There’s a thoughtful interview here with the young comedian Bo Burnham. He made his name through YouTube comedy routines and is now an international sensation. What I liked about the interview was his honesty and his realization that good comedy is based on Standing on Your Head. It’s subversive and if you’re going to be subversive it’s better to do so with a laugh and satire and a joke than being pompously preachy and soul searchingly screechy.
Bo comments on the multi-faceted, fragmented and disjointed false reality of the computer age:
But I do hope my sort of frantic, the–floor–is–lava type of comedy is a mimic of what it feels like to be alive now – for me at least, and hopefully for other people my age. Because” – thanks to the ubiquity of social media – “it feels like we’re always juggling many pieces of information at once, or trying out many personas at once. It makes life slightly nonlinear.”
His act reflects his age and the interviewer describes it as:
a playful want to shake people out of their illusion as to what comedy is”. As he darts between a knowingly saccharine piano ballad, a blistering dialogue between his right and left brain, some filthy gesturing, a humanistic song in the voice of God, a salvo on music–industry cynicism and a furiously un–PC poem, the impression is of a show as kaleidoscopically fragmented as it is fast.
I sometimes want my preaching and writing to become more like this–let’s shake up all the dull old religious poops and make fun of all the atheists–especially the ones who come to church. Yet I find myself as a priest and a paragon of all those expectations. I’m a pillar of the community. How did I ever get to this position? I was supposed to be the clown and they’ve got me playing Hamlet…
There should be more comedy in religion, too often there’s tragedy instead. And why shouldn’t religion be comedy? After all, the definition I learned of comedy and tragedy is that it’s a comedy if it has a happy (that is to say ‘just’ ending) it’s a tragedy if the character’s tragic flaw pulls him into disaster and death. The Christian faith is therefore a comedy since, despite our failures, faults, flaws and foolishness, if we stay with Christ we will come out on top.
Comedy should also be a vehicle for clarity and reality. It’s one of the ways we strip off our illusions about ourselves and our silly ideas and see things as they really are. That’s why the king’s jester was always permitted to insult and blame the king as no one else was. On reality Bo Burnham says,
as much as anyone, my attitude is: if stuff’s “sincere”, it’s gooey and boring and uninteresting. But it’s no way to live. I think people of my age want – at least, I want – something real. All this is almost me desperately trying to prove that there’s something there.”
By “sincere” he means the predictable, trite, preachy and earnest and correct stuff. Yawn. He wants something real. So do I. He wants there to be something there. At RCIA last night we discussed how “real” the Catholic faith is. So real that we don’t like it much sometimes and yearn for the fantasy Disneyland religion of our own making that we used to have.
The last thing which I really like about this interview is a little one liner. The comedian says he is “digging for fresh fruit in the garbage” Yes! That’s what being a priest is like. That’s what being a Catholic writer is like. That’s what being a Christian is like: we’re digging for fresh fruit in the garbage. We’re looking through the junkyard of this world for something to salvage.
Finally here’s a lesson about God. He’s also digging in the garbage for fresh fruit. He’s on the lookout for a piece of scrap to salvage. He’s looking for an abandoned wreck he can lovingly restore…
…and it might be me or it might be you.
Meanwhile, while I’m blogging about religion and stand up comics, Rod Dreher has this piece on religion in taverns. There are some folks who are “doing church” in a pub and they call it “Kyrie”. I’ll agree with the “Lord Have Mercy” bit.
Church in a pub? Rod says,
This I do not get. The sacred space needs to be the sacred space. It doesn’t necessarily have to have icons, or crucifixes, or stained glass windows, but it needs to be set aside and consecrated, and revered as a holy place. Why not have church in Aisle 5 at Home Depot, if the place doesn’t really matter? Why not just use potato chips and diet Coke for the Eucharist, if one thing is just as good for Sabbath worship as the other?