So it might seem strange that myself, as a born-again Christian believer for 50 years, decided to sit in the third row from the front at Jimmy Carr’s latest UK tour, Terribly Funny, in Newcastle-upon Tyne, to see what all the fuss is about!
Now you might ask, what on earth would possess a supposed born-again Christian to attend a Jimmy Carr concert given the blunt nature of his jokes as well as the controversy Carr found himself in as a result of the Holocaust comments in ‘His Dark Material’ show on Netflix.
Before attending his show, I joked with friends that if Carr ‘had a go’ at Christians, I would shout ‘heretic’ at him during his notorious ‘heckle amnesties’ in which he engages with the audiences, encouraging them to shout heckles at him, and then rebuking them with brutal retorts!
Perhaps I should have known better given my experiences as a News Letter journalist in the 1980s when I interviewed the then South Down UUP MP Enoch Powell during an Ulster Says No rally in Ballymoney in my late dad’s North Antrim constituency.
I decided (stupidly!) that I would take a badgering approach to Powell. What could possibly go wrong, I pondered. Gently and calmly, but thankfully out of earshot of the public, Powell systematically took me apart word by word, and ended up interviewing me about my choice of words for my questions!
The ‘interview’ was a disaster and I ended up rewriting Powell’s press release on the event to make it look like an interview as there was nothing from his verbal demolition of me that I could use.
And you would have thought I would have learned from that escapade when early in the new millennium, I decided to go ‘head to head’ in a live TV discussion with former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, the late Albert Reynolds.
In reality, here was this smart-assed Northern Unionist political commentator being - yet again - systematically torn apart on live television. There was no way I could ask the floor manager - ‘look, I’m being politically mauled alive here; can we take time out so that I can collect my thoughts?’
My only redress was to shake my head! Reynolds swallowed the bait and told me to stop shaking my head, giving me vital seconds to try and change the debate onto a topic I could speak about!
And so to December 2022 and that Jimmy Carr concert. My research had proven that Carr loves to ridicule Christians. What would I do if he asked - are there any Christians here tonight? Then again, what would any born-again Christian with any titter of wit be doing sitting three rows from the front at a Jimmy Carr concert?
The other group in society that Carr is sore on are the anti-vaxxers - those who refuse to take the Covid jabs. Before Carr got to us Christians (well, just me I suspect!), he asked the anti-vaxxers to raise their hands.
One woman did near the front, and Carr unleashed a barrage of hard-hitting one-liners. After the interval, it was noted she did not come back to her seat!
And then us Christians came onto the hit list. To my shame, I bottled it given the treatment meted out to the anti-vaxxer. Carr brilliantly turned the entire audience in that Newcastle City Hall (I’d estimate around a couple of thousand) against her. What hope would there be for me?
I behaved like the disciple Peter in the Biblical New Testament when he denied being a follower of Christ three times. When Carr unleashed his ‘wit’ on us Christians, I sat silent as a church mouse - as did any other Christian in the audience.
His excuse for ridiculing Christians and not Islamic radicals - we Christians did not have suicide bombers! I should have retorted: “What about the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the Puritan witch finders! How would you like to be burnt at the stake as a heretic?”
In my heart, I was yelling this at Carr, but my brain told me - shut you gob, Coulter; just remember what happened that anti-vaxxer!
There was no ‘heckle amnesty’ that evening in Newcastle. Instead, a large screen gave out a mobile number where folk could text Carr jokes - and abuse. Near the end of his nearly three-hour extravaganza, he had a period when he reviewed some of the hard-hitting comments about himself.
Us over-60s also got a rattle in his humour, as did teenage boys in the audience. Some of his one-liners were witty, even by born-again Christian standards; others were downright bare knuckle ‘comedy’.
Carr has a unique following. Perhaps because he has the courage to say publicly as a ‘joke’ what many folk think privately? Carr certainly isn’t the comedian you’d book for the Christmas Church dinner, but if that night in Newcastle is taken as a benchmark, Carr can certainly pack a hall.
Do people go to hear Carr because he pushes the boundaries of ‘comedy’ over the cliff? Do they like to see his verbal demolition of hecklers with his cutting one-liners? Do they enjoy his clear interaction with his audiences? Overall, it was value for money watching Carr demolish the anti-vaxxer.
Maybe the day will come when at a future Carr concert, I will have the courage to yell ‘heretic’ when he starts on us Christians. The question is, if Jimmy Carr does pick on me, will I have the courage to remain for the second half of the show?
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.