I was gigging in Belgium tonight, at a mini comedy festival in a town called Geel
, a place I have never heard of before. In fact, to be honest, beyond knowing that I had to get the Eurostar to Brussels and was then getting picked up in a taxi, I had no idea where I was going. I'd been too busy to do any research, and thought it was likely that I'd be on somewhere in the capital, or at least its suburbs, but it was a good hour's drive away.
On the train I was reading my Kurt Vonnegut book, marveling at this late and lamented genius's quiet wisdom. I was making some notes in the margin, as I didn't have a notebook to hand (it was up in my bag and I had a fat man sitting next to me who I didn't want to disturb). There's loads of cracking stuff and one passage had got me thinking a little. Vonnegut had written "If Jesus was alive today, we would kill him with lethal injection. I call that progress. We would have to kill him for the same reason he was killed the first time. His ideas are just too liberal."
There is a lot of truth in this and of course this comment subtly points up the irony that a supposedly Christian country and its supposedly Christian President support some very unChristian practices. I wondered how people like George W Bush and Sarah Palin and even Tony Blair manage to justify their faith with their actual actions. In the first two cases my suspicion is that any faith they might be displaying is actually for appearance sake and political purposes - with Blair though, who actually had to hide his true faith whilst in office, I am guessing he thinks he is a good Christian.
If I was a Christian - or for that matter a Muslim - I would live my life constantly wondering what the magic figurehead of my faith was making of my actions. And if He did come back and meet me, how would he feel about the way I lived my life, would He be glad to have me on his team and would He even see me as part of his team?
Can Bush or Palin seriously think that the self-interested, aggressive and hate-filled lives are in sync with their belief? Because if you're a Christian then you believe that Jesus knows about all the stuff you're doing. Would Jesus be happy to hear what politicians like these were defending with His name? And wouldn't He be executed, just as Vonnegut says? Of course he would.
I made a note about this idea in the margin (hardly revolutionary, but interesting enough). The man next to me was watching me, trying to read what I had written.
Later he nudged me. "Are you studying philosophy?" he asked me.
"No," I replied, slightly bewildered, "I'm just reading..."
"For pleasure?" he asked, his tone not quite at the level which suggested such a thing would be unheard of, by still containing a trace of incredulity. Surely it wasn't so ridiculous - I mean, he had seen me making notes, but surely it's OK to study a book without being forced to by some course.
But I think he'd seen that I was writing about Jesus and clearly wanted to have some kind of a chat about this. He told me that he was a humanist and didn't hold any truck with Christianity. I thought maybe he's recognised Vonnegut's name, but when I said that he was also a humanist, the man seemed confused. And just wanted to talk and not listen.
But I didn't want to talk. I gave back as little as I could and then pretended to go to sleep for a bit.
I arrived in Geel just after 6 and had no time to really look round the town. The bill was a mixture of English speaking and Belgian acts, in different rooms. I wasn't sure how I'd go down. I'd assumed I 'd be playing an exclusive English speaking bill, but I was following a Belgian. And it seemed pretty much everyone in this small town had turned up for the event, so there was no guarantee that I'd be understood by all. I am aware that my act is to a large degree about language and specific vocabulary and idioms. And it's a bit rude at times. Don't know if you've spotted that. I discussed with some of the English speaking comics beforehand whether we'd be able to touch on Belgium's paedophile cases. It was difficult to know how anything would go down. I'd not even had any time to acclimatise and had to keep reminding myself I was even abroad.
I think in the end it went reasonably well, though I suspected that portions of the audience were finding it hard to follow. I tried the longer "Give me head, til I'm dead" routine to end with and towards the end a few people at the front started milling out. One of them was a boy of about 12. I apologised saying I hadn't known there were kids in the room and jokingly lied that I wouldn't have been so rude if I'd known, "Still," I added, "Things are already dangerous enough for him. He lives in Belgium." The audience enjoyed the reference to their poor reputation and I expressed my delight at having taken the chance, and I pushed things further by saying, "I know some of you aren't enjoying this, but I am going to stay on this stage until you give us our Maddy back." There are some theories that she might have be here. This got some laughs and some groans, but I said I was serious. How great it would have been if they had thought, "Well, it's the only way to get rid of him - OK, here she is!" Alas the paedophile Belgians kept her to themselves.
I was tired and had drunk a fair amount of Belgian beer and went back to the hotel for an earlyish night. It was a long way to come to do a mediocre thirty minutes.