John Safran first entered pop culture in 1997 with his religious-themed films for Race Around The World. In five-minute volleys Safran streaked through Jerusalem, got baptised (he’s Jewish) and had his ex-girlfriend voodoo-cursed.
After two failed pilots and the successful John Safran’s Music Jamboree, the Melburnian ratbag has returned with eight shows that expand on his ROTW experiments.
In the first four episodes, Safran meets with the Ku Klux Klan and asks whether he can join (since he’s a bad Jew who has eaten pork); pitches Extreme Mormons to Utah producers of a burgeoning Latter Day film industry; and tricks a right-wing radical sheik into putting a fatwa on Rove McManus.
I do occasionally mock God, I guess, Safran told the Star. But when you read the Old Testament there’s lots of challenging God by all the main players, like Abraham and Job -¦ So you’re obviously allowed to.
He’s joking, but Safran does give seven faiths an almost serious sampling in the Religious Road Tests (and in the last episode he gets exorcised, which he said was definitely weird because he kind of got into it). It’s these segments which are both fascinating and inconsistent.
His goofball stumbling as an apprentice Catholic altar boy suggest early Woody Allen, as does his attempt to solve a Buddhist ponderable in a Japanese temple (he asks another student for an answer to the question, Who are you?).
But sampling hallucinogenic tea to enter the Peyote Way Church of God leads to onscreen vomiting, and a Haitian voodoo ritual includes footage of a goat having its testicles bitten off. Safran said a few seconds will be cut but, with typical chutzpah, admitted he’s never seen the original footage. I’ve always turned my head at the crucial point.
Safran’s high-pitched voice and amateur delivery remains irritating, and he’s least effective when speaking direct to camera at show’s end: proving an undergraduate air of cranky is no substitute for comic timing.
But his skits and stunts still shock -“ and no one is spared, even his left wing pinko peers. If you have a sign outside your house acknowledging Aboriginal people as the spiritual owners of your house, Safran may come knocking with some new indigenous tenants.
John Safran Vs God begins this Monday 30 August at 8:30pm on SBS.