The unfunniest arse in God’s universe
This is a meandering, wittering book that claims to be about faith but reveals far more about its comedian-author Marcus Brigstocke’s nasty prejudices.
If there is one thing that might cause the most pious of believers to question their faith, it has to be the existence of Marcus Brigstocke, a British comedian so colossally unfunny, so magisterially smug and so profoundly nasty, that surely not even the most malevolent God would smite His flock with him. But no, there Brigstocke is, not only steadfastly corporeal and resolutely intolerant of absolutely everyone and everything he doesn’t agree with, but also building a career on the basis of being intolerant of absolutely everyone and everything he doesn’t agree with.
And now, on top of the panel shows, the radio appearances and the stand-up tours, the man one critic called the ‘unfunniest arse in the universe’ has written a book, God Collar: Are You There God? It’s Me, Marcus. Billed as Brigstocke’s quest to address the ‘God-shaped hole’ in his life, God Collar certainly poses questions. Like, did Brigstocke not want an editor? Or, could the libraries really have been closed and the internet down when Brigstocke was doing his research?
The immediate aspect of God Collar that grates is the prose style, a wittering, discursive mess sustained only by the unswerving, half-baked introspection of Brigstocke’s first-person voice. Take this opening ‘Brigstocke meander’ (as the technique should henceforth be known): ‘I am an atheist… well, I think I am; or I was. I might be a lapsed atheist, having a crisis of whatever the opposite of faith is – facts? I’m having a crisis of facts.’ There are whole paragraphs written like this. Perhaps he thinks it’s beguiling to ‘think out loud’: I’m Marcus, and I’m just going to have a chinwag with you over a figurative pint. But the reading experience is far from beguiling; it’s irritating. Not to mention revealing: God Collar reads like Brigstocke doesn’t actually know what he’s writing about. He might call it a ‘crisis of facts’; I’d call it ignorance.
This conversational form, full of jokey digressions no doubt ripped off from old routines, is meant to reflect the questing, ruminating, ‘Why hast God forsaken me?’ content. Brigstocke makes great play upon neither being closed to God, like the New Atheist mob led by Richard Dawkins, nor too open to him, like actual people who go to church. Or as he puts it in this drizzle of a sentence: ‘This book is about embracing that uncertainty and searching for something without really having the first clue as to what it is.’ Good luck with that.
There’s also something disingenuous about Brigstocke’s self-proclaimed uncertainty. Not least because if there’s one thing Brigstocke is not, it is uncertain. Quite the opposite. He is only too convinced that he and his London-dwelling, recycling-and-proud mates are completely and utterly right about absolutely bloody everything.
And just as the sheer unimpeachable rectitude of his worldview underpins his stand-up routines, so that lazy ‘I’m right’ conviction emerges here in endless digs at a right-on litany of wrongdoers. It is almost as if he’s working through a checklist of clichéd liberal bêtes noires: BP, tick; McDonald’s, tick; bankers, tick; Nestlé, tick; the Daily Mail, tick; climate change deniers, tick… Even George W Bush, now surely the last refuge of the politically clueless, gets an outing.
But Brigstocke’s real animus is not directed towards the embodiments of evil, it is reserved in the main for those who have allowed evil to prosper. That is, the people who buy stuff, the people who voted for Bush in the US, the people who voted on the The X Factor in the UK, the stupid people, the duped masses; the people, in short, who are not like Brigstocke and his similarly clever, climate change-fighting mates.
This barely concealed aloofness is the chief reason why he’ll never be able to enjoy the communal bonds he disingenuously claims to envy in religious congregations. ‘You can fairly easily convince yourself that it’s all good out there in the world’, he writes of faith, ‘but you can only sustain that view if you choose to wear blinkers’. And that could never happen because, perceiving himself (and his mates) to be in the land of the blinkered, Marcus Brigstocke (plus his mates) really wants to remain King.
God Collar is not only unenlightening about anything other than Brigstocke’s own prejudice-packed cranium, it is often just deeply unpleasant. The pages drip with class-tainted bile. Writing of quite liking the idea of there being a God to right the wrongs of the world, he eagerly lists cases into which he’d like to see a bit of divine intervention: ‘When I read that many thousands of people have put their names to a petition asking that Jeremy Clarkson be made prime minister, I wish there was a God. When I see that America’s Top Model attracts millions of viewers, I wish there was a God…’ This is pretty tame snobbery by Brigstocke’s standards, but it gets nastier: ‘When I see an overweight woman tuck a copy of a “women’s magazine” under the pizzas in her shopping trolley, I wish there was a God.’
God Collar is peppered with these attacks on what Brigstocke takes to be representative social types. Take this aside on estate agents: ‘Certainly when I see a floppy-haired driver in a Mini with “Foxton’s Estate Agents” written on the side I almost never think to myself: Wow, look at that – a man with only two GCSEs with a job, a car and fat knotted pink tie.’ And in the process of attacking Argos, the ‘epitome of consumerist society’s descent into nihilistic despair’, Brigstocke turns his ire on the people who work there: ‘I’ve seen buttons sewn on to the face of a bear that had more life in them than the eyes of an Argos counter clerk.’
Brigstocke hates a lot of people. He hates their consumption habits, their tastes, their ways of life. He hates their jobs and he hates the fact there are so many of them. ‘I find it immensely difficult to put my faith in humanity. I don’t mean to be too disparaging but… be honest, have you seen “humanity”?… Have a look now, peer out of a window… Did you do it? Ghastly, aren’t they? There’s a lot of humanity out there. A good percentage of the people who make up the collective “humanity” fall squarely under the heading of gits.’
Something sinister lurks beneath Brigstocke’s flippant surface. In the bilious outbursts, complete with frequently recounted revenge fantasies, we catch a glimpse of his inner authoritarian. He writes: ‘I have occasionally let my mind wander on to the possibility of having a God who was so firmly in my corner that he wasn’t fair, kind or gentle at all but vicious, vengeful and entirely in agreement with me on everything.’ Coming from a man who condemns our collective inability to switch to low-energy light bulbs, his dreams of a vengeful God are far from idle. They are the dreams of someone who can’t understand why not everybody thinks he is right. They are the dreams of a cultural elite in which someone like Brigstocke flourishes. They are the dreams of people who want tell the little people what to do.
With ‘comedians’ like this, thank God for Lee Mack.
Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.
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