We caught up with Minister, stand-up comedian, teacher, broadcaster and author of The Divine Feminine in the Hebrew Bible Maggy Whitehouse. Maggy will be peforming and teaching at the Devon LaughFest 2016.
1. What is the last thing that made you laugh out loud?
We’re re-watching ‘Yes Prime Minister’ and it’s just as funny and terrifyingly relevant to today as it was back in the early 1980s. Nothing changes!
2. What is your favourite anecdote or joke?
Dave Allen’s story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery. It goes something like this:
Jesus comes across a crowd of people who are about to stone a woman to death for committing adultery. They’re all standing there with rocks in their hands, about to start throwing and he says, ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’
There’s a muttering and grumbling and then they all raise their hands again to throw.
Jesus says again, ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’
More muttering and grumbling ‘spoilsport…’ and then they put the stones down and walk away.
All except for one woman who stands there, rock still in hand, looking at Jesus.
He says, a third time, ‘let he – or she – who is without sin cast the first stone.’
The woman hurls the stone, which hits the accused woman on the forehead and she drops dead on the ground.
Jesus says, ‘Mother, you drive me crazy.’
3. What book changed your life?
Two: You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay and Falling Upward by Richard Rohr.
4. What books you have on your bedside table?
Always one by Terry Pratchett – I can re-read and re-read them all. And I’m dead chuffed because I can honestly say I’m reading The Murder of Christ by Wilhelm Reich which makes me feel quite erudite. I’ve also got A Year with Hafiz.
5. How do you reconcile being a comedian and a minister?
My bishop taught me that the dog collar was originally the collar of Anubis, the Jackal-headed Egyptian God who supervised the weighing of the hearts of the dead. If the heart was heavy – weighed more than a feather – then the dead person couldn’t go to the happy afterlife. So, he tells all his priests that the most important part of the job is to lift people’s hearts. When I told him I was training as a comedian, he was delighted, bless him. But then, he is an unusual bishop.
There is so much harmful crap religion out there — faith is supposed to comfort, inspire and set people free but it’s used to enclose, blame and exclude. If I can do anything to amend that for anyone, then I’ve done a reasonable job.
6. Do you believe in ‘clean comedy’ i.e. no swearing and abuse?
Yes, it’s a great talent to be able to be funny without swearing or being smutty – nearly anyone can get a quick laugh with an appropriately-placed swear word. I do so myself. Comedians like Billy Connelly or Bill Hicks swear/swore like troopers but for them it works. For some it works, for others it doesn’t For me, overkill or every other word being a profanity just gets old very quickly.
7. Who’s your mentor?
It’s the fabulous Paul Tonkinson who has watched over me and coached me for the last two years. The best of men.
8. Do you think criticism helps any?
Yes. It hurts but if it’s constructive it can be really, really helpful. And if it’s not constructive, it can still highlight something I hadn’t noticed and need to address.
9. Do you have any definite ideas or projects for the future?
I’ve got a new novel out at the beginning of November. It’s called For the Love of Dog and it’s a comedy romance. I’ve usually got a book on the go (it’s 17 so far) and I expect the next one will turn up soon. I’d love to say I’ll get to Edinburgh next year; I missed 2016 because of doing the Sunday Breakfast show on BBC Radio Devon. Not sure if I’ll be able to take the time off for 2017 yet.
10. Who are your comedy inspirations?
Dave Allen, Bill Hicks, Eddie Izzard. Rita Rudner.
11. Does God come into your comedy?
Oh yes. Some nights I spend half the evening talking to him/her/it on stage. God can be very funny when you let him/her/it out of the shackles of religion. Jesus gets in there too (Jesus isn’t God BTW—that’s a mistranslation and misrepresentation rather prevalent in the New Testament).
12. In what place are you happiest?
Walking on Dartmoor with our two beagles.
13. What drives you on?
Sheer pig-headedness much of the time. And the odd kick from Upstairs.
14. What is your biggest extravagance?
Holidays – always. I love to travel. Especially road trips in the Americas and around Italy. If anyone wants to buy us a house in Tuscany, just let me know…
15. What is your greatest achievement so far?
Writing The Miracle Man which is the re-telling of the story of Jesus updated to today – with all the same characters (Judas is a woman this time) the same chronology and all the miracles – and set on America’s Got Talent. Imagine what would happen if a Messiah came today and took away our need for alcohol, drugs, status or war on international television. He wouldn’t last long…
16. What is your greatest disappointment?
Not being made a canon by my church … Then I could be a loose one.
17. What is your most memorable experience with your audience?
When a group of very young Suits who worked for a venture capital company came to my Edinburgh show twice and bought all their friends the second time … and told me how they’d dumbfounded a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were proclaiming the importance of Old Testament Law by correcting them using a load of my jokes.
18. How much of your work is autobiographical?
About 80%. And if it didn’t actually happen, it probably should have happened 🙂
19. What is the best and worst thing of being a comedian?
After a childhood of being told not to show off, it’s a treat and a very late adolescent rebellion to do just that and get away with it. And sometimes I do help people think that there might be valid spirituality after religion and that’s wonderful.
The worst thing is coping with orthodox Christians who reject the lighter side of faith and get offended. Still, they’re Christians – so I can always remind them that it’s their job to forgive me (and then I start running…)
20. What is your take on life and death?
Ha! Only trivial questions then? My take on life is a quotation from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love – that all the sorrow and misery in the world is caused by unhappy people. So we actually have a duty to seek happiness and to refuse to put up with (or wallow in) a life of misery both for our own sake and for the sake of everyone around us.
My take on death is that I’m sure it will be very nice when I get there but I’m currently avoiding it. If you mean, do I believe in life after death? Absolutely … But not in the heaven and hell sense. More like moving on to a next stage where we realise who we’ve been and what we need to do next to make any appropriate amends and to get to a higher level. And reincarnation makes a lot of sense.
21. Do you believe in euthanasia?
Blimey! More trivia then… Yes, when all hope of energy returning to the body and of experiencing joy in mind or soul has gone, then allowing someone their request to go is a merciful thing. Sometimes we are kinder to our pets than to our human loved ones.
22. How would you like to be remembered?
I once saw a gravestone which just had the name of the woman buried there and the word ‘radiant’ on it. That would be wonderful.
23. Do you have any advice for the world?
Follow the map, don’t worship it. That’s what’s wrong with most religions – folks worship the map instead of following the way. You’ve got to walk the talk … And have fun along the road too.
24. Do you believe in afterlife?
Yes, absolutely. Physics knows that energy cannot be destroyed, only changed. This life is just a phase we’re going through. I believe in beforelife too.
25. Famous last words?
If it’s not fun, why do it?
Further details on Maggy Whitehouse at