Church hosts comedy gigs as vicar opens pews to acts

Top names perform inside church at monthly shows

Friday, 29th July — By Harry Taylor

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Comedian Vix Leyton at St Mark’s church in Maida Vale

CHURCHES are more often seen as a place for quiet contemplation rather than raucous laughter.

But one in Maida Vale is looking to change that, and is now hosting live comedy – as acts perform in front of the pulpit at St Mark’s and audience members rock with laughter in the pews.

Instead of confessing their misdemeanours to the vicar, comics weave their mishaps, woes and misjudgments into their sketches, imparting them to the audience.

Rev Kate Harrison, who took over at the church in Hamilton Terrace four years ago, said: “I sort of said when I first came here, if you take me you will not be getting a traditional vicar.

“I will be in the pubs, and in the coffee shops and I will be making this a community space, and that includes having comedy in here.”

She added: “It’s like going back to the church’s roots, of the church being at the heart of the community. We do the ‘hatch, match and dispatched’, but we should be there for the bits between as well.

Marcus Brigstocke in full flow during a gig on Tuesday evening

“I’m a real comedy nerd, I love comedy and I love new comedy and searching out new acts. I met Vix [Leyton] when I was working behind a bar at a festival, and said to her ‘do you reckon we can do a comedy show at church’.”

After they discussed the idea lockdown hit, putting their plans on ice. But when restrictions were lifted they held their first event last year. The Have I Got Pews For You night now runs every fourth Tuesday in the month.

She said that the audience, more than 50 on Tuesday to see Marcus Brigstocke, Ms Leyton and Georgie Morrell was growing each month, and was made up of a mix of congregation members and newcomers.

One couple who had started coming to the comedy night even asked Rev Harrison to marry them.

Despite taking place in “the house of God”, she said that there were no real restrictions on content.

Among the jokes and topics discussed on Tuesday, made up of two Edinburgh Fringe Festival previews, was how gay cruising on Clapham Common is one of the industries to bounce back since Covid, ejaculation being behind one comic’s eye problems and how another’s nickname at school was “virgin white socks”.

Not your traditional church fare.

But the audience lapped it up and didn’t bristle at the topics.

“Some of the comedians can find it a bit weird,” said Rev Harrison.

“The only thing we have banned is the C-word. Just because it doesn’t go down well, people don’t find it funny.”

Rev Kate Harrison

So far as well as Mr Brigstocke, a regular on BBC panel shows including Have I Got News For You and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, other big name comics to appear at the church include Arthur Smith – who did 10 minutes from the pulpit during his turn – and Sooz Kempner.

Ms Leyton, 38, started doing comedy three years ago while working in PR. She did comedy classes to improve her public speaking, and has turned it into a career.

She describes herself as a “lapsed Catholic”, adding she was never even cast in her school nativity. Now she is the monthly compere and comic at the church.

“I love it. It’s one of my most popular venues in terms of comedians approaching me and wanting to do it,” she said.

“There’s an element of it being a bit taboo, they’ll ask me does it have to be Christian or religious,” she said.

Rev Harrison has “been so supportive since I first started doing comedy three years ago and she said ‘I’d like to start a comedy night, could it work?’

“We had one at Christmas as a test. The audience has grown and is one of the most diverse you’ll perform to.”

Mr Brigstocke, 49, said: “I think it’s the second time I’ve performed in a church. The opportunity is a rarity, and it’s obviously just very different.

“Because if you walk around and you see quite how many churches there are and how few people go in them sometimes, outside services, it helps bring them to life. This is good use of that space.”

Rev Harrison said: “It’s about showing the love of God. I can do that from people coming to services or coming to a comedy night. They can come in here and see that Christians are the same people as everyone else.”

Marcus Brigstocke, and Vix Leyton are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe.

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