HEARD THE ONE ABOUT THE PRIEST?
Spike Milligan is a Catholic hero of mine.
In his will, he asked that he be buried in the chuch cemetery in the village in Ireland where his parents came from. On the tombstone he asked that the inscription read: “I told you I was ill.”
Just to complete the comic routine, the next joke came in – as if scripted – from the parish priest of the village: “ ’Tis a terrible ting: making a mockery of death (pronounced debt) and on his tombstone too. I won’t have it.”
International furore and a bishop who got the joke later, and the decision was reversed and Spike’s tombstone inscription stands as he wished.
Why is Spike a hero to me?
Because, as John Cleese said when Spike died, British humour owes a debt of lasting gratitude to him as the fountainhead of a rich stream of absurdist comedy that flowed through The Goons, to Around the Horn into Monty Python and The Goodies and even gets a look in with Little Britain. There’s legacy that lasts to this day.(Spike Milligan in The Life of Brian, left.)
But he’s a hero for much more than his achievements, monumental as they are. He didn’t just turn a living out of absurdity. He lived it, at great personal cost.
Louis Armstrong was once asked what sort of music he liked and he replied: “There are only two types of music – good music and bad music. I like good music.”
I have the same view about comedy. And the best sources of comedy are religion and sex. Where would Woody Allen be without either?
And so, when I was asked by The Hoopla when does the lampooning of religion in general, and priesthood and Catholicism in particular, “ hurt and cross the line?”
My answer is simple: When it’s bad comedy!
For the rest – the good stuff – it’s welcomed by me as a timely reminder of just how comic a lot of religious carry-on can be. And not just religious carry-on of course. Comics render us a much wider service.Eric Idle and Graham Chapman. The Life of Brian
Long ago – like 20 years ago – I got used to the idea of turning up in unexpected places and to unfamiliar groups, walking into meetings or parties and being known to be a priest and immediately presumed to be at least mentally deficient, if not a danger to humanity.
The rants of people like Richard Dawkins or, closer to home, Peter Fitzsimons, are just saying what’s beneath the surface of popular consciousness in Australia: that believers are either brain dead or fanatics, or both, and that a celibate person by choice is so psychosexually distorted as to be good for nothing better than a padded cell.
Back to Spike, the master absurdist.
It’s only when you look at life askew that you see it for what it is and can see it in perspective.
Puncturing the balloons of the pompous and presumptuous is the public service comics provide.
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