Think Christian comic writing, and the first name that will come to mind is Adrian Plass. His books, and his stand-up performances have delighted thousands of Christians. Does he mind being seen as a professional funny man?
“I have resisted attempts by other people to describe me as a ‘comedian’, because that never was what I set out or wanted to be. My intention was always to share my own journey towards genuinely understanding the love of God, and it became clear at an early stage in my writing and speaking career that, as far as I was concerned, humour was the best vehicle for the purpose. As to whether people understand the serious message behind the funny stuff, I don’t believe it is behind the humour, but in the very centre of it. Responses that readers and listeners are kind enough to communicate to me tend to deal with very serious personal issues that are, perhaps, exposed or illuminated by something that began by making them laugh. I should mention that, in my opinion, The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass is far and away the most serious book I have ever written, and - to coin a phrase - I’m not joking.”
Why did you decide to write the Sacred Diary - and what reactions did you get to it?
“I wrote the Sacred Diary in order to get a load of dirty water off my chest. I was hurt and angry and not very well at the time, and it was such a joy to be able to pour out my feelings onto the page. The process made me laugh and gasp with relief. I certainly never had any idea that this silly little book could be used by God in any way, and I was absolutely amazed when so many people read it and identified with the feelings and experiences that I recorded there. There were some people who were worried by it at first. Taking the lid off anything dear to you will always carry the risk of discovering a can of worms or, more worryingly, nothing at all.”
Your childhood, from what you have written about it, was a mixture of love and terrible insecurity ... to what extent do you think that it contributed to your writing?
“A childhood filled with nagging worry over who was telling the truth in the house where I lived has left me with a diminishing (thank God!) obsession with driving everybody into telling the exact truth about themselves, whether they want to or not. Not a very good idea. The constructive, positive aspect of this legacy from those early years is that I am very tough about myself and my own faith, and equally anxious that the body of Christ should be as honest as possible when they describe what it means to follow Jesus. This drive for truth has probably fuelled and been responsible for what someone has called my ‘rubbish-clearing’ role in the church.”
You and Bridget have now written two books on the developing world and the whole issue of world poverty obviously is one that matters enormously to you - how frustrated do you get over it and what would you like to see the Church doing?
“A drawback to seeing the problem at first hand is that I get as frustrated with my own attitude as I do with anyone else’s. Bridget and I are passionate about Third World issues, but because we have to live with ourselves we know that it is not enough to tell people off or try to make them feel guilty. There is a sense in which continual demands for money become very boring and even oppressive. I do feel that those of us who care about the vast need that exists should constantly be searching for new, creative, interesting ways in which to help people make their own decision to contribute in some way. We have done our best with books and tours and talks, but it is very easy to get stale. What does God think about it all? Only those who are truly self-deluded will be unable to answer that question.”
The Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation book grew out of the Baptist Times column - how much fun was it to write?
“I have always had a love-hate relationship with columns. They fill me with dread and delight. Putting together the glossary for the Baptist Times was a hectic, frustrating, fascinating experience. I loved it.”
How hard is it to be funny to order? Do you ever suffer from writers' block?
“I thank God that I have never suffered from writers’ block, and I simply cannot afford to allow myself to even consider believing in it. When I am uncertain about what to write my rule is that I write something – anything, regardless of quality or lack of quality. The practical process of putting words together almost invariably has a releasing, creative effect, and then I am able to press on. Writing original funny material is very hard work. The only compensation is that there are times when your own words make you laugh.”
You have summed up your theology before as 'God is nice and He likes me' - how does that fit with the God of the Bible, who does send judgment on people, and who sometimes seems anything but nice?
“There are two main tasks for the Christian in my view. The first is to be loved, and the second is to be obedient. Having worked with children in care for years I am all too aware that trying to be good when you do not feel loved is almost impossible. I want people to know that God loves them so that they can serve him with a glad heart. God must be at least as nice as my mother – perhaps even a little nicer, and his Grace inhabits that wonderfully mellow country that lies between the craggy rocks of being told off and the deceptive swamps of being let off. We cannot negotiate either of those nasty extremes, but because of the death and resurrection of Jesus there is now a middle way and no-one is more pleased about it than God, because he was the one who planned it for us...”
Any tips for aspiring writers, particularly those who seem themselves as being the 'next Adrian Plass’?
“The most important tip would be to abandon the idea of being the next Adrian Plass or any other specific writer or person. What the world needs is the very best of you, the individual who happens to be writing. Find your own voice, one which is natural to you, and look constantly for ideas. Many years ago the publisher Edward England told me that there are many good writers about; the thing that is in short supply is good ideas. If you are going to write specifically Christian books don’t get stuck in the traditional style and language of evangelical Christianity, or in any other variety of Christianity if it comes to that. Ridding yourself of these encumbrances can be like shouldering your way out of a barrel full of monkeys, but you must do it if you want to make a difference. Find out where your heart is and follow it. Prepare for some very hard work. Writing will often involve the most wonderful of flights, but getting the plane off the ground can be very heavy work indeed sometimes.”