When Peter Allen’s baby smiled at him, he went to Rio. And thus do all quests of the soul eventually find themselves in the bright sunshine beneath a 38m-tall statue of Christ the Redeemer. Fresh from his adventures among the Mormons, semi-professional comedian Shaun Micallef reaffirms his search for people of unshakeable faith, a quality he confesses to lack.
Unlike the aforementioned episode of Shaun Micallef’s Stairway to Heaven, this instalment sees our hero confining himself to one nation – and, for the most part, one location within Brazil. We kick off in Rio de Janeiro, as discussed, where Shaun attends an umbanda ritual. (Umbanda, for the uninitiated [and those of you who didn’t just Google it], is a syncretic religion that combines Catholicism with ancestor worship. It’s basically what you get when you cross Portuguese conquerers with African slaves.)
Anyway, during the ritual Shaun is unexpectedly emotionally moved by the sight of a young girl being possessed by her dead ancestors, and a man with a very strange voice tells him he needs to meet a bloke named John of God, apparently one of the world’s most famous mediums. Or media, if you’re being stupid about your grammar.
There are two things to mention at this point. One, it’s very difficult to convince your wife to start referring to you as “Shane of God”. Two, unlike some other humorists you can imagine in his position, Shaun appears to take this stuff very seriously. He gives the impression of a man who would be more than happy to believe John of God is the real deal.
The rest of the episode sees Shaun hanging out in Abadiânia, where John of God runs the Casa de Dom Inácio de Loyola, a spiritual healing centre that has its own pharmacy and surgery. It also has more than its fair share of huge glowing crystals blessed by “the entities”, giant triangles and portraits of Jesus that look like they were painted by the woman at Eumundi Markets who can totally see your spirit guide. It wouldn’t be as upsetting if there weren’t lots of terminally sick people lining up in the hope of a cure, including Chris from NSW who says she believes something positive is happening within her body, and that she “might become a big angel and hang around here – who knows?”
The reason for all the medical paraphernalia is that John of God is frequently possessed by dead saints and doctors, allowing him to perform operations even though he himself has no medical training. Thankfully Shaun spares us most of the gruesome “spirit-guided medieval surgery”, but if your wife is at all squeamish you should wait until she’s eating before popping this episode on. Feel free to fast-forward to the anaesthetic-free eye surgery that lets you see God inside people.
That’ll teach her about the importance of self-imposed religious titles.
Spousal torture aside, it’s worth watching Shaun grapple with his ongoing existential dilemmas, led in this instance by a group of Aussie petitioners who are happy to help him go crystal shopping when they’re not opining that the only true religion is “love” or telling him to “Continue to go forth with an open mind, but more importantly an open heart.”
He also looks pretty good in the all-white outfit required to commune with the entities when you’re “sitting in current”, and reacts as well as most of us would when they take both his book and phone off him for 24 hours so he can lie alone in a room and get healed.
Hopefully next time he’s crafty enough to hide a Kindle under the pillow...
Climb Shaun Micallef’s Stairway to Heaven as he visits Rio this Sunday night at 6:35pm on SBS VICELAND. Previous episodes are streaming now at SBS On Demand: