Jerry Springer: The Opera
| You gotta spin it to win it|
|Stop the presses!|
|We want pictures|
Jerry Springer: The Opera takes the human drama played out on The Jerry Springer Show and replicates it on stage through the medium of opera. It was written originally by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas and was performed initially at the Battersea Arts Centre in London. It was picked up by Nicholas Hytner's National Theatre in London and then in November 2003 and opened at the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End. Since then, it has done a UK national tour, been broadcast on BBC television and there are now productions of the show in theatres across the United States and in Canada and Australia.
The show is quite popular with audiences and critics. In London, it has been awarded Best Musical awards by the What's On Stage Awards, the Evening Standard Awards, the Critic's Circle Theatre Awards, the Theatergoers' Choice Awards, and the Laurence Olivier Awards (the London equivalent of the Tony Awards). It has toured many American cities and was presented in concert at a two-night engagement at Carnegie Hall in 2008. However, as of 2011 it has not been produced on Broadway or in an Off-Broadway New York City theatre, so it has not yet become eligible for any of America's three most prestigious theatre awards -- the Tony, the Obie and the Drama Desk Awards.
The show has caused great consternation to many in the Christian community who consider it blasphemous and offensive as it contains a large amount of profanity, sexual references and the depiction of the key figures from Christianity: Jesus (who is described as "a bit gay"), the Virgin Mary, God, Satan, the Angel Gabriel and the Archangel Michael, Adam and Eve. The first act of the opera is also noted for its "anti-American" stance, such as with its parody commercials regarding guns and Jesus. Although the production went ahead in the UK and has been performed in other countries, Christian pressure groups in the US stalled and then completely prevented the Broadway production.
Opposition from Christian Voice
In 2005, the BBC televised a recording of the show on post-watershed (i.e., late at night when the kiddiewinks would be in bed) BBC 2. Christian Voice, an evangelical Christian lobbying group, and their leader Stephen Green protested outside the offices of the BBC and various executives at the BBC had to move their families into police safe-house protection due to the fear of threats. Christian Voice supporters spammed over 47,000 complaints to Ofcom, Britain's media regulator. They eventually attempted to bring a private criminal prosecution against the BBC's then Director-General Mark Thompson for blasphemous libel. Many secularists and political left-wingers state that it was these actions Christian Voice's that prompted the government to expand the laws against blasphemy in the United Kingdom to include other religions as well.
More sinister was Christian Voice's targeting of Maggie's Centres, a charity which runs drop-in support and care for people with cancer, who accepted a £3,000 donation from the cast and producers of Jerry Springer: The Opera. By threatening boycotts, pickets and PR humiliation, Christian Voice managed to get Maggie's Centres to not accept the donation.
Across Britain, Christian Voice also had a nationwide protest campaign outside theatres showing the production. Mostly, the protests were small affairs, although in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, around 300 protesters turned out. In Portsmouth, members of the far-right British National Party also protested against the show. The TV broadcast was pre-emptively challenged by Mediawatch-UK's John Beyer, the heirs of the infamous Mary Whitehouse.
Recurring biblical characters
One of the primary charges for blasphemy is the presence of biblical characters in the second act of the opera. Particularly, the fact that the biblical characters are portrayed by people already seen in the previous act associates them with the craziness of Jerry's first act guests. Their depictions - and the first act characters they are associated with - are quite self explanatory as to why people who are a bit sensitive about religion would find them offensive.
Jonathan Weiruss (The Warm-up Man) / Satan
- After being fired by Jerry, Jonathan appears as Satan, inviting Jerry (under threat of being "fucked up the ass with barbed wire") to hell to put on a show that will reunite God and Satan, giving Satan the apology he deserves for being thrown out of heaven. He is the only character that is implied to be the same person as the one in the first act - i.e., Jonathan is Satan in disguise. Weiruss is named after 16th Century occultist Johann Weyer and played in the London and touring performances by David Bedella, who won an Olivier award for his performance (he also did an awesome turn as Frank N Furter in the 2006/7 tour of The Rocky Horror Show). As Bedella is also gay and in a civil partnership with an Anglican minister, he was almost intelligently designed to piss off Christian Voice.
