Bigger Than Jesus: Big Jesus Fun

The Ottawa XPress // May 4, 2006

One man makes us laugh in the name of love.

Two thousand years after his death, Jesus is still making headlines.

To find out why, Toronto performers Rick Miller (Wyrd Theatre) and Daniel Brooks (Necessary Angel Theatre Company) enlisted the help of a Homer Simpson Pez dispenser and Darth Vader.

In their 75-minute play Bigger Than Jesus, they explore the divinity of Magic Jesus.

The production is in its third year and graces Ottawa for the first time at the Great Canadian Theatre Company this month. It attempts to reinvigorate our relationship with the Big Guy by toying with the traditional portrayal of ominous religious events.

Take the Last Supper, for instance. Here, Jesus Christ Action Hero, a John Lennon doll, and Judy Garland, the figurine, are projected onto a big screen to magnificent proportions.

“It’s puppetry with a camera,” says Brooks, director and co-writer. Its purpose? To challenge us to rethink the Jesus story.


Miller, of MacHomer fame (Macbeth done Simpsons-style), tells XPress: “I’m not a believer in any personal god, but I am intent on examining what it is that drives people to their knees in devout belief – that fascinates me.”

It’s a hot topic, like the media blitz over Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code – movie coming soon to a theatre near you. Closer to home, the Church of Indie Rock in the Glebe is connecting youth with God through Sigur Rós, PJ Harvey and Radiohead.

Even Hollywood drew people into the Jesus story through Mel Gibson’s controversial film The Passion of the Christ. Then the Pope died. And there’s always been Nietzsche.

“Every year there’s something,” Miller points out. “But through it all, religion continues to be one of the few means to link to others. New Age or hardcore religion fills a void.”

Miller and Brooks use Jesus’ story to put forth their liberal views about the different facets of Christianity. Cohesive narratives of iconic characters, all acted by Miller, debate the historical and modern viewpoints on Christianity.

There’s the Teacher, who uses his rational mind and demystifies Christianity. The Preacher is a zealot, and the Air Jesus Pilot represents the cosmic mystic Jesus who is there to help guide people in their complicated, messy lives.

“I’m just one in a long line of people who have used Jesus for their own end,” Miller says, Mel Gibson’s contribution being “very much the anti-Bigger Than Jesus.”

“His is designed to make you feel small and sinful for having contributed to this bloody and gory death. It comes from the other side of Catholicism, the truly what-I-find-revolting side.”

Instead, Bigger Than Jesus, with its mix of the spiritual and secular, offers a more palatable way into Jesus.

“We call it a universal, multi-denominational celebration of spirit – that’s our mass,” Miller says. “It’s the celebration of the spirit of connection that develops between the audience and the performer.”

And who doesn’t relate to The Simpsons and Star Wars references? They have much to do with Christianity too. Especially Star Wars, where a central question in the life of Luke Skywalker is why his father is trying to kill him off. It’s a big God-be-damned question that the play addresses through the Last Supper scene.


Jesus calls for some entertainment and Darth Vader takes a stab at it. Vader re-enacts the famous “Luke, I am your father” scene. This recalls Christ’s situation and he wigs out. Disturbed, he orders the Jedis back to the table, then steals the spotlight by belting out a parody of a song from Jesus Christ Superstar.

“It’s my favourite part in the play because I’m singing this really emotive, big power ballad, except I’m doing it with the dolls and the camera and it has a real interesting scale dilemma, and it’s fun!” says Miller.

“It’s how things transform through the show that people are entertained by,” adds Brooks.

It shows us how Jesus has transformed into more than the guy nailed to the cross and hanging around people’s necks. Think: Jesus action figure.

“Being a child of popular culture, I’m interested in what it represents. To some people, it’s just a toy, to others it’s blasphemous,” Miller says.

But all the farce is more than entertainment. The theatricality in the play reveals the many contradictory ways people come at Jesus.

“So many people access Jesus in so many different ways, whether laughing at a South Park caricature, believing in a cosmic spirituality, or whether it’s a belief in a personal literal Son of God.”


Miller’s is a personal quest and he’s an artist-missionary. “The idea of a person communicating to a communal gathering of people and sharing and giving and sweating, there is something very Christian in the sacrifice of the performer to the show. I literally crucify myself.”

So far, only one reviewer crucified Bigger Than Jesus. The Jesus in Montreal at the Just For Laughs Festival last year was accused by the Montreal Mirror of being too funny.

“Just For Laughs booked it for laughs, but it was more than that,” Miller said. “You get more walkouts in that scenario because you have a comic making a stink and they don’t want that.”

Depending on where they’re touring the show, Miller and Brooks have to either play up or play down the reverent parts. “Good theatre will take you out of yourself. It will transport you somewhere,” he says. But if people have a thorn in their side about Jesus, it can be difficult to convert the cynics.

After Ottawa’s GCTC run, Bigger Than Jesus will have its American premiere at Berkeley, and that’s a good thing.

“If we went to Nashville,” Miller says, “it would be a different story.” Bigger Than Jesus won’t be touring the Bible Belt any time soon, he chuckles.

– Sylvie Hill