The Etc Theatre in Camden has accidentally found itself staging a themed week of religious comedy shows. First there was Pat Condell and his idiot's guide to religion, or rather his guide to religious idiots, Faith, Hope & Sanity. The following day it was James Sherwood's tribute to the paraphernalia of the Church of England; fetes, tombolas and quiches.
While Condell agitated about religion, Sherwood confesses bemusement in the face of it. "I don't believe in the believey stuff," says Sherwood, the son of a vicar, and a professional choral singer by day. Despite the lack of faith in faith, Sherwood has inevitably been exposed to his fair share of church functions and continues to perform (as a singer) at weddings and funerals. He's even performed for Tony Blair, and jokes that he tried to doctor a psalm so that it advocated renationalising the rail service.
Sherwood's show is reasonably seasoned with deft touches like that. But with this clever-clever territory comes the trap of smugness that Sherwood occasionally falls into. For example, reminiscing about one particular vicar he knew, he goes off at a tangent about female tennis champions which might have worked as a quick aside but instead goes wide of the line.
Much more successful is his exploration of a surprising statistic that says more people attend church on a Sunday than attend football matches on a Saturday. What the Church needs to highlight this, contends the comedian, is a phone-in programme in the style of 606, the post-match Radio 5 Live show. "You can't change a vicar in the middle of Lent," says his imaginary presenter, making an analogy to the football advice: "you can't change your manager in the middle of the season".
As well as the frivolous side to the show, Sherwood attempts to grapple with his self-confessed ambivalence to religion but without being unnecessarily critical of it. What he can't understand is God needing to be worshipped because if there is a god "he's obviously a genius".
For the most part, it is a body of work that hints that Sherwood (who counts Mock the Week and Private Eye among his writing credits) is likely to receive more praise if not the idolisation he jokingly claims to seek as "one of Britain's best-loved comedians".Reuse content