This and That Blog

Religulous: Jesus can be funny after all

I knew, sitting in a TIFF press screening for the Bill Maher and Larry Charles doc Religulous, that I was surrounded by a bunch of bitter journalists. How could I tell, ...
September 29, 2008
I knew, sitting in a TIFF press screening for the Bill Maher and Larry Charles doc Religulous, that I was surrounded by a bunch of bitter journalists. How could I tell, you ask? It’s because out of all of the public and press screenings I attended during the fest, this was the only time the crowd didn’t clap when the ‘Thanks to our Volunteers’ message appeared on-screen before the film started. Ouch. Who doesn’t clap for volunteers?

Anyhow, considering the crowd’s too-cool-for-school vibe, I expected it would take a lot to get a laugh out of this bunch. But pair Maher, the funnyman TV host and political commentator, with Charles (of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fame), and even this cynical crowd was guffawing. That’s right — guffawing. (Now there’s a word you don’t get to use every day…)

Offering full transparency, Maher says right off the top of the film that his mother was Jewish and his father was Catholic. He himself was raised Catholic. He admits in the film that he’s adopted another outlook as an adult: “I preach the gospel of ‘I Don’t Know.’”

Deconstructing the place of God and religion in today’s society, Maher goes on a global trek to interview people about their beliefs. The interviews are interspersed with segments where Maher reflects on his own upbringing, and they make for some of the funniest bits in the film. He recalls catechism as “vast stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” I can relate. I’m still a tad resentful of the fact that my own loooong years spent diligently attending catechism as a kid robbed me of precious Saturday mornings. I was clueless about cartoons until nearly high school…tragic.

I don’t want to give away too much about the movie (it opens in North America this Friday), but there were a few other moments that epitomize its tone that I wanted to share that won’t ruin anything if you are going to see the film.

During a talk with a representative from Exchanges, a group that “helps” gay Christians transition into heterosexuality, Maher challenges the rep in his quick-thinking signature style. “Nobody’s born gay,” says the rep. “Really? Have you ever met Little Richard?” quips Maher.

In another interview — one that’s especially significant considering the upcoming US election — Maher speaks with Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor. Maher is, as always, very forthcoming. He tells Pryor, who believes in creationism, that he has a problem with people leading his country that believe in a talking snake. “You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate, though,” says Pryor. More big laughs during the press screening (big enough to make the iPhone 3G-addicted journalists in the room put down their new toys).

During a conversation Maher has with his Mom and sister about never having a family discussion as a kid about the fact that his Mom never came to church with the rest of the family because she was Jewish, Maher’s mother says “Every family is dysfunctional.” Well, at least there’s one thing everyone watching a controversial doc on religion can agree on.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.