Dwight / God
- Dwight is cheating on both his wife and the woman he is cheating on her with - the fourth person in the relationship is a "chick with a dick" - his second appearance is at the start of a second act, singing about how he made love to a dying man (he knew he was dying because he held the pillow over his face). Dwight later reappears at the end as God, to declare that "it ain't easy being me", and ask Jerry for help and guidance in running the universe. Charges of the show having a negative message seem a little odd given that Jerry, upon meeting God, immediately declares that he's on the side of the Big Guy.
Chucky / Adam and Shawntel / Eve
- Chucky and Shawntel are the stereotypical redneck couple and have a remarkably abusive relationship, he thinks all women are whores and she wants to become a pole dancer. It turns out (after following him with the JerryCam) that Chucky is a member of the Ku Klux Klan, hence the "tap-dancing KKK members" that also drew controversy. They make an appearance in the second act as Adam and Eve and are equally abusive from the second they appear on stage, where they're naked and stood next to an apple tree.
Irene / Mary
- Irene is the deeply religious and disapproving mother of Shawntel, who later seems to go mad howling at the moon. Her appearance as the Virgin Mary implies that Jesus' birth was because she was raped by an angel, and the condom split.
Montel / Jesus
- Perhaps the most controversial depiction of a biblical character is Jesus himself. As Montel is into infantilism (stripping off to a diaper in the first act) and well as a bit of coprophilia (he starts scat singing, geddit?) his reappearance as Jesus doesn't go down too well with the fundies, or even some more moderate Christians for that matter. Jerry's final words to him are to "grow up and put some fucking clothes on". As Jesus, he does not wear a diaper, but a spangly loin cloth similar to what Jesus is often depicted as wearing (although it is an obvious reference to Montel's diaper). In some more modest productions touring internationally, Jesus appears fully dressed in robes. The fact that Montel/Jesus tends to be a black guy (due to Montel shooting at the dancing KKK members) probably doesn't help matters.
Tremont / Angel Gabriel and Andrea/Archangel Michael
- Tremont is a male-to-female pre-op transsexual, while Andrea is Montel's wife. Although the parts don't have any dialogue or solo singing, they reappear as the Angel Gabrielle and Archangel Michael respectively during God's appearance.
The conclusion of the opera heavily favours moral relativism. Jerry concludes that the differences between heaven and hell will never be settled because they're just different points of view and won't agree on everything - he states this far more explicitly in his "final thought" at the very end of the opera. Usually, most religions prefer moral absolutism, preferably scripture based, so this wouldn't sit well with them.
Contrary to what can only be called propaganda by protesters, Jesus is not depicted as gay in the opera. The insults hurled at Jesus, such as calling him "hyprocrite son of the fascist tyrant on high", come from Satan himself, and well, he's Satan, what did they expect? He is a "total cunt" after all. The accusation of Jesus being gay comes also from Satan's minions in hell; after Jesus declares that he "loves all mankind", the chorus erupts with "Jesus is gay! Jesus is gay! G. A. Y Gay! G. A. Y Gay!". So if loving all mankind means that Jesus is gay, Jesus responds that "actually, I am a bit gay."
What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fucking fucking fuck?
The amount of swearing is also a point of contention. Some in the media claimed that the production had over 8,000 uses of swear words - 66 obscenities a minute in a two hour show. Other newspapers claimed that the word "fuck" was used 3,168 times and the word "cunt" 297 times. The actual count is 96 uses of "fuck" and nine uses of "cunt" - the higher figures probably come from people not understanding how long dialogue takes to actually speak; mega-swearfest Superbad comes to just under 200 uses of the word "fuck" and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut just about manages three figures. The way these large numbers are calculated for Jerry Springer is by taking the swear words when sung in chorus and including them once for each person singing or saying them. You can also inflate the number if you take every note in the Fuck You Talk as an individual utterance.
- Official UK website
- Stewart Lee, Don't get me started - a small documentary around Lee's anti-religious ideas following the backlash against Jerry Springer.
- The Anti-Americans - featuring Stewart Lee and Jerry Springer: The Opera.
- CNN - 'Springer' Broadway run in doubt
- Christian Voice - What's the background [of Jerry Springer?]
- BBC News - A voice in the wilderness
- If you take one second to say the word "fuck", this amounts to 53 minutes of just "fuck", which is clearly nonsense
- The Sun - Swear Box
- Wikipedia - List of filmes that most frequently use the word "fuck" (JSTO would't even make it onto this list)