Tim Minchin is well-known for his whimsical, satirical, and downright hilarious musical contributions. Comedians in general are often tempted to tread dangerously close to the line that should not be crossed, with some (such as Jimmy Carr, for example) seemingly getting away with skipping over the line and back again under the guise of being ‘cheeky’. Unfortunately, Mr. Minchin seems to have discovered a hard line, rocketed past it, and didn’t get away with it at all.
The furore surrounds the song ‘Woody Allen Jesus’, which was due to be broadcast on The Jonathan Ross Show on Friday 23rd December 2011 (also featuring Tom Cruise and the Downton Abbey girls amongst others), but the footage was left on the cutting room floor after ITV’s Director of Television made an executive decision to remove it from the show. The news sparked several Twitter messages and Facebook statuses, as well as a variety of opinions voiced as comments on Tim’s own blog (to read Tim’s side of the story on his blog, and to view the readers’ comments, click here).
Having watched the video outtake on YouTube, I’ll admit I’m in two minds. In summary, the song attempts to draw parallels between Jesus and contemporary famous figures, which in many ways (since Tim is never anti-Jesus or anti-Christianity in the song itself) could be perceived as praising Jesus in his own unique way. However, whilst I’m all for free speech, and not someone who is super-religious, there are parts of the song that don’t sit well with me. Linking Jesus to Woody Allen (“short, Jewish, philosophical, a bit hesitant”, as Tim says on his blog)…that’s mildly amusing. I particularly liked the link to the Komodo dragon. The problem seemed to stem from the zombie link (Tim’s not alone in making this connection of course, death followed by resurrection etc.). Zombies are generally portrayed as evil (or at least mindlessly violent), which Jesus certainly wasn’t, whether you believe He was the Son of God, God himself, or simply an inherently good man. Worse, perhaps, was the reference to Jesus having a “fetish for drinking blood”. Maybe I’m wrong, but to my knowledge, He and his disciples only ever did this once (and this was metaphorical…He may have turned water into wine, but never turned wine into blood).
I often wonder why some of us refrain from saying something we think may offend, or at the very least, try to find a more tactful way to deliver the same message. On the other hand, there are those (comics particularly, perhaps) who go ahead and say it anyway. With free speech comes responsibility for the consequences. Tim Minchin comments on his blog that he is “f****** disappointed”, but I get the impression he’s disappointed that ITV’s Director of Television wasn’t more open-minded and appreciative of his work, rather than being disappointed in himself for not being more careful in dealing with controversial material. As a performer, I imagine Tim thinks predominantly of the immediate and future reaction of his fans, whereas ITV have ‘little’ things like the Ofcom Broadcasting Code to consider. Comedy receives some leniency, but there’s obviously a limit.
My mum’s hypothesis is that the material may have been pulled from the show more for Jonathan’s sake than anyone elses. Mr. Ross sums things up fairly well in his own words, saying to Tim after his performance, “you’ve got some balls doing that on a Christmas show”. Coming from Ross’s perspective (in case you’ve forgotten, I refer you to Sachsgate), this must mean it was pretty dangerous stuff!
Should it have been pulled? I’m not sure. If I’d been in charge, I’d have laughed too, but I think I’d have found it very difficult to justify NOT pulling it. It was undeniably clever, and as always with Tim Minchin, musically brilliant. Problem is, it was also venturing into ‘no-go’ areas of religion…at Christmas! Tricky.
(Having said all this, I haven’t stopped being a fan, I’ve just become a slightly more sceptical one…)