Protest the Pope: Relief-O-Matic
With such a wealth of material, the evening’s average was predictably high. Guardian columnist and Bad Science blogger Ben Goldacre recalled the creative arguments underlying several bishops’ scepticism towards condoms’ effectiveness in preventing HIV infection, while Ed Byrne approached tolerance by reporting on the number one job Eastern European labourers have stolen from the Irish: immigrating and stealing other people’s jobs. With his accomplished deadpan restraint, Andy Zaltzman ripped mercilessly on JC (don’t worry, they’re both Jewish).
The evening’s two hosts were truly razor sharp: Robin Ince’s philosophical ranting and loud outbursts hypnotized the audience with his rapid-fire delivery. Taking over the second half of the show, Nick Doodyunleashed a one-man shock-and-awe operation, drawing compassionate groans and livid gasps with his cartoonish child mistreatment antics and wry tirades on the bourgeois breeding imperative.
Paedophilia, of course, was ripe in the common repertoire, as were references to the Pope’s brief teenage spell with the Hitler Youth, but other trends emerged in the show as well. Papal succession, for instance, turned out to be a pressing concern to atheist comic Richard Herring, who read from the application letter he sent the Vatican after the death of John Paul II, and Natalie Haynes, hot on her campaign for the nomination of Tom Bosley (the star of US television series Father Dowling Investigates) for the pontifical chair.
Comedy and Beyond
Relief-O-Matic offered more than acid comedy. In more serious interludes, Independent columnist Johann Hari and activist Peter Tatchell recalled less publicized controversies in Benedict XVI’s track record, like his ongoing efforts to canonize Pius XII, or the reinstatement of excommunicated bishop Richard Williamson, a holocaust denier.
Surrounded by such ferocious comics, Audacity Chutzpah mobilized her formidable sass to represent the tassel-twirling contingent. Confronted with the evening’s single burlesque performer, many viewers were initially surprised and somewhat baffled. But as her six-minute re-enactment of the history of Women’s Liberation gained momentum, the audience quickly warmed up to the clown maven’s breath-taking, multi-costume tour de force, erupting in applause as Chutzpah brilliantly metamorphosed into Rosie the Riveter, a hippie chick, an 80s material girl and other archetypal guises rendered with ingenious cheek.
Musical entertainment included two satirical numbers by the BHA Choir (“The Vatican Rag” and “Every Sperm is Sacred”), as well as Tony Hawks’ song and banter about the cat-lover-versus-dog-lover divide – a less enthusiastic, softer comedy that felt somewhat out of place with the vicious pope-bashing permeating the other acts. The evening’s climax came with two songs by musical maverick Tim Minchin, including the expletive-heavy hit “The Pope Song” (available as a free download on Minchin’s website, and also as an official YouTube video).
In addition to gathering some of the finest British comic talents, Relief-O-Matic marked the first day of Sexual Health Week. All the evening’s profits are set to be donated to AIDS prevention and relief projects in Africa. In every respect, this two-hour-plus extravaganza is too good to remain a one-off. One can only hope the Bishop of Rome will visit more often.