Originally not aired on ??/??/????
“Where is he then? Go on, if he’s really real, show me where he is. Where’s he hiding!? I know you’ve got him tucked away somewhere, Mary.”
Looking back, it was perhaps an overly aggressive way to start my conversation with today’s guest on “Comedians Outside Edinburgh Getting Easter Hot Chocs”, Mary Flanigan. We hadn’t even sat down yet, and like a jealous husband who’s just walked home to his wife making funny noises in the bedroom, I was tearing the place apart.
“Calm down, Eric. Jesus isn’t here,” Mary assured me.
“Anyway, I thought this interview was gonna be about comedy. Can you at least set them up with my backstory before we get into all of this?”
Born and raised in a little-known place called Belfast, Mary is what’s known in the comedy industry as “Irish”. Hugely likeable and fiercely original, these are just two examples of phrases that Mary pronounces incorrectly in her stupid Irish accent. Having become fed up of all the sectarian violence and also the silly dancing they do, Mary moved from Belfast a few months ago to pursue her passion of stand up in Birmingham, the place where comedy was originally invented in the 1950s and 1960s, when Bob Hope and Joan Rivers first started to dominate the Midlands scene. It was the Brummie Henny Youngman who really took things to the next level with his famous “take my wife” joke. “No, seriously, take her, bab,” so the punchline goes.
“From Don Rickles to Jim Carey, Birmingham has such a rich history when it comes to stand-up comedy, and I wanted to be a part of that,” she explained.
On this level, we connected. I myself moved to Birmingham for the same reason. Having watched some videos from the 70s of Richard Pryor performing at The Hollybush in Cradley Heath, I decided to finally up sticks and head on a pilgrimage towards comedy’s Mecca. But on another, arguably more important level, Mary and I didn’t connect at all. I’m talking about faith. And I don’t mean a faith in Birmingham as the spiritual home of comedy that insensitively trivialises the fifth pillar of Islam. On this we’re agreed. I’m talking about a faith in Jesus.
As her name suggests, Mary is a Catholic. But far from being the virgin mother of Jesus, the only thing Mary has ever raised is a lot of eyebrows at her choice to pursue a career in the arts, like a lot of other virgins on the comedy circuit. But the thing that’s positively BEFUDDLING about Mary’s love of Jesus is that she keeps it to herself. I came into this interview hoping to dissect it, to question her, to engage in a lively debate. Mary’s response to this was to politely change the topic of conversation back to comedy.
“My faith is a private thing to me,” she told me. “It helps me, that’s all I’ve really got to say about it.”
There’s something kind of nice about that. Although I’m not totally or even partially convinced by the Jesus story, I envy what Mary has. I wish I had something that helped me like that. Something that I don’t need to justify to other people. In a world where we constantly have to justify every aspect of ourselves, it would be nice to be able to turn to a set of ideas that can help us muddle through, religious or otherwise.
The reason I was like a jealous husband at the start, is because I AM jealous. I wanted to know where she was keeping Jesus because I want a bit of that sweet sweet salvation for myself.
Maybe we all need what Mary has.
You know, guys, this series is taking me all over the place. I don’t know what to think. It’s good job I have a VERY special guest lined up for tomorrow that may be able to clear things up once and for all.
See you next time!