As the yearly celebration of arts and culture at the Edinburgh...
Famous for his puns, his surreal humour and his even more surreal shirts, Milton Jones is an old hand on the stand-up circuit. So how does he see his Christianity playing out in the world of comedy? How does he mix telling jokes and telling people about Jesus? The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity went to find out…
Just to set the scene, can you tell us a little about your journey into faith and how that’s shaped your life to this point?
While it’s true that my parents are Christians, many of my family are Christians, the dog is a Christian, etc… I believe in God because of a gut feeling that the universe is not just a massive fluke. What’s more, my experience of handing over my own life to God and trying to follow the teachings of Jesus has led to a sense of peace and purpose, an inner force guiding and taking care of me.
It wasn’t until I owned up to all this, and outed myself as a Christian as a teenager, that my life began to take shape. This has led, eventually, to working in the world of comedy. Something I don’t think I would have had the courage to do on my own.
Having a job that revolves around laughter seems like a pretty good deal – is it as fun as it looks?
Well of course it can be lots of fun and there are some glamorous moments. But most of it is driving to Manchester, having a sandwich, doing 20 minutes to an indifferent crowd and driving home again. Performing can also be very isolating. I do love it, all the people and the places I experience, but just like with anything there are good and bad days.
Comedy is full of people who used to go to church but couldn’t quite go along with the whole package
On a good day I love being able to enjoy the moment, while knowing that this isn’t all there is. I think that’s a key thing about being a Christian in any environment, not just comedy – it changes your whole outlook because no matter how bad (or even good) things are, you know that there is more to life. It gives you a completely different perspective. And it helps me not to hold any success too tightly.
What’s the best thing about being a Christian, something that really excites you about faith?
That from time to time the Christian faith is backed up by an inexplicable power that changes situations and people for good. Also, if you discover that the answer to the big question is a person, then all subsequent questions can be put into the file ‘to be discussed’.
Comedians are well-known for mocking religion; do you think Christianity and comedy can happily coexist?
It’s easy to see the church as a sort of bullied boy in the playground that won’t fight back. But God is big enough to take criticism or take a joke. There’s something pretty insecure about feeling the need to do God’s work or protect him. I did do a video a little while ago about the weirdness of Christianity, but honestly within comedy people don’t actually hate Christianity. They hate two-dimensional reactionary Christianity, but there’s actually quite a softness towards ‘thinking’ Christianity.
Comedy is full of people who used to go to church but couldn’t quite go along with the whole package because it was too jingoistic. I know a heck of a lot of people in comedy whose parents were clergy or missionaries. Ultimately a lot of comedy is dealing with the truth, about life and what it’s all about. The same is true of faith.
I am like a car that breaks down a lot, but is happy to try and give lifts
That said, I do still try and be sensitive when I make jokes about it and even after all these years I’m still trying to pin down what I feel comfortable with. I don’t really have any hard-and-fast rules, it’s more about instinct. Sometimes words written down can look fine, but it’s the way in which you say them and vice versa.
Lots of people (both inside and outside the church) have quite negative reactions when they hear the word ‘evangelism’ – what’s your approach to it?
It can definitely conjure up images of having to engage with religious chuggers pretending to be your friend in order to get you to join their cult. In reality I think it should probably be more a case of Christians pointing at the view from their own window and implying “Hey look at this!” The problem comes when you try to enthuse about the view out of someone else’s window. Or when you haven’t got a view worth looking at.
I think the biggest thing is who you are and what you’re like. I am like a car that breaks down a lot, but is happy to try and give lifts.
Can you tell us about some of your experiences of sharing faith – both good and bad?
Well, once I stood in my local high street and asked God to reveal people’s names to me so that I could start a conversation with them. The ‘conversation’ went something like. “Hey is your name John? No? Peter? Colin… hey come back!” But apparently I have said and done some helpful stuff occasionally. The more I go on though, the more I think it’s not about the words I say on stage; it’s more about the people I’m with and the way I conduct myself in that environment.
I’m on tour with a manager and a support act and a promoter and an agent, in a car, 12 hours a day, five days a week. There’s no hiding there. If you say nice words but you’re a pig during the week, that will come out. So that’s really where the cutting edge is rather than the words. The words are 2%. At the end of the day I’m committed to the comedy community and I’ll have ups and downs with them. Yes, I do speak to people about God occasionally, but it’s about being with them and loving them where they are and that’s a long term thing. That’s my responsibility.
And finally, we have to ask: what do you think Jesus’ favourite joke would be if he were on earth today?
Well, I think if he visited most churches he would both laugh and cry a lot.
Opinions on the latest trends, topics, news and culture from a Christian perspective.