South Australian Christian leaders denounce ‘Come Heckle Christ’ comedy act

The show is billed as "perfect" for "anyone who enjoys yelling at Jesus whilst watching a dramatic re-enactment of everyone's favourite fairy-tale: the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ.”
Mon Feb 3, 2014 - 5:48 pm EST

ADELAIDE, February 3, 2014 ( – Melbourne comedian Joshua Ladgrove has drawn criticism from Christian leaders and other citizens from South Australia and nationally for one of his scheduled shows at the 2014 Adelaide Fringe Festival that critics say is an attack on Christianity. The festival runs from February 14 to March 16.

The show ‘Come Heckle Christ’ is promoted as, “the perfect show for: anyone who wears a WWJD wristband, disgruntled former Christians, men and women, those easily offended, priests (and by extension sexual deviants), altar girls and boys, atheists and anyone who enjoys yelling at Jesus whilst watching a dramatic re-enactment of everyone's favourite fairy-tale: the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ.” 

The publicity for the Melbourne Fringe performance last year added: “Have you ever wanted to heckle Jesus Christ?  Maybe just ask him a little question?  Throw something at his head?  Well now's your chance … one night only, improvised performance where you, under the watchful eyes of God, get to heckle Jesus Christ.”

The Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, has written to the South Australian Premier asking that the show be stopped.  He also issued a letter to all Catholics that was read out in churches across South Australia on the weekend, encouraging Catholics to complain to the appropriate authorities. The Archbishop’s letters were the focus of local media over the past few days.

“While I am a strong advocate for freedom of speech and supporter of the arts, I believe this production is extremely offensive to people of any religious persuasion and insulting to many South Australians,” Archbishop Wilson wrote.

“It is outrageous and entirely inappropriate for this sort of anti-Christian, blasphemous performance to be included in a public festival such as the fringe.”

The public outcry about the stage act began at the South Australian branch of the National Civic Council.  Spokesman Jerome Appleby alerted the organization's supporters to the issue and suggested that they email the South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill MP, the Minister for the Arts, and the major sponsor of the Fringe, Bank SA.

Appleby told that trying to stop this show was a ‘no-brainer.'  “There seems to be a constant stream of offensive programs and events that we could protest these days and Christians seem often to be in the firing line; but sometimes these things are best left to pass. Blasphemy, however, is something different; we felt we had to stand up and be counted.”

The Dean of St Peter's Anglican Cathedral, Dean Frank Nelson told the Adelaide Advertiser that, although he believed the performance was in poor taste, he respected Australia's freedom of speech.

"I haven't seen the play, I think it's in pretty poor taste - the advert certainly is.  It's pushing the boundaries and not ­terribly helpful," he said.  "I do respect the freedom of speech that we have - it's an important part of Australian society which a lot of people elsewhere don't have - but that doesn't mean I agree with this."  The Dean stopped short of calling for the show to be axed.

In a letter posted on a Facebook page today (purporting to be from Ladgrove), he says: “I would like you to know that if I bore resemblance to Buddha, Mohammed, Vishnu, King David or L. Ron Hubbard, I would almost certainly have pursued the same show idea under one of the aforementioned monikers.”  He adds: “This isn’t a show attacking Jesus Christ or Christianity in any way.”

Yet Ladgrove has prior form in offending Christians and Jesus Christ.  In a Youtube clip entitled ‘A Christmas Message from Jesus Christ’ posted in December 2013, he again imitates Christ and frequently blasphemes the name of Jesus with foul language.

The Director of the Fringe Festival, Greg Clarke, was quick to defend the show telling the Advertiser that his role did not include any scrutiny of the 966 various shows included in this year’s program. He did, however, tell Adelaide morning radio that he would stop anything that was illegal, such as the vilification of homosexuals.

Jerome Appleby said that censoring only what was illegal was “a very low bar indeed and not really a standard at all.”  He added: “It is not good enough that the director of the show can simply hide behind the show’s performer and his assertion that this is not blasphemous.  We’ve had Adelaide’s senior cleric define it as such and I think that Archbishop Wilson is far more qualified to make such an observation.”

Appleby has started a Facebook page called ‘stoptheblasphemy’ and a petition.  “We have been amazed and gratified at the response from people of good will across South Australia.  The Facebook page alone has attracted over 800 ‘likes’ in 24 hours.”

The Adelaide Fringe festival, like many of its counterparts overseas, generates controversy on a regular basis.  ‘Come Heckle Christ’ may be, for South Australian Christians, the most offensive production; but many others are generating concern.

Advertiser columnist, Peter Goers, called the Fringe a ‘Tsunami of Smut’ in his weekend column. He highlighted shows such as ’50 shades of Gay’, the ‘Eastend Cabaret: Dirty Talk Drenched in Smut’, ‘My breasts and me’, ‘Naked Girls Ready in the Garden’, ‘Storm in a D cup’, ‘Fanny Slutkin and her Hooker Slappers’, ‘Two Dirty Knockers and One Jaded Dick’ and ‘The Puppetry of the Penis’.

The Fringe Festival relies on the financial support of the State Government as well as major sponsors like Bank SA and the Adelaide City Council for funding.  Without such funding it would not exist.  This funding, particularly from the public purse, was brought into question by the Australian Christian Lobby and FamilyVoice Australia.

FamilyVoice’s David D’Lima said, “I have also contacted Mr Weatherill to say I do not want my taxes used for this intentionally offensive promotion.  If Jay is really ‘for SA’, he will govern for all South Australians.” The ‘Jay for SA’ is in reference to the upcoming election for the Weatherill state government on 15 March 2014.

Fringe Director, Greg Clarke, said on radio yesterday, in response to criticism from Bishop Greg O’Kelly, that the Fringe would not have stopped a similar show about Mohammad.  In fact, he would welcome such a show.

Late today the Islamic Council of South Australia weighed in, supporting Archbishop Wilson’s call for the show to be banned. Secretary Dr Waleed Alkhazrajy told the Herald Sun newspaper today that it would be "blasphemy if a person dressed to show himself as the Prophet Mohammed..”

"All the Muslims around the world share the same belief that any acts or reference to depict any of the Abrahamic faiths' prophets is a blasphemy and it is not acceptable,'' Dr Alkhazrajy said.

Christian groups are calling on supporters to voice their concerns and to contact:

Premier Jay Weatherill MP email: [email protected]

Minister Chloe Fox MP email: [email protected]

Bank SA email: [email protected]

The Adelaide City Council email: [email protected]

For a full list of sponsors to contact click HERE.

For the Petition to stop the ‘Come Heckle Christ’ show click HERE.

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