Pat Condell: Faith, Hope & Sanity

Review by Steve Bennett

Pat Condell is an all-too rare visitor to the stand-up circuit these days. He used to be one of the hardest-working comics around, until the travelling and the late nights became too much, about decade ago.

For his comeback show, he’s chosen the biggest, most pressingly relevant and dangerously inflammatory issue around: religion. And, it won’t surprise you to learn, he’s not exactly a fan.

At 56, Condell’s too long in the tooth to be an angry young man ranting and raving at the hypocrisy of it all - that’s not his style. Instead, he’s more of the kind to firmly, but politely tell you why every belief you hold sacred is wrong, with a body of evidence to back it up.

But with a comedy audience in a fringe theatre, he’s pretty much preaching – if it’s not an inappropriate metaphor – to the converted. I daresay every member of his audience – right-thinking people that they are – have already come to the conclusion that powerful, fundamentalist, organised religion of any brand is inherently bad, and most are grossly hypocritical to boot.

The folly of the Church, any Church, is, of course, well-explored comic territory, with everyone from Lenny Bruce to Dave Allen, Bill Hicks to Stewart Lee having previously pointed out the evils of religion, with varying degrees of bitterness and savagery. It is, with sex and death – and possibly the Star Wars trilogy – one of the tenets stand-up was built upon.

So when you joke about religion, you’re judged against the very best there is. And, disappointingly, Condell is not quite up to the job.

The problem is not in the writing of individual jokes, which can shine, but in the fact he has an overly familiar standpoint with too few surprises and a show without structure.

He has, as is quickly evident, an eloquent turn of phrase, a mastery of analogy and the ability to sum up arguments in a perfect, almost quotable phrases that positively sparkle.

However in 90 minutes, the Catholic-raised Condell reveals little new. Yes, the Bible’s contradictory; yes the ex-Nazi Youth Pope simply went from one oppressive doctrine to another; and yes those who believe their point of view is the one true way – from the street-corner nutter to the President of the USA, is a crazed, dangerous lunatic. But we knew all this before – and while the opinion might bear repeating, it needs to be done in a new way.

He’s also hamstrung by the fact religion is often beyond parody – witness the events of this week when the Jews and Muslims of Jerusalem finally put aside centuries of hatred… so they could unite in violent protest against gay people. Condell does introduce some fascinating and shameful facts as a sidebar to his main thread, but they are simply pretty adornments to a very ordinary argument.

It is presented, too, with very little variation in pace or tone, delivered with charm but with the feel of a lecture. There’s no structure, no building up to a passionate, climactic conclusion, no ebb and flow of storytelling.

As a result, this is a show that probably works better on the page than the stage. Condell’s smart turns of phrase always bring a smile and often a small chuckle, but perhaps it’s a consequence of his absence from performance that it sounds like a witty script being read aloud, not stand-up delivered from the heart.

Still, this is a low-key debut in a small pub theatre. There are probably enough strong jokes for a show half the running time, and if those are a first draft, to be reworked and polished, a later incarnation of the show could yet inspire. At the moment, though, Condell is still going through the motions.

Review by: Steve Bennett
November 8, 2006

Pat Condell: Faith, Hope & Sanity is on at the Etcetera Theatre, Camden, at 7.30pm (6.30pm Sunday) until November 12. Click here for tickets.

Review date: 1 Jan 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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