Interview: comedian Josh Ladgrove wants you to Come Heckle Christ
The Aussie satirist is bringing his blasphemous show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014
This article is from 2014.
Josh Ladgrove straps himself to a cross every night before fielding all kinds of questions. Jay Richardson wonders if this Australian satirist could be the Fringe’s saviour
Of all the returning acts at this year’s Fringe, Jesus Christ might appear the most unlikely. Of course, Come Heckle Christ doesn’t feature the real Jesus any more than Jim Davidson: No Further Action is the work of the devil. Australian comedian Josh Ladgrove certainly has the ideal hair and beard for renaissance portraits of the Messiah. But even he couldn’t have foreseen the howls of blasphemy and outrage the show incited earlier this year.
After playing without incident at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, a court case and bomb threats accompanied its arrival in Adelaide. Ladgrove insists these were blown out of proportion and that he hired security only as a precaution, reasoning that ‘if you’re challenging someone’s deep belief, you’re going to piss a few people off along the way. I had to be comfortable with that, so I took the high road. I wasn’t mean, I didn’t treat them like idiots. What I was doing was artistic. Or at least it was just for fun, a parody.’
Hanging on a cardboard cross every night ‘physically hurts’ and improvising responses for an hour is ‘incredibly mentally taxing. But most people just take to it. Even if it’s not the funniest thing they’ve seen that night, it’s so different to your conventional comedy show and the participatory nature of it really excites them.’ He doubts the hour is going to provoke as much controversy in Edinburgh, where he’s also appearing as his character Dr Professor Neal Provenza. He’s hoping for decent word-of-mouth: ‘people telling their friends “you can yell shit at Jesus!” But that’s in the lap of the gods. Lord knows, I’ve tried and failed in the past with shows to contrive coverage.’
Occasionally while on the cross, someone will ask him a theological or philosophical poser. And once or twice he’s been thrown by someone telling him their uncle died of cancer, forcing him to break character, ‘essentially myself with a softer voice and calm demeanour. I’ve had to apologise and remind them that I’m just playing Jesus, which has led to some nice moments with the audience.’
Nevertheless, he’s now that little bit better prepared for such difficulties. ‘Although it can be cathartic for the audience, most things I get are fairly secular, ranging from flippant things like asking me who my favourite character is in Star Wars or Game of Thrones to “what were you doing for those three days?” or “what do you think of gay marriage?” Or “why do you let kids die in Africa?”‘
Intriguingly, although Ladgrove does his best to make it as funny as he can, he’s essentially passive. ‘It’s more about the audience who self-censor as an organism; it’s fantastic to watch. They tacitly decide what’s acceptable amongst themselves.’
He envisages performing a variation on Come Heckle Christ in the future as much-derided Australian treasurer Joe Hockey, but he reflects that there’s still plenty of life in the original. ‘There’s still a sense of reverence. When I’m on the crucifix in the gown and the smoke machine comes on, it does feel strangely ethereal. I don’t feel like I have creative licence to shout back “shut up you dickhead!” The odd barb aside, I’m quite soft and take most of it.’
Come Heckle Christ, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 2–24 Aug (not 11, 18), 10.20pm, £–£9.50 (£6.50–£8). Previews 31 Jul & 1 Aug, £6.