Clergy can take – and make – a joke

Scottish actor and comedian Rikki Fulton.
Scottish actor and comedian Rikki Fulton.
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I like comedy, but have to confess that I’m not really a lover of stand-up comics. Glasgow riveter Billy Connolly has always been an exception.

I remember yonks ago when he used to venture to the Borders and perform for little more than his supper and a bed for the night.

His first major gig here was in Galashiels’ Volunteer Hall and I interviewed him for about 10 minutes in the kitchen that led to caretaker Jimmy Brown’s flat. I found him hilarious, but at the same time he seemed a bit on edge.

He was just beginning to spread his wings from the west and wondering just how his humour would go down in the wider world. I like to think that the response from the audience in the Volunteer Hall proved he had no need to worry and that, indeed, the world was his oyster. Many tried to emulate and none succeeded, and he went on to become a star not only of stage, but of screen.

Flicking through the channels late the other night I came across a body of unlikely heavenly stars. I missed the start of the programme, but it was a succession of ministers and priests standing in front of a static camera against a background that looked as if it had come from a 1930s Free Kirk vestry. And they told jokes.

They stood there in their dog collars, gowns and vestments, and swapped psalms and Bible readings for jokes. One after another they appeared on the screen and punted out punchlines. Some looked decidedly uncomfortable, while others appeared to relish the moment. Some of their attempts were tremendous, others were decidedly poor. One even had to explain why we should be laughing. Now that was funny.

But laugh I did. The expressions on the faces of these men and women of the cloth were a hoot. And I loved the one – I think it came from a Methodist – about the man who told his wife in that great sporting summer of last year that he had bought a packet of Olympic condoms and proceeded to ask whether he should wear gold, silver or bronze. The wife, revealed the man from the ministry, promptly said he should wear silver – and that way he wouldn’t always come first.

And before anyone starts complaining, I’m only quoting the gospel according to a reverend, sir. I’ll watch out for that programme again.

In truth, I’ve known a few ministers of various faiths and most had an undoubted sense of humour.

In my younger days I was a member of Galashiels Round Table and a fellow member was the Reverend David Smith of St Peter’s.

He was young and bright, and proclaimed he had the cleanest dog collars of all the clergy around – they were made by cutting up a plastic Fairy Liquid bottle and turning it out. I knew another who proclaimed that while to Catholics RIP meant Rest In Peace, for those of the Protestant faith it meant Rest If Possible.

I smile at funerals sometimes. Not the really sad ones, but I do smile at times when the minister proclaims with solemnity and sincerity that the worthy dead can rest easy in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.

The sure and certain hope..?