'Jedis and Juggalos Your Census Guide' is the latest series from John SafranSatirist John Safran takes a look at people who mix religion with pop culture.
''There's this unspoken thing among Jews,'' explains comedian John Safran, ''that no matter whether you're kosher or not, you always ask for kosher meals on aircraft to help keep the demand up.''
Using this logic, Safran - who was raised Jewish but identifies as a deist - will probably nominate Judaism as his religion on the Australian census next month.
But the popular satirist is also tempted to put down Jedi Knight, as 70,000 irreverent Australians did in 2001.
''When the time comes, though, I'll probably give into tribalism and just write Jewish,'' he says, ''because I'll start worrying that they'll close down some Yiddish translation service if I don't. But maybe I'll write that I'm a Jewish Jedi.''
Safran, who rose to fame 14 years ago on ABC's Race Around the World, has made religion the focus of much of his work. There's Sunday Night Safran, the Triple J program he co-hosts with Catholic priest Father Bob Maguire, for instance. There are his TV series John Safran vs God and Speaking in Tongues. Then there's John Safran's Race Relations, probably his most controversial project, in which he had himself crucified.
Hence his latest special, Jedis & Juggalos: Your Census Guide, airing next week on ABC1. In it, Safran seeks out those who combine religion and pop culture - but not in an ironic way. ''I didn't just want to interview that guy in the cubicle next to you who jokes about these things,'' he explains. ''I wanted to find people who are utterly sincere about it because it makes them more interesting.''
Safran has unearthed an eclectic bunch of spiritual mavericks, from an Italian who created a movie-based faith called Matrixism to a Muslim who finds spiritual meaning in Star Wars. He also speaks to an American Christian who uses the words and imagery of rap group Insane Clown Posse in his services. And fans of John Safran vs God will be pleased to see the return of American evangelist Bob Larson, who ''exorcised'' Safran on camera in 2007. The footage, which shows him being restrained as Larson thumps him with a Bible, is compelling because Safran does not appear to be acting. ''I assume he either exorcised or hypnotised me,'' Safran says. ''He spent a lot of time lulling me into that state and I [don't fully remember what happened]. But I'm sure if the building had caught fire, I'd have snapped out of it.''
Larson asserts that Harry Potter author J.K.Rowling is in cahoots with the devil, spreading Satan's message in exchange for fame and fortune, and is similarly wary of the Twilight franchise. Naturally, he believes that a joke response on the census is wrong.
But Father Maguire tells Safran that such a gesture could be viewed as ''spiritually adventurous'' and urges viewers to ''put down whatever you like''.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the outspoken Maguire - who also supports gay civil unions, in defiance of the church hierarchy - claims he is being pressured to quit his parish in South Melbourne.
''Of course I'm 100 per cent on Bob's side,'' Safran says. ''And if there was anything I could say that would be helpful to him, I would. But I've got a suspicion that the quieter I am, the better it is for him. It's not like I hold any sway with the Catholic church. Besides, I don't think the church leaders are sitting around going, 'Remember that guy who got himself crucified on TV? Let's seek his guidance on this matter'.''
Of all the controversial things Safran has done over the years - getting into a scuffle with Ray Martin, painting himself black, having a voodoo curse put on a former girlfriend and a fatwa on Rove McManus, driving a remote-controlled seagull with a cigarette towards Shane Warne during a cricket match - none have made him particularly nervous beforehand. ''I actually get more nervous after the fact,'' he says.
''In Race Relations, I did all this stuff to try to 'de-Jew' myself with pigs and things but it didn't work. I watched it afterwards and went, 'This has no energy'. That's what I worry about, rather than getting beaten up.''
Then he drops an intriguing hint about a new project he's doing in the US: ''I've been reading a book about gay people in the deep south in the 1950s; about how there was this quiet accommodation of them, whereas in the north, you couldn't be gay at all. It was something different to being in the closet or being out of the closet.
''But I'm still a while away from revealing what it is. At the moment, it's still my top secret little project.''
Artscape: Jedis & Juggalos: Your Census Guide airs at 10.05pm on Tuesday, July 19 on ABC1.
By Michael Lallo
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