THIS weekend sees the inaugural Church Times Festival of Poetry at Sarum College – a poetry festival, as the name suggests, with a religious flavour to proceedings.

Guests include a rich variety of names from across the poetry world, including Malcolm Guite, Pádraig Ó Tuama and Michael Symmons Roberts, winner of both the Forward Prize and Whitbread Poetry Award.

One of the more intriguing events, perhaps, is the Saturday night Gala Dinner, where the evening’s entertainment will be led by comedian Paul Kerensa.

Paul is not a poet by trade (though he was written a couple of children’s books in verse), but rather a ‘kneel-down stand-up’ as he describes it. He’s also a comedy writer with impeccable credentials, having written for Miranda and Not Going Out, and is one of the regular Pause for Thought contributors to the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2.

I caught up with Paul last week, as he was preparing his latest Pause for Thought, sandwiched between two live performances by Don McLean. Christianity and comedy, I suggested, seem quite unlikely bedfellows.

When he first started out, Paul didn’t talk about his faith in his comedy. He described how a lot of his humour was self-deprecating, and while he could make jokes about his being Cornish, being a geek and having red hair, it felt strange to do the same about his beliefs. As such, it took a while to ‘own it’ on stage, and to find that level of universality to connect with an audience on the subject.

That sense of shared values is important for a comedian. Last week, I saw the somewhat-less-Christian Stewart Lee at the Royal Festival Hall, who joked that his audiences didn’t find him funny but came along as they ‘agreed the **** out’ of what he said about politics.

Paul’s universality comes through his razor-sharp retelling of classic Bible stories – Adam and Eve, Moses and Noah. But as society changes, how universal these stories will continue to be is an interesting point. Paul noted that Monty Python’s The Life of Brian would be unlikely to be made today, because so many people would simply not get the references.

Paul is far from the only such comedian doing the rounds, though some talk about their faith more than others: Miranda Hart, Tim Vine and Milton Jones are other examples of Christian comics. So is Frank Skinner, who has described his disappointment at how being atheist has become the ‘cool’ position among many stand-ups.

‘Cool’ doesn’t necessarily mean you’re funnier, however. As Skinner says, ‘I don’t imagine that Richard Dawkins is a laugh a minute.’

The Church Times Festival of Poetry is at Sarum College on Saturday and Sunday, May 5 and 6.