Vicar Joe is (apparently) the creation of Welsh stand-up comedian Kevin Johns and Peter Read and has (also apparently) had his own stage show in the authors' homeland. Vicar Joe's Religious Joke Book collects together some of his material so that if, like 99% of the population you've never heard of him, you can now read his jokes in the comfort of your own home. Lucky us.
Religion is, of course, a tricky subject for comedy. Some people think it's one of those things that you really shouldn't make fun of, whilst others are so anti-religious that their humour becomes offensive rather than funny. In fairness to Vicar Joe's Religious Joke Book it manages to stay on the right side of that line. Most of the jokes merely take place in church or feature a vicar, rather than having digs at individual religious beliefs. Very few of the jokes are offensive, hardly any are crude or rely on sex for laughs. Most are simply made up of daft situations, pithy observations or bad punning - the staple of some stand-up comedians. As such, the book can safely be read by a pretty wide audience without causing offence.
To be honest, though, it's not really worth the effort as it's pretty lame stuff. The book contains the sort of laboured, unoriginal gags you might expect to hear from a semi-professional comedian (a Butlin's redcoat, for example). There's very little new and the chances are you will have heard many of the jokes (or some variation on them) before. There are a few that will make you smile and perhaps even a couple that will make you laugh a bit. For the most part, though, they rely on weak puns (some of which are so poor the authors feel the need to explain them) and recall to mind the bad early 80s jokes that the whole Alternative Comedy scene sought to do away with.
In fairness, reading any joke book is a somewhat artificial exercise. Jokes like this are meant to be told, not read; and a crucial part of any joke lies in the delivery - something which is lost as soon as they are written down. That said; the very best comedy can survive being put into book form. I have the scripts for Fawlty Towers and that is so good that that reading the scripts makes me laugh almost as much as watching the programme. Sadly, that's not the case with Vicar Joe's Religious Joke Book. It's all rather staid, predictable and old hat.
Still, looking scratching a round for something else positive to say one of its strengths is that you can just dip in and out and read the odd joke when the mood takes you, rather than reading it from cover to cover. Indeed, that's probably the best way to approach it. If you try and read it in big chunks, it becomes even less amusing that it already is. Read the odd bit now and again and it might keep you mildly entertained.
The book's structure lends itself to this approach. It is split into several short chapters, each of which collects together material on a similar theme. Sections are often only 5-10 pages long so you have the choice of just reading a chapter every so often or taking a more serendipitous approach and flicking through and reading whatever catches your eye. The pages are broken up by the odd cartoon illustrating one of the jokes which, whilst not great works of art are at least serviceable.
This is a book that's probably best viewed as something you might want to plunder for a bit of humour. If you are a vicar looking to brighten up your sermon, for example, or called on to compere a church concert, you might find a bit of help here. Just don't expect it to suddenly establish you as a leading comedian. If you expect to have your audience rolling in the aisles with laughter using this book you'll be sorely disappointed.
The other bright spot is that Vicar Joe's book can be picked up pretty cheap. Although the original cover price is a less-than-tempting £4.99, you can get second hand copies for around £2. If you're in desperate need of a religious joke book that is (for the most part) inoffensive, then I guess you could do a lot worse than this. On the other hand, you could probably do a lot better, too.
Vicar Joe's Religious Joke Book
Kevin Johns and Peter Read
Y Lolfa, 2009
(c) Copyright SWSt 2013