Why did you make a podcast about fake Christian hip-hop siblings?
Eternity talks with Crossbread co-creator Chris Ryan
Why? That’s the first thing I thought when Australian singer Megan Washington told me she had co-created a podcast for ABC Radio about a fake Christian hip-hop band.
Washington told me about her music-comedy Crossbread through an interview I heard broadcast on Double J, one of ABC Radio’s channels. I was so intrigued by the idea of a fictional podcast tale of musical twins pretending to be Christians – just so they can get an audience – that I went searching for Crossbread straight away.
“It just felt kind of a bit mean and not in the right spirit.” – Chris Ryan
Listening to Crossbread I really wanted to speak with the podcast’s team of creators, so I could ask them that all-important question: Why?
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Not because Crossbread is a terrible production. It’s not. But why would a creative team in 2020 want to put out a podcast about Christian things when they don’t identify as Christians?
Is Crossbread meant to mock and ridicule Christians, or the one at the centre of their faith? If that’s the aim, I think it fails. Yes, it’s six episodes are full of bad language and presentations of Christian-related things which don’t worry about reverence, but Crossbread doesn’t feel like an attack on Jesus or his people. As it charts the rise, fall and fall-out from rapper Josh (voiced by Chris Ryan) and his singing sister Joan (voiced by Washington) faking their faith to get fame with the faithful, Crossbread lands as a punchy parable rather than a sneering punch.
All of this wondering led to me contacting Ryan, a comedian and theatre performer who developed the idea with fellow comedy writer Declan Fay (Washington became involved later on).
“To be honest with you, I think we probably did feel it would probably go that way. We thought it might have been a bit more confronting in ways of actually mocking or having a joke at the expense of that [Christian] world,” admits Ryan about the early days of creating Crossbread with Fay.
“But it didn’t go there; we tried a few times and it just didn’t feel right.
“It just felt kind of a bit mean and not in the right spirit. We ended up going to a few different churches as research, to experience some of the bigger churches – we went to PlanetShakers (in Melbourne, Victoria) and watched a bit of stuff online by Hillsong.
“The experience of being there was actually kind of like, you know, it felt like a bit of a soft target. You know what I mean? To be sinking the boot into what seemed like a fairly welcoming and innocent sort of environment.”
So if the podcast isn’t just having a crack at Christianity, what is Crossbread about?
“The area we wanted to go was a bit more tied to a lot of the hypocrisy I see in, like, the more traditional Catholic Church and those strands of Christianity … Not practicing what you preach. You know, I have a lot of problems with the historical cover-ups of child abuse and these sorts of things in the church.”
“If Jesus saw the way you guys behaved, he wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
Ryan and Fay met years ago at Marcellin College, a Catholic high school in Bulleen, Victoria, founded by the Marist Brothers. Although Ryan describes himself as a spiritual person, he’s never really identified as a Christian. But he and Fay both went to a Christian youth group as teenagers, largely because it offered cool camps. They both enjoyed the youth group but some of the rituals and “intense” practices associated with Christianity didn’t gel.
These formative experiences around Christian teaching and activities returned to the surface for Ryan and Fay when they began forging Crossbread. In fact, it was originally a comedy set in the opera world, until trained opera singer Ryan noted: “I don’t remember many funny things happening in the world of opera …”
Having family members and close friends who are Christian, Ryan knows Crossbread might be “controversial and can be a bit confronting”. But he and his co-creators hope that any listener will be able to take a fresh look at whether they are actually living for what they say their life is based upon.
“There’s a line in the podcast: ‘If Jesus saw the way you guys behaved, he wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry,'” shares Ryan, alluding to the public examples of Christians or their institutions not being able to match up with what Jesus did, said or embodied.
Ryan himself took a look again at Jesus a few years ago, when he was “going through a kind of hard time in my life.”
“I just started reading the Bible again. Actually just reading it like a story [and asking] what’s this really about? What was Jesus about? The big thing that’s jumped out for me was … Oh, this guy was like anti-establishment and somewhat of a rebel and trying to tear down these kinds of institutions.”
“This was a dude that was born in a manger. Right. He’s a carpenter and a pretty simple guy. Like, I’m not sure he’d be hanging out at these cathedrals and being draped in robes and all that stuff sort of stuff.”
“The sorts of principles that Jesus lived by are, I think, poignant and really important …” – Chris Ryan
Ryan says years of Catholic schooling and some internet searches helped him fill Crossbread with scriptural and theological detail. Washington also brought a wealth of Christian knowledge from growing up in church circles.
So, as they created the hip-hop shot at fake faith, was Ryan ever personally challenged by Jesus? Did any of Josh’s ocker rhymes about Jesus stuff cause Ryan to reconsider what he thinks about God at all?
“I’m not sure I reached any kind of, you know, place of having any major big questions answered,” says Ryan about the impact of Crossbread on his thinking about salvation and eternal life in Jesus. “We were just following the story and trying to write something that was engaging and funny, hopefully.
“[But] I can certainly look at the teachings of Jesus … and go, yeah, those are actually really important ideals. Like not judging others, loving others as yourself, unconditional love. These sorts of principles that he lived by are, I think, poignant and really important principals, and ones that I relate to still.”
While reconsidering Jesus has not caused Ryan to relate more deeply to him, the Australian comedy creative does reveal an undercurrent of Crossbread that speaks to the important question of what life is actually about.
“As a creative, as a performing artist, there is often a real grapple between something that’s more ego driven and wanting success, versus sharing your gifts. I think for everyone that’s a constant question: what are you living for? How are you using what you’ve been given?”
“For me, the most satisfying experiences, creatively as an artist and performer, have been when I have got out of my own way and actually [thought] there’s something bigger at play here.”