Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
The lighter side of religion from an insider's perspective
UK comedian Paul Savage finds humour in the unlikeliest of places - the Bible and his Baptist church background (his father is a minister). Paul Savage Finds All The Jokes in the Bible was a unique offering at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, a genuinely funny and entertaining hour exploring the lighter side of religion from an insider's perspective.
Savage structured his show to resemble the source text which inspired his jokes - not strictly in chronological order, and with a bunch of cross-references and cheeky callbacks. His familiarity with the Bible is indisputable: you can tell he understands his stuff, whether it be well-known Sunday school stories, or obscure, lengthy descriptions of priestly vestments, or mathematical calculations about the impact of Jesus' miracles. He took us on a journey through a selection of stories, poetry, and prophetic messages, and presented a take on them that was creative, often hilariously irreverent, and yet largely inoffensive (at least if you have a sense of humour). From the stories of creation to Noah and Abraham and Lot, to the judges, kings and prophets, and finally to Jesus, Savage gave us as comprehensive an overview of the Bible as is possible in an hour long stand up comedy show.
Paul Savage Finds All The Jokes in the Bible was a show that was progressive and yet refreshingly neutral in its style of humour. Savage is a laid-back performer who is excellent at his craft and connects well with his audience, inviting them to laugh along with him at the many absurdities of an ancient text, without in any way targeting the followers of this text, or alienating those who are less familiar with it. (His jokes may have been about stories from a specific text, but the themes of logical problem solving, misplaced priorities, drunkenness, awkwardness in sex, and so forth were definitely universal and deeply relatable.) He did, however, briefly address the hypocrisy of regressive politics, drawing attention to a lesser-known verse in the Bible (Ezekiel 16:49) which calls out the real issues that influencers often forget to talk about - arrogance and complacency among the wealthy, and disregard for the poor and people who need help. This moment of seriousness was short enough to cause no distraction from the laughs and the flow of the otherwise-light show, but was also significant enough to give it a bit more depth and soul.
You wouldn't necessarily expect audience participation in a show with such specialized subject matter, but Savage did well to engage his enthusiastic audience in at least two points of the show. The first, where he called upon two halves of the audience to shower him with blessings and curses, simultaneously resulted in warm fuzzy feelings at the wholesome wishes we came up with on the spot, and also amusement/horror at the creativity of our unplanned curses. The second, where he called upon a young audience member to serenade his partner with awkward poetry from The Song of Solomon, had the audience in peals, but doubtless also gave the couple a special memory that will stay with them a while.
Paul Savage Finds All The Jokes in the Bible was among my favourite shows at this year's Comedy Festival. It was one of those unique gems which is substantial in content yet consistently light, is built on potentially controversial subject matter and yet has a feel-good vibe, and is intelligently crafted yet sneaks in some delightfully groan-worthy puns. All in all, quality entertainment from a top class performer.