TV review: Are You Having a Laugh? Comedy and Christianity, BBC1

Parks and Recreation, BBC4

There is, it appears, one person left in Britain still offended by The Life of Brian. Thankfully, and presumably in response to accusations of atheist bias in the BBC's comedy, someone has seen fit to grant an hour of TV to her for Are You Having a Laugh? Comedy and Christianity.

Ann Widdecombe is unamused because "jokes about Christianity are everywhere you look". Her evidence is mild at best – a clip of Dara O Briain asking, "If we're all God's children, what's so special about Jesus?" here, another of (the Christian) Ian Hislop taking mock-offence to being called a Christian on Have I Got News for You there.

Her arguments, meanwhile, are from the Worzel Gummidge school of straw-manism: "Why is it now so funny to call Christians stupid? Why is Christianity easier to ridicule than other faiths?" (a) It's not and not one of her examples does this. (b) It isn't – ask Jerry Springer: the Opera's Stewart Lee.

One can empathise with Widdecombe's hurt at gags about her religion – as Marcus Brigstocke does when she interviews him – but it's hard to have any sympathy with her argument that Christians get an overly hard time on TV. Better that than being strip-searched every time you go through departures, eh?

Widdecombe's cause is further undermined by two of her examples of what she "regards as most sacred" now being "fodder for a cheap gag". The first is a decade-old Goodness Gracious Me sketch in which characters are confused at Communion and try to dip the bread in mango chutney. Producer Anil Gupta has to patiently explain that it's a joke at the Indian characters' expense rather than the Church's.

Then there's The Life of Brian. Which Ann hasn't seen. We get a careful explanation as she watches it for the first time. "This man's name is not Jesus, it's Brian," she says while everyone watching, shouts, "and he's a very silly boy!" Then an aghast Ann watches the crucifixion scene. She doesn't love it.

Rather than gags at the Church's expense, Widdy wants more shows like the mid-Sixties ecclesiastical sitcom All Gas and Gaiters – "where the humour was based on the quirks of characters rather than their faiths" – as if Father Ted kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse was a Hitchensesque polemic against the Holy See rather than doing exactly what she's describing.

For a woman who spent a large part of 2012 complaining that free speech was under threat by gay marriage, she's on thin ice hypocrisy-wise in this blinkered and naive film. But look on the bright side of life, Ann, at least you can turn these shows off. As, one imagines, many did last night.

Religious interference into secular life was skewered in the first episode of the second series of Parks and Recreation, too. A week after series one finished, we're straight into the 24-part second series and it's becoming clear why the show is so revered. Tonight's first episode saw Leslie Knope – Amy Poehler's Mr Smith in a world of Francis Urquharts – accidentally become a local gay icon when the two penguins she "marries" in a PR stunt for the local zoo turn out to be gay. And prove so in front of a crowd of children.

Under pressure from the Widdecombe-like leader of Society for Family Stability ("when gays marry it ruins it for the rest of us"), Leslie goes double-or-nothing with an appearance at Pawnee's gay bar, the Bulge: "I guess I'm like Queen of the Gays," she tells her boss, Ron (Nick Offerman) later.

It's a nice take on the wider political discourse in the US and would be funnier were it not for the fact that right-wing fury over two gay penguins marrying sounds like an all-too-real Fox News story.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before