Reductio ad Absurdum: Purposeful Offence in Comedy and Religion
Stephen E. Gregg [+]
University of Wolverhampton
Religion, performative comedy and offence have a long relationship in British culture, from Alf Garnett, Life of Brian and Dave Allen through to Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais and Tim Minchin. In this chapter, I will primarily examine the art of stand-up comedy, within a wider context of performed comedy, to trace two changes that occur from the 1960s to the present day; a shift from mocking to ridiculing, and the changing landscape of dynamism between ‘insider’ to ‘outsider’ voices. I will highlight changes in social attitudes to religion and comedy, in addition to exploring the development of comedy as a vehicle to both attack and defend religion after the rise of the New Atheism in the mid-2000s. This will include commentary upon the shift from attacking religious practices to attacking religious beliefs, and the shift from gentle mockery to outright ridicule. In so doing, I will look at the philosophical act of reductio ad absurdum as a tool in the offender’s arsenal, examining transgressions of senses of decorum, entitlement and taste on the one hand, and formations of senses of identity, community and superiority on the other. I will conclude with a reflection on religious responses to offence, and ask how this can be analysed within a Lived Religion approach.