'I’m not even the funniest comedian in my church!’
Baptist minister Allan Finnegan reflects on a 'surreal' week after wowing judges and audience with his comedy on Britain's Got Talent last Saturday
‘Never in a million years did I think anything like this would happen – I’m not even the funniest comedian in my church!’
Baptist minister Allan Finnegan is reflecting on quite a week. In mid-January he travelled from Merseyside to the London Palladium for one of the early auditions of this year’s Britain’s Got Talent. As well as being the minister of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Allan is a comedian. His act draws on his experiences as a Baptist minister.
The audition was aired on prime-time television last Saturday (25 April). After going on stage, Allan, complete with dog collar, can be seen facing a volley of questions from the show’s judges. Is he really a minister? ('No one wears this for a laugh.') Has he ever done an exorcism? (‘I’ve prayed for lots of strange things.’)
After the questions - and there were several more that didn’t make the cut - his act then begins for real.
‘I’m a Baptist minister actually. Most people don’t know what that is.
‘I have to explain: it’s a bit like being a vicar or a priest, but I don’t wear frocks…’
The joke lands, with both judges and audience. Allan’s routine continues. There’s a clever bank card analogy to poke fun at the reality of married life after 30 years. There’s a mention of still being on probation as a minister. (‘Quite cool where I come from, actually.’) There’s a reference to college not teaching you what you need to know.
'You know what they taught me? Hebrew and Greek.
‘I’m from Bootle! The only Greek I know is Stavros who does me kebabs.
‘And Hebrews is when a guy puts the kettle on.’
It’s the end of the act. Head judge Simon Cowell leads the audience in a standing ovation. He can be seen giving Allan the thumbs-up midway through the applause.
It’s now a formality that Allan receives “yesses” from all four judges, who all give positive comments. David Walliams, a stand-up comedian himself, describes Allan as ‘super funny, very memorable’. Amanda Holden even states ‘you’re the kind of guy that would make me want to come to church.’
Reflecting on the events of the day, Allan says: ‘The whole thing was surreal.
‘Basically, I just didn’t want to be buzzed off! The act before me was buzzed off. Those buzzers are so loud, louder than what they seem on television. You just don’t want it to happen to you.
‘So to then have that reception, I was a bit sheepish to be honest, I didn’t know where to look. I was in a daze. I spoke to Ant and Dec afterwards but I can’t really remember what I was saying.’
He said on the day there was lots of hanging around. When his turn came, he was ‘much more nervous’ than normal. ‘The person before me had got four buzzers, and I straight on after that. It was the biggest audience I’d played, in this world famous venue.
‘A producer asked me if I was ok? I said “I can’t remember my first line”.
He told me: “Just walk on, smile and wave, and you’ll be fine.”
‘I did remember, and once I could see them laughing, I relaxed into it quite quickly.’
The positive reception has continued. Allan’s set has received more than 220,000 hits on Youtube. 'HILARIOUS Church Minister Allan Finnegan is the answer to comedy PRAYERS!' is the video's title. Allan was interviewed live on the Lorraine Good Morning Britain show (Lorraine told him that his comedy was just the boost people needed at this time and to keep up the good work), and was the focus of an Instagram live session on the official BGT feed.
‘The start of last week was mad. I was struggling to keep up with everything. It’s gone more positively than I expected. I can’t believe it to be honest.’
Allan actually got into comedy while training for ministry. He had just seen the comedian Peter Kay perform at the Liverpool Echo Arena to thousands of people when he had a class that spoke of the days of traditional preaching being over. He challenged this assertion, and was subsequently challenged to go on a comedy course. ‘I never had any intention of doing stand-up comedy. It was a six week course, and at the end you had to do a set in a real comedy club. I’d been public speaking for about 10 years, and that was by far the most nerve-wracking thing I’d done. But I discovered there are lots of similarities with preaching and being a stand-up.’
Allan found he had a knack for it – and a new audience. He has previously described the comedy circuit as one of the most atheistic places he’s been to where evangelical Christians, even Jesus, are ridiculed. By being there he hopes to change perceptions of Christianity. ‘I want to reach a different audience, one that doesn’t come to church.
‘It’s not evangelistic, it’s very low level, but hopefully I will leave some questions.’ His interview with Lorraine, for instance, saw him talk about how his church and community have been responding in the Covid-19 crisis.
He has gigged regularly and has done well in a number of competitions over the years – but last Saturday was his biggest audience by far.
Allan now faces a wait to see if his Britain’s Got Talent journey will continue. Simply receiving the judges' approval is no guarantee of reaching the live semi-finals, which feature 40 acts.
But nevertheless he’s delighted with what’s happened. ‘There’s a guy at our church who does stand-up, he does one liners and is great, so I know I’m not even the funniest comedian in our church.
'I know my act isn’t for everyone. In some ways it doesn’t suit a comedy club, and it can be marmite for Christians.
‘So to have this positive reaction is more than I could have expected.’
Images | Britain's Got Talent | ITV