A Joke, Just Like on Top Gear: A Theological Reading of the Work of Stewart Lee

Religion and Senses of Humour - Stephen E. Gregg

Manon C. James [+-]
St Padarn's Institute
Manon Ceridwen James is Dean for Initial Ministerial Training at the St Padarn’s Institute, Church in Wales and teaches Practical Theology and Theology and Contemporary Culture for the University of Wales, Trinity St David. She gained her PhD in Practical Theology from the University of Birmingham in 2015 and has published a book based on the research called Women, Identity, and Religion in Wales: Theology, Poetry and Story by the University of Wales Press. She has also published several chapters in edited collections on feminist theology, literature and qualitative research and has contributed to the popularcultureandtheology.com website.


In this chapter I will be exploring the work of the stand-up comedian Stewart Lee from a theological perspective. Using the methodology of Vanhoozer, Anderson and Sleasman (2007) for analysing popular culture I will discuss the theological implications of Lee’s work, particularly in the context of satire, blasphemy and offence. Questions will include whether Lee’s work is offensive, or whether the context of his comedy should be taken into account and ameliorates charges of blasphemy. Is all humour permissible as long as it is funny, as Schweizer (2020) argues? I will also explore laughter and comedy from a theological perspective and whether this is a more appropriate and helpful lens with which to explore his work than that of offense. Is there a deeper theological meaning to his work particularly in his critique of society and exploration of the human condition? This will lead to a discussion on the deeper purpose of comedy and its function within society, as well as the tradition of the holy fool. I will end with a positive critique of Lee’s work, and how his truth telling challenges both church and society into more authentic and just relationships in community and public life.

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James, Manon. A Joke, Just Like on Top Gear: A Theological Reading of the Work of Stewart Lee. Religion and Senses of Humour. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Nov 2024. ISBN 9781000000000. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=43240. Date accessed: 01 Apr 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.43240. Nov 2024

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