The Bible, as you’ve never heard it

By Hazel Southam

Comic Paul Kerensa is wearing a baseball cap back to front, having, as he says, ‘a live midlife crisis’. He’s rapping the Apostle Paul’s letters to the tune of Eminem’s Stan. The audience cheers. It’s just part of a nationwide tour in which Kerensa (also known for his work on Miranda, Not Going Out and Top Gear) joins forces with theologian Dr Andrew Ollerton to give audiences a gallop through the Bible. The Greatest Story Ever Toured takes the Bible and explains how the whole thing fits together, but does it with songs, rap, comedy and an awful lot of parody.

But why is Kerensa doing this? Isn’t the Bible a bit of a curious area for a comic? “Eddie Izzard, Woody Allen, countless comedians have drawn on the Bible as fertile ground,” says Kerensa. “It shouldn’t just be the domain of the non-Christian comedians. It’s our story, let’s talk about it.” There are, he says, ‘great messages’ in the Bible that he and Dr Andrew Ollerton want to convey. “Let’s look at what Jesus talked about and see what we can apply in our daily lives,” he says. “There’s so much valuable stuff in there and yet I’m seeing a hunger from people.” One of those people was fellow comedian, Lee Mack, who, when invited onto Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, said that he’d definitely take the offered Bible as he’d never read it.

Kerensa recalls: “He said that, if aliens asked him what’s in this great book, he wouldn’t know, because he’d never read it. ‘Isn’t that madness?’ he said. ‘On this desert island, this is my choice, to read the Bible.’ I found it very interesting that someone who is not a Christian thinks that.” So why do people struggle with the Bible, and how is the tour hoping to combat that? Dr Andrew Ollerton says the problems with the Bible are that ‘it’s big and it’s old.’ “There’s the sheer size of it and the fact that it’s a small library rather than a novel that people are used to. “I remember a friend at university who became a Christian,” he says. “He was keen to get into the Bible. But when he tried, he said it was like being asked to eat an elephant. You don’t know where to start.

“A lot of people want to engage with the Bible, but there are lots of obstacles to that.” So, over the course of an evening, Kerensa, Ollerton and musicians, take the audience from Genesis to Revelation, explaining the big picture, the overarching narrative that this book (or 66 books) tells.
Just for the fun of it, I suspect, Kerensa gets Ollerton to do the whole thing in 90 seconds. Which he promptly does. And it’s funny. I’m a big fan of Eddie Izzard and I love his take on the creation of the world, with people from Rwanda taking it back to God to complain. But some jokes can feel as if they are having a real dig at Christianity and the Bible. Not so here.

The Greatest Story Every Toured has a warm humour, with Kerensa kicking off with a parody of Another Day of Sun from the film La La Land: “It starts with that first day, when God created sky and earth, the world was here to stay…” And it ends with a toe-tapping parody of the eighties’ hit Celebration, about the book of Revelation: “An apocalypse is on right here, a revelation to last 2,000 years.” It’s silly. But it’s also thought provoking. There’s a moment, during the second half (or New Testament section, if you prefer) to reflect on the cross, which is very poignant. And Ollerton’s summary of the gospels is so profound, you want to ask if there can be a pause in proceedings just to take it in.

Kerensa (who studied theology at university) makes a joke about having got a compared with Ollerton’s A, and there’s plenty of audience interaction with questions ranging from your favourite crisps to how often you read the Bible. At the performance I saw, vegetable crisps were the big winner, and about a third of the audience read the Bible every week, in case you’re wondering. “I’m interested in getting the Bible out there in different ways, not in a preachy way,” says Kerensa.

“Regardless of what you think of it, the Bible is something that people need to know about as it has such a key place in our culture, and long may that continue.”

So, what can people expect on the night? He smiles, “It will be a good night out. There will be comedy and a bit of learning. For me, it’s a way of trying to get a better sense of how it all fits together,” he says of the Bible. “The Bible is left in hotel rooms,” he says. “And we can often treat it like part of the furniture. So, anything that gives us a sense of what’s in it and encourages people to read it themselves is fantastic.”

 

Tour dates

Friday 8 June ………………………………………Reigate Baptist Church Thursday 21 June …………………………Northgate Church, Chester Friday 22 June …………………………………………………….Hull Minster Thursday 28 June…………………………………………..Tunbridge Wells Friday 29 June…………………………………St John’s Stoke, Guildford Saturday 30 June……………………..Redland Parish Church, Bristol Friday 13 July……………………………………………….Exeter Cathedral Saturday 14 July……………………The Lantern Church, Wimborne Tickets £6, from

The Bible Society: http://bit.ly/2wUI83q

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