Laughter lines: How a Christian comedian is tackling the 21st century's search for meaning

Andy Kind is a comedian who's won rave reviews for his standup routines and his writing. He's also a Christian who deals with faith with insight and wit. His new show, Hidden In Plain Sight, is subtitled '5 clues that you might have missed in the search for meaning'. He spoke to Christian Today about what he's hoping to achieve.

Christian Today: Where did the idea for the show come from?

Andy Kind: I heard the phrase 'hidden in plain sight' on an episode of Sherlock, and I haven't been able to shake it – so I'm giving in to its demands and writing a show about it.

For most 'normal' Christians, communicating the Gospel can be incredibly tough in our current societal zeitgeist. If you quote the Bible, you get told that it's an old unreliable book with errors and it can't be trusted. If you talk of God healing people today, people will tell you that 'I wasn't there and, anyway, where's the medical evidence?' The persistence needed in these situations can be frustrating and demoralising.

As a church we need to be looking at new ways to infiltrate a shifting society with eternal truth. HIPS is an attempt to get the gospel across in a fresh and funny way, without losing the sense of 'this is a comedy show'. After 14 years of being a comedian, I only now feel ready to tackle such a great endeavour! I have experience and a reasonable profile, so I'm trying to step up and help people other than myself for a change.

CT: Your show's subtitled '5 clues you might have missed in the search for meaning'. Without giving too much away, can you give us a couple of hints?

AK: I'm applying a sort of 'minimal facts' approach. Using five phenomena that most people in our society believe to be true, I'm asking what the best explanation for these phenomena is and seeking to compare them to the Bigger Stories from history. What does Islam say about unconditional love? Is Brahman a good grounding for universal human rights? Does atheism make sense of the power of forgiveness, hope and purpose? Did the Buddha tackle our awareness that death feels unnatural and our inbuilt desire for a happy ending?

So essentially, there are certain things that you know are true. What makes the most sense of those things collectively? Is there a line of best fit through those accepted truths? The aim is to help dismantle the amorphous worldview of 21st century Britain and offer a better, more captivating story. The vehicle for this will of course be stories about my own personal chaos and idiocy.

CT: Christians are quite used to being laughed at by atheists. Is this you turning the tables?

AK: I hate tribalism. I'm not interested in attacking people or engaging in any sort of triumphalism. 'My arguments are not aimed at flesh and blood, but powers and principalities.' I do think that the arguments for atheism are superficially convincing but fundamentally vaporous. And I might even accept the reverse about Christianity: the story of Jesus seems ridiculous until you realise how well it fits your internal hopes and needs – and how incapable the other Grand Narratives are of doing the same thing.

So I'm certainly wanting to respond to a lot of the atheistic comedy that I've seen, as someone who thinks, 'So much of this is hilarious but, you know what guys, life might be better than you think.' I am happy to mock an idea, but I don't have permission to treat other people as laughable – atheism, rather than atheists, is my opponent.

CT: Who's the show actually aimed at?

AK: Well you write for yourself first of all, so on one level it's just the things that are on my heart at the moment. But it's a show that adds my voice to the discussion on meaning that is raging in our society. It's a show that goes after the zeitgeist belief that meaning in self-constructed. In practice, I imagine most of the crowds will be 66 per cent Christians and then 33 per cent guests invited by the 66 per cent – and that's what I'm working to. My expectation and hope is that 95 per cent of the bookings will be churches who want to put on something which is both quality entertainment but also a robust presentation of 'mere Christianity'.

CT: Tell us more about 'meaning'. Is it something people are searching for?

AK: I don't know what you mean.

We all live rationally within our own worldview, and we're all trying to work out what the boundaries for human living are. We all want to know who we are, but to know who you are, you need to know by what measurement of identity you're asking that. So that's the search for meaning, I think, and that's precisely what we're looking at in the show. It won't be overly-intellectual though – it's still a comedian trying to make people laugh. I can compromise a bit on the laughs, but I can't remove them.

CT: What is it about comedy that makes it possible to make serious points really powerfully?

AK: Well, it's psychologically impossible to hate somebody you have laughed with, so that's part of it, and when the mouth is open for laughter, you might be able to shove in a little food for thought. So I think that comedy softens the ground a little bit, but I don't think the serious point is ever the laughter point. You won't laugh at things you don't recognise from your own life, and we tend not to laugh at things that we fundamentally disagree with. So the jokes are not what convince people – they just demolish emotional barriers that let the deeper stuff get through.

I've just rewatched Jurassic Park, and comedy and drama work together like raptors. The comedy is the raptor you can see and think you're supposed to be looking at, and then the serious point is the 'clever girl' who hits you in the flank. This won't make any sense unless you've seen that film – and maybe not even then. Sad face.

CT: Is it possible to argue people into believing?

AK: Faith about anything comes through hearing, and by 'faith' I mean 'putting your trust in'. Practically everything we believe is because of what we've been told – none of us are closed systems. So absolutely, it's entirely possible to persuade people of a greater truth – and that's what the Book of Acts is full of. I think we are quite semantically naïve in our culture at the moment. We hear 'argue' and we instantly equate it with having an argument. And in that sense, no, I don't think having an argument tends to lead people to belief. But what we can do is destabilise the reasons people have for holding to a view, and then offer them something more tantalising. Some people would say we shouldn't bombard others with our views, and I agree, but we need to realise that people are being bombarded all the time by messages about their identity. To remain silent through a desire to remain liked is not enough. Boldness is not aggression – it's just fearlessness.

CT: What counts as a good show for you?

AK: Great question! When I'm watching someone do their full show, I want to see that they care and that they're enjoying themselves. I love seeing people freely geeking out on their passions. On the comedy circuit, you aren't given a huge amount of artistic leeway; you have 25 minutes to entertain the people in front of you and so you need to cater to their needs, not your own. But with a show at somewhere like the Edinburgh Festival, you have so much more freedom. People will come or they won't, but you are not bound by the same homogenising regulations.

More personally, a good show is when I've been able to express myself on-stage, and that usually coincides with a good amount of ad-libbing. Ad-libbing is great because it's dangerous and unplanned, but on nights where you're allowed to do it, it shows that the audience is for you. You can't ad-lib for very long with an intransigent crowd.

CT: Are you a comedian or an evangelist?

AK: I'm both. For years I was just a comedian who wanted to see people meet Jesus without ever really joining the dots in my own career. Now I'm trying to use my comedy to help them do just that. So I don't think there's a proper noun for what I do now. Comedy evangelist and funny preacher both sound naff and don't do me any justice. Like Hidden in Plain sight, my work has two natures!

'Hidden In Plain Sight' will preview in December 2018 and run all through 2019. For enquiries about booking the show for your church, contact andy@andykind.co.uk.

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