Skip to comments.Christian comics open up church for newcomers
Posted on 07/23/2007 12:35:49 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
Churches are booking comedians to attract new members, and opening up opportunities for budding comics... When the Rev. Jay Laffoon began organizing Christian marriage conferences 10 years ago, he worried that many couples would arrive expecting cautionary tales about sin and hell and a long list of donts and few dos. Believing that Christian marriage is a thing of joy instituted by God, Laffoon wanted people to enjoy the gatherings.
A joyful heart is good medicine; but a broken spirit dries up the bones, he said, quoting Proverbs 17:22. So he tried a radical approach; Laffoon hired a stand-up comedian as an opening act.
Not just any would do. The comic had to be dentures-flying-out-of-the-mouth funny. He also had to be able to profess his faith in Christ. After an exhaustive search, Laffoon found a comedian who joked about relationships and recounted how Jesus had changed his life. His routine got laughs. His personal story got a standing ovation.
While using comedians in evangelical work may raise some eyebrows, Laffoon insists its not a radical departure. Many clergy use humor in their sermons, often as icebreakers in the introduction or as an anecdote that teaches important lessons about life and faith. While the strategy was unusual a decade ago, today Christian comedy has a loyal following, and the practice is growing.
Laffoon, 45, an ordained minister in the Church of God in Michigan, now has 10 comics who perform at 13 Celebrate Your Marriage conferences a year.
What's driving comics into churches? Many comedians have discovered that churches make great performance spaces. Nationwide, there are more than 300,000 churches and less than 300 comedy clubs," said Lenny Sisselman, 49, a booking agent based in Nashville, Tenn., who specializes in Christian acts. And "some of these churches have better performance spaces than the clubs. They have better sound systems, lighting and more seats. [The audience members] also have longer attention spans. Remember, these are people who enjoy sermons.
Some mega-churches, like televangelist Joel Olsteens Lakewood Church in Houston, seat upward of 16,000 and have an architectural style closer to Radio City Music Hall than a traditional church. They even have giant video screens that allow for close-ups of the speakers.
And pastors are finding that entertainers can help fill those seats, Sisselman said. Many churches have found that their numbers surge at outreach programs aimed at nonbelievers or believers who dont normally attend church," he said. "Its clean entertainment and they can bring their families.
Non-Christian comics, who perform at generic family nights, simply have to offer a clean, family-friendly act consistent with Jesus message of hope, said Tom Sobel, a booking agent. But there are many more opportunities for practicing Christians.
Pastors are looking for comics to profess their faith in Christ and to do it from their hearts, Sisselman said.
But most important, a comic must be funny, said Jeff Allen, Sisselmans star comedian. Allen, 50, started his performing career in the smoky comedy clubs of the 1980s. An alcoholic facing bankruptcy and divorce, he found Christ and a meaningful story to share with Christian audiences.
In a club, if I took a break, it gave someone an opportunity to interrupt, to heckle," he said. "But in church, I could take my time to develop a story, to make a point. Theres no heckling in church.
When performing at pastors conferences, marriage retreats and outreach programs intended to draw nonchurch people to church, he tries to follow the advice a pastor gave him early in his new career: Let your faith drive your comedy but leave the preaching to the preacher.
If no one ever came back to church after I made them laugh, I would still be happy, Allen said, because it is God who works on the human heart, God who decides if they come back. But, he added, if after a lifetime thats all that happened, that my comedy had no impact on Gods Kingdom, then I would be disappointed.
Catholic comedian Judy McDonald agrees. She views comedy as a religious vocation, a way of building the Kingdom of God. I dont mock my religion. I dont tear it down, said McDonald, 30. Christian comedy is a gift from God.
While hesitant at first, pastors have become welcoming. In the four years McDonald has been performing, her number of engagements has increased to about five a month from six a year.
Her routine includes jokes like: "You can always spot Catholics at 'Star Wars' movies. They are the ones who hear the phrase, 'May the force be with you,' and stand to respond automatically, 'And also with you.'"
At St. Meinrads Archabbey in Indiana, a conservative Catholic college and seminary that trains men for the priesthood, humor like that is welcomed, said Jeremy King, a Benedictine monk and director of cultural events. McDonald participated in a retreat there for Catholic educators and youth ministers about how to make religious vocations more appealing to young people.
As for Christian comedy, the real question for King, 60, concerns appropriateness. What might be fine in an outreach program might not be at a High Mass. He has not caught McDonalds act but is hoping to book a Dominican nun, Nancy Murray, who uses comedy in her one-woman show about Catherine of Siena, a Catholic saint known for her good humor. Murray is no stranger to comedy; her brother is the actor Bill Murray.
i’m not sure worship is the best place for jokes...
I don't think its a problem. Now if whole sermons become "entertainment", that's a problem, imo.
Mother Angelica always has a quip or two in her sermons.
The late Dr. Gene Scott: Unintentionally hilarious.
The problem lies in the fact that this guy confuses joy of the heart with amusement. They are not the same. You can be full of joy, yet be full of sorrow and you can be laughing your head off, yet have no joy. Joy comes from knowing that you have been declared righteous in the eyes of your creator. And that by nothing that you have done, but by the precious blood of the lamb, without spot or blemish who has redeemed you. Our true joy, that which cannot be expressed (1 Peter 1:8) is in Jesus Christ See John 15:11 also.
Laughter is fun, but is temporal. The joy of the Lord is forever. With the joy of the Lord, we can endure all things.
How sad that a pastor doesn't understand that.
When it comes to the deliver of a serious message, leavened with the
right about of humor, I think Chuck Swindoll hits the spot.
And some of his stories of his hitch in the Marines are something
you usually don’t hear about at church.