The presence of the corduroy-sporting stand-up Marcus Brigstocke has lent a cerebral quality to comedy shows ranging from The Late Show on BBC4 to more dubious offerings such as Dave TV's Argumental.
The "Tefal head" or boffin appearance of the comedian on the outside is matched by a curiosity and rigour on the inside, and God Collar is the latest example of the 38-year-old's inquiring mind and soul-searching ways.
An admirably sensitive chap, Brigstocke once questioned his chosen career when he was thrown into a depression occasioned by the first Gulf War. In overcoming this, Brigstocke resurfaced bolder, brasher and more challenging. But the battle against uncertainty in God Collar has an end result that is, predictably, less tangible.
Feeling a "God-shaped hole" in his life, the performer expands on a previous live show, also titled God Collar, not so much to fill it but to wander around it. While the live show, much of which surfaces in later chapters, managed to skip warmly between points, "God Collar: the parchment" feels far too burdened by the weight of its own identity crisis. Never mind "Is there a God?"; "What is God Collar?" is the nagging question here. It's a personal account of uncertainty; it's a succession of riffs on religious flaws and foibles; it's an examination of the shades of light and dark, levity and anger, within the author; and it's a deliberately critical reading companion to various sacred tomes, including those of Messrs Dawkins and Hitchens. But there is little sense of embarking on anything like a Damascene journey.
Brigstocke's wit often ends up as wittering: as in an over-extended recap of humanist versus Christian bus poster campaigns, and an interminable chapter on where to find God that suggests all manner of methods (including eBay) while wandering off the point.
Jokes are a great way of making a point, of course (and there are some fine examples here, including that "Catholicism has the clerical equivalent to a nut allergy – even a small exposure to change and the whole thing will go into anaphylactic shock"), but thinly veiled stand-up routines or tirades tend to obscure the thrust of the oeuvre. Brigstocke recognises that some passages are tough going but is ultimately unapologetic; in the chapter about where to look for God he observes: "That last tirade seems reasonably likely to have thinned my readership down to you elite few who are not afraid of a touch of light ribbing."
Just as vexing as the dense tomfoolery is the lack of referencing to back up some of his sentiments. Tell us more about how religion is big business, give us examples of why you dislike the writing of the right-wing columnists you name, explain more about how rank and file desertion of the major religions will isolate extremists, and, yes, get a punchline in, but what about more killer facts and quotes too?
Brigstocke is right to wonder why more people don't ponder the biggest question in life. For anyone who does so, God Collar may only serve to tether them to their confusion.
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