This week I had a good meeting with EIFA (Edinburgh Interfaith Association). After the meeting, I took the opportunity to experience the festival atmosphere. One of the shows I saw had an interfaith background. Its title was “2 religions – 1 comedy show”. The two comedians, Henry Churniavsky and Joe Bains, have a Jewish and a Sikh background. Their experiences as parts of religious and ethnic minorities were the main topic of their show and the audience had a very diverse background as well. From my point of view, it was a great show and it was kind of a dialogue event.
Interfaith comedy is not a classical method of interfaith dialogue. Jokes about religious topics are always a bit difficult, because people get offended very easily. One example for (maybe) failed religious satire might be the caricatures about Mohammed at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, which were followed by protest in many countries.
Can comedy about religious be a way for a better understanding between religions? That’s difficult to answer, but I suppose in some cases it can and I have an example from my own experience: The protestant student congregation/chaplaincy in Münster has an exchange programme with Western Galilee College in Akko in Israel. This college is special because it’s students have Jewish, Arab-Christian, Arab-Muslim and Drusian background. In 2012, I joined a group of students from this college on their trip to Münster and Berlin. During this journey, most of the Muslim and Jewish participants visited houses of worship of the other believe (mosques and synagogues) and Christian churches for the first time of their live. In Berlin, we visited amongst other sights the Holocaust memorial site, the KZ Sachsenhausen and the house of the “Wannsee Conference”. I know that in these days me and the other German participants of the group felt very bad visiting all these places of collective German guilt. One evening in a room at the hostel where we stayed one of the Jewish students made a joke. It was spontaneous and it included the words “Germany” and “gas” and probably not very politically correct but in this situation, it was the best what could happen. Suddenly everyone in the room, independent of his ethnic or religious background, was smiling and laughing. This joke and the laugh broke the ice between us and it made us one group and it made the common visits to the different religious and historical sights much easier.
This situation showed me that in some cases even a bad joke can be a basis for dialogue. That means not, that people who want to start an interfaith dialogue should go around and make jokes about religions and the Holocaust, but sometimes humour and jokes can help to a better understanding between different groups. I think it is important to see who makes the jokes about what and how the relationship between the different persons is. In my example, it was a young Jewish man who made the joke and I’m not sure, if it would have the same effect if the joke was made by a one of the Germans or Arabs. There even was already an atmosphere of trust and knowing about each other in the group. We had already spent some days together and knew about the others and the joke showed everyone that we trusted each other and that we accepted each other with our whole history and religion.
That means: From my point of view Comedy can be a good way to deepen relationships if there already is an atmosphere of trust. Often it is a big difference if the joke about a religion is made by a believer of this religion himself or by someone else. Interfaith dialogue is dialogue about very serious topics, but dialogue is getting easier, if we don’t take ourselves so serious that it’s getting impossible to laugh about ourselves.
And so, I want to finish this blog post with a quote by Stephen Colbert in a Parade interview 23th September 2007:
“Not living in fear is a great gift, because certainly these days we do it so much. And do you know what I like about comedy? You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time — of anything. If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid. “