Colm Fitzpatrick talks to international comedian Tim Vine about God, laughter and his new Irish tour
It’s not often that comedy and religion appear together in the same sentence in an Irish context – usually musings of Father Ted or the sketches of the late Dave Allen take that prize – but a famous one-liner comedian may become part of this odd anomaly.
Beginning stand-up comedy in 1991, British-born Tim Vine has won numerous awards for his quirky jokes and endearing puns and will soon be coming to Ireland to tour his new show ‘Sunset Milk Idiot’. Alongside his clever witticisms, Tim is also a Christian and very vocal about his Faith.
“I was brought up in a Christian family so I’ve always been used to the fact that on a Sunday morning we went to church and I think I made my own decision about whether or not I believed in it when I was about 12. I always think that I became a Christian, if there is that kind of moment, when I was 12 at a Pathfinders camp. It was a sort of Christian summer camp,” he explains.
“The church that I was christened and the same one I’ve gone to all my life, I still go to it actually, is a Church of England church, sort of evangelical not very high church. Sometimes I’m a little bit jealous of people in their twenties who have that moment when they can see a definite change between before God was in their life and afterwards because for me it’s something that I’ve always believed in and that doesn’t make sense at every question I’ve got in life.”
Tim adds that his parents, and in particular, his father, had a “strong” effect of both his Faith and comedy as he used to preach in church resulting in the parishioners thinking he was “very funny”.
“He would break off in the middle of sermons and suddenly point to someone in the congregation and say ‘Oh you know this Alan’ – kind of bringing them in. He’s still around but he doesn’t preach anymore. I’m used to the fact that when I got out of bed in the morning my dad was already up, he always got up and the first thing he did was read his Bible and get on with the day.”
Influenced by this imagery and the Christian camps he attended as a boy, Tim’s Faith has continued to develop as he has reflected on it what it means to be a believer, and what the message of the Gospel ought to be.
Notably, he says that churches have been too controlling in the past with little mention about the love of God, which should really be the focus of Christianity.
“I have quite a simple approach – my faith is quite simple. You hear about people doing theological courses and coming out with no faith at the end. Faith is a spiritual thing, more than it is an intellectual thing, as much as I like to talk about the intellectual.
“You just can’t get all the answers intellectually. It’s called faith because at some point you’ve just got to say I can only get this far – do I take the rest of it and trust God that he’s real and he loves me like he loves everybody else?” Tim says.
“In this world there’s an enormous number of people who don’t feel loved. And equally I believe in the God that loves everyone whose first concern is to let us know that he loves us. He knows that were human beings and that nobody’s perfect. It’s a very hard line for churches to try and walk and I think particularly in the past churches have leaned too much on rules.”
Despite his resolute Faith, Tim explains that he, like most people, has doubts but that this ambivalence is part and parcel of belief, and so people should not reject their Faith outright if they’re experiencing difficulties.
As a questioning species, it’s normal to wonder about certain aspects of religion, but Tim suggests that praying can help bridge the gap between the intellect and the mysterious.
“There have been times where if I’ve had doubts I find myself praying about it, and of course everyone has doubts, if they’re honest, about all sorts of things. We’re all looking for reasons for things the whole time. There’s just some questions that don’t have answers, and when that overlaps with your actual life you become even more desperate for answers. But that’s never made me throw the baby out with the bathwater – throw the baby Jesus out with the bathwater,” he says.
Accompanying Tim on his new tour which will take him to counties such as Cork and Galway, is the comedy magician John Archer who is also a Christian. Originally working as a police -officer in England, John decided to focus on full-time entertainment, gigging all the around the country and at Christian festivals. It was at one of these festivals called ‘Spring Harvest’ in the early 1990’s that Tim and John first met.
“John’s brilliant and complements my act very well. He’s a comedy magician. If you ever get the chance, for your readers, to go and see an evening with John Archer, he does lots of church gigs. In the first half he does his regular act. In the second half he does a comedy-testimony – it’s how he became a Christian when he was 19 and in a gang – it’s a totally different background to mine. It’s the only thing of that sort that I’ve seen – he’s sharing the truth about how he became a Christian while at the same time being funny en route,” Tim says.
Taking place annually predominantly in the UK’s Skegness and Minehead, ‘Spring Harvest’ is a teaching and worshipping festival which aims to equip churches for action and create a space for all people to encounter God. Usually evangelical in tone, all age groups are offered the opportunity to learn about the Christian message through prayer, music and talks. For John and Tim, festivals like these are the perfect platform for titters and testimony.
“We’ve done some comedy for Christian audiences, and some of that just translates to just regular audiences. I do a bit where I say there’s a new Christian restaurant called the Lord giveth and it also has takeaway. Most of my act is just me being silly and trying to make people laugh.
“My job is to make people laugh, the reason people pay me is that the people sitting in front of me are laughing. If my job was to build a wall or to paint someone’s house or to do someone’s accounts, you’ve got to do what you’re paid for first. What people take out of it is on a deeper level, and I’ll leave that in God’s hands,” Tim says.
Although religion isn’t a focus or theme of Tim’s comedy performances, he does say that at Christian events there are occasions when he may “push the line”, but in general the audience are happy to hear religious jokes because everyone, including Tim, are in the same boat with the same beliefs.
“Strangely, you can always get away with more with a Christian audience. I don’t know what it is. We’re all kind doing jokes at our expense, and it’s a Christian audience so were all Christian together.
“Sometimes I feel like we [Tim and John] push the line even more than I would in a normal act – let’s put it that way. We felt that, looking back to the first times we did ‘Spring Harvest’, that the audiences were much more uptight. You’d be more likely to get people saying, ‘Oh that bit was too irreverent’, but now I think people are a bit more easy-going. I think ultimately, God is big enough to laugh at everything.”
And with this perspective in mind, Tim is hoping that his first ever stand-up tour to Ireland will be a hit with the crowds. The quirkiness of the show can be gauged from the title itself which implicitly promises that Tim will take the audience on a wacky and entertaining trip of comedy and mayhem.
“It’s called ‘Sunset Milk Idiot’, and people ask why it’s called that. I took the picture for the poster before I came up with the title of the show. There’s a bit of a sunset colour behind me, I’ve got milk cartons around my head and I’m gazing upward like a bit of an idiot. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about these things, as you can tell. But I liked the picture, so that’s why it’s called ‘Sunset Milk Idiot’.
“There’s lots of silly jokes, it’s totally clean, it’s family friendly. I wouldn’t say it’s a kids show because I have a tendency to make references to the 70s and 80s. Lots of one-liners, and references to one armed-butlers – they can take it but they can’t dish it out – and silly songs and John Archer doing some comedy magic. We’ve been having a great time doing it in the UK so we’re definitely looking forward to doing it in Ireland,” Tim says.
With shows in eight different counties across Ireland throughout September, Tim says he’s excited to perform, drive around the “Emerald Isle”, and hopefully won’t resolve to concealing his name if the shows don’t go too well.
“A long time ago I did Galway and when I arrived I was one of a few acts. When I was riding around in a taxi there were all these posters that said ‘Jim Vine’. I always wished I kept one of those. I said to myself, if the show goes well I’ll tell them my real name, if not I’ll stay Jim Vine.”
For more information about the Tim’s touring show, ‘Sunset Milk Idiot’, see: http://www.timvine.com/