[2014122] Come Heckle Christ

[2014122] Come Heckle Christ

Joshua J. Ladgrove @ Tuxedo Cat – Raj House – Room 5

11:00pm, Thu 13 Mar 2014

One of the more wonderful things that happened in the lead-up to the 2014 Fringe was the “uproar” over the new show by Josh Ladgrove (a.k.a. Dr. Professor Neal Portenza), Come Heckle Christ. I quote the word “uproar” because the only people who complained about the presence of the show (and official complaints were made, to the Fringe, sponsors, and politicians) appeared to be devout Christians, concerned about the “blasphemy” of this “anti-Christian hate show”… despite the fact that they’d never seen it.

Many, many threads of complaint kicked off on Facebook (here‘s an example), the most enjoyable of which resulted in many other Fringe Artists interjecting and claiming that their show disrespected sandwiches (in a gloriously delicious attempt to ride the publicity wave). There was plenty of media coverage (from the ABC and Guardian, amongst others), and eventually Ladgrove himself published an open letter… which – if one bothered to actually read it – explained that the show itself was not blasphemous… just a construct for comedic exploration that just happened to have a bit of a confronting title.

But the publicity did wonders for ticket sales, with the three scheduled shows quickly sold out; I managed to grab the last ticket for this evening’s performance, fully aware of the likely shift in tone from the show before. But the show put a strain on the Tuxedo Cat’s staff, with security guards and metal detectors in use for each performance of the show; as we quietly filed into Room 5, walking past the dozen-or-so protesters standing (thankfully) quietly and solemnly with candles and signs, there was a jam on the stairs as we were carefully vetted for entry.

Ladgrove was waiting for us onstage, caught in the crossfire of spotlights, standing with his arms outstretched, attached to a cross. Through the microphone perched in front of him, he quietly greeted the audience as they filed in.

Then came the performance itself: Ladgrove Christ invited heckles from the audience, to which he would attempt to respond. As a result, the quality of the show is dictated by the quality of the heckles… and, sad to say, I didn’t think many of the heckles this evening allowed Ladgrove opportunity to shine.

Many “heckles” were rebutted in a matter-of-fact manner, a simple “that’s not a heckle” shutting down that episode; others were disappointingly juvenile in nature. The occasional heckle caused Ladgrove to pause a moment to collect his thoughts before offering a (usually witty) response… and then there were the great heckles, that caused a back-and-forth of increasingly biting humour, all couched in the gentle phrasing that one might expect from the Son of God.

But unfortunately, those moments of brilliance were few and far between. That’s not so much a reflection on Ladgrove as the audience; I spoke to people who reported that the audiences at other Come Heckle Christ shows provided reams of material for Christ to work with. And that’s always going to be the chance you take with a show like this: despite the potentially inflammatory title, this is little more than comedic comebacks as a spectator sport… an interesting subversion of standup comedy. And unfortunately, with relatively few notable exceptions, the audience weren’t really up for it this evening… and I, in my shy mode, take some of the responsibility for that as well.

In short: great idea, shame about the support.

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