Sanderson Jones: 'It will be one of the sweatiest shows on the Fringe
- Brian Donaldson
- 1 August 2018
This article is from 2018
The 'former' comedian and co-creator of the non-religious Sunday Assembly events tells us that he wants to create a whole new category in the Fringe programme
Once upon a time, Sanderson Jones made innovative and occasionally controversial Fringe comedy shows. He's taken a few steps back from the August madness to focus on wellbeing and non-religious spirituality and participate in a variety of pursuits such as ecstatic dance workshops or conferences on unbelief. As he returns to the Fringe, he promises a 'super-interactive' and joyful experience.
In a press release last year you are described as a 'former stand-up comedian'. On your website, you state you are a 'recovering stand-up'. And during your Brighton TED Talk you say 'when I was a comedian'. I'm getting a strong vibe you view your stand-up days as being behind you. Are you comfortable being in the comedy section of the Fringe programme and how would you best describe what you do these days?
With my show That's the Spirit!, I want to create a secular spiritual experience. Since I co-founded Sunday Assembly, a worldwide network of non-religious congregations, I learned that you can be a total atheist but also have a spiritual life. Now, my mission is to work out how to create events where everyone (no matter what their faith or lack of faith) can have a powerful communal spirituality-like feeling.
So, I'll be talking, and there are lots of times it'll be funny, but that's not the point. Laughter is just one of the tools you can use to help folk get in touch with the part that feels like a spirit. That part of you that is beyond words, that makes you feel so very big and so very small. It's not comedy but it's also not theatre, storytelling or cabaret. Basically, this is the start of a one-man campaign to get a Wellbeing and Spirituality section in the Fringe guide.
Can you say what your approach to putting together this year's Fringe show has been and what we can expect from it?
The show builds on lots of different events I've designed over the past few years. It is super-interactive combining music, movement, singing, meditation and anything else that helps folk get deep and to strip away the bullshit that we have to carry around all day. There's amazing research on the therapeutic qualities of shared, ecstatic experiences and it's fascinating to figure out how to build them.
The aim is to create a language that evokes the spiritual in a way that matches our materialist age. That way we can have more group peak experiences and can bring more of the sacred into society. It'll be pretty intense, there'll be jumping up and down but in a really fun and silly way. Everyone will be asked to bring a question they want answered, and we'll find a response in the madness. My prediction: it will be one of the sweatiest shows on the Fringe (a lot of people wouldn't use that as a selling point but I'm going for it).
Also, I'll be experimenting with being on hand to listen to anyone after the show in case it brings anything up (I've done training in Acceptance and Commitment therapy and coaching over the past few years, but will mostly be there to lend an ear and to signpost to places they can go). I think it is important to become aware of how we are helping audiences process the feelings that our work brings up, so thought I'd give this a go.
Which comedians do you admire these days and has your taste in comedy changed over time?
I feel rather guilty about the lack of comedy that I consume; you're more likely to find me checking out a south London mega-church, popping into an ecstatic dance workshop or at a conference on unbelief. A friend of mine said 'I wouldn't be surprised to see you in the back of an Isis video saying 'actually, you can learn quite a lot when you get past the beheading'. And you probably can.
However, I still love Mr Spencer Jones, primeval clown Phil Kay, shame-ridden, worrymonger John Robins, silly weirdman Adam Larter, omni-talented, maker-upper-on-the-spotter Pippa Evans, never-shuts-up-about-her-dead-dad Cariad Lloyd, John 'Feel the Burn' Kearns, Sara Pascoe-a-go-go, and many others. Oh, and last year I almost coughed up a lung laughing at Marny Godden.
Do you have any regrets about anything you did during The Comedy Years? Or, to put it another way, looking back is there anything you would change about your previous comedy output?
No. Should I? Not everything I did worked, and I wouldn't say all my old jokes now but it is all [adopts Californian accent] part of the journey [stops accent]. Most of my regrets come from the difficulty I have in sitting down to write for long periods of time, or handling the many administrative tasks that go with being a one-man comedy band.
Curiously, in mid-July I got diagnosed with ADD, which explains a lot of my life, both the insane, hyper-focussed accomplishing of ludicrous projects, and the total loss at some things others find trivially easy. The doctor just prescribed me speed in order to calm my mind down, so it'll be intriguing to see how that works itself into the show.
Sanderson Jones: That's the Spirit!, Heroes @ Boteco, 2–25 August