JAMES CARY is a sitcom writer who has contributed to the BBC series Miranda, Bluestone 42, and Thanks a Lot, Milton Jones, among others. He was also a member of the last General Synod and the Archbishops’ Council, with a degree in theology. The author draws on his background, providing a collection of comic sketches, most of which are riffs on parables or incidents in the Gospels. These are interleaved with Cary’s own commentary on the nature of humour and where we might unearth it in the biblical text.
He says that he wants to be “funny in a way that takes the Bible seriously, does not belittle Jesus Christ and laughs at our own petty vanities and foibles while being enlightening and increasing our understanding”.
Cary is an accomplished comic writer. His sketches here are hilarious, clever, knowing, and beautifully crafted. Interestingly, they are hedged by Cary’s own rules and creed: “I believe Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3.16 that ‘Every Scripture is God breathed.’” He gives himself wriggle room for his extra-biblical material, cheekily quoting the precedent in the Gospels, “Early manuscripts do not include the following . . .”, but there’s a limit: “a red line for me is having Jesus say things he did not say.” This is a shame, because it turns Jesus into a shadowy, off-screen figure, and arguably robs Cary’s material of a certain edge.
Cary’s cheery commentary — rooted in his ebullient Evangelical certainty — too often reads as dismissive of those who might have the occasional question. “I would say it’s not just possible to believe in miracles, but that it’s impossible to not believe in them,” he asserts, for instance. The sandwiching of sketches between slightly harrumphing asides gives the book an unfortunate cut-and-paste dimension. But he’s genuinely funny, which helps a lot.
The Revd Malcolm Doney is a writer, broadcaster, and Anglican priest.
The Gospel According to a Sitcom Writer
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Listen to an interview with James Cary on the Church Times Podcast