom are anti-theistic who like to rant. So I guess the frustration there is that an atheist comedian who goes on a rant doesn't come across as preachy, but on the flip side if a Christian comedian shares jokes about their faith it's seen as preaching.
I just want to do what's funny. I try to make as many people have as good a time as possible – that's what my job is! It's not to alienate or divide. Some comedians prefer to do that and go after their core audience, but for me it's about making it as accessible as possible.
I'm personally happy for comedians to talk about religion, we've all got the right to do that, but I find that when they get specific, and nearer the Cross – I've heard jokes about the crucifixion – I get uncomfortable. I've tried to explain to some comedians that for a Christian to hear about the Cross it's hearing about a loved one who's been killed. That doesn't mean anyone should be banned from using it as part of their set – it's not for me to decide that - but you'd hope for a level of respect and understanding there.
CT: Do you think Christians should sometimes be a little less sensitive and just enjoy comedy for what it is?
PK: I think it would be great if more people gave it a chance. The comedy world is such a big booming thing and there are all sorts of comedians out there. The same comedy circuit that gave us Frankie Boyle gave us Milton Jones and Miranda Hart, who offer a lot of joy! Joy is a God-given thing, let's embrace that.
I'd love more Christians to go to comedy clubs, because when we're a bigger part of the audience we can make a difference to the kinds of comedians who get booked in those clubs. I really think comedy clubs can be a great night out, so find a great act that you enjoy and get involved.
CT: Do you think God has a sense of humour?
PK: I think he'd have to – he created us! And God encompasses all things as Creator. The notion of joy and happiness is all from him. A lot of comedy is about unity, saying to an audience 'you're not alone in this!'. It's a laugh of understanding. That's why comedy clubs work so well with a live audience, because it's a communal thing. When you're watching it alone on the TV it just doesn't have the same impact.
Comedy is about jokes, having a good time and feeling better about ourselves. It's an ongoing journey of understanding that God's leading us all on.
CT: Tell me about your new book 'Genesis: The Bibluffer's Guide', how did that come about?
PK: One of the things I enjoy is getting bits of the Bible out there in different ways, retelling it and putting it into a world where people might not normally encounter it in comedy clubs and festivals. People tend to get a bit worried, thinking the Bible is untouchable and it shouldn't be used in a comedy set, but it's not really a far move from a church drama. It's about finding new ways of translating and connecting it with people.
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You get so many atheist comedians lambasting the Bible, so why not look at it from a different perspective? I did a show on Genesis at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2007, where I spent about an hour retelling stories. I did a bit of Exodus too but stopped there – Leviticus is a bit light on the humour. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was great to find a new take on it, reframe it, and get across new ideas.
CT: How do you manage to deal with the Bible in a comedic way? Is it difficult source material to tread carefully with?
PK: Definitely, I wanted to do it from a position of respect and reverence, but at the same time push a few of the edges. I've got a clear idea of what I think is acceptable, and I can only write from my perspective. I think it's important to find a way of talking about these things, it doesn't need to be insensitive. I'm aware that in other hands it could be interpreted differently, of course, so I recognise the need to tread carefully, and it's an ongoing journey to work out the ways that you can and can't approach these things.
CT: You've written for Miranda and Not Going Out, do you think there's an emerging market for clean, good-natured comedy?
PK: I think so. I remember Lee Mack saying that episode one of Not Going Out came out the day after a BBC article that said live audience comedies were dead [the show is now filming its seventh series]. It's great that shows like Miranda can come along and reinvigorate the live audience sitcom. It's funny and accessible, though I know lots of people don't like it! It's not for everyone. I get a lot of men come up to me and say "My wife loves it, but..."
There really is a demand for things like Miranda. When we're in a recession people want cheering up! And hopefully we're helping to do that.
CT: You're on tour at the moment – do you aim your show differently depending on a church/non-church audience?
PK: As a comedian, you have to play every room differently, so even one church differs from another. For example, my show in a Nottingham church tonight is a bring-a-friend event, so it'll be different to last night's show in Oxford which was to a room full of 400 vicars! There it was all in-house Bible jokes, while tonight I'll be aware that many people won't be Christians, so it's more about being an ambassador of the faith.
Sometimes during a comedy club gig it feels right to drop in a religion based joke, but sometimes it doesn't. It's all good fun! I'm constantly rewriting in my head before I go on stage.
CT: And finally, what's next for you?
PK: I'm looking at maybe doing an Exodus Bibluffer's Guide, and I've got a few different sitcom ideas. I've always got ongoing gigs and we're working on Not Going Out at the moment - the last series will come out in the autumn. And as soon as Miranda's off tour we'll find out what if she wants to do another series.
CT: So you can't tell us whether she chooses Gary or Mike?
PK: I'm afraid not. We all want to know!