If you think about the best stand-ups of all time, I would guess they made you re-think some big part of your life in a new way, whether it was a relationship or religion or kids. We think of great comedians as people who push boundaries and go after big targets, not people who tell knock-knock jokes really well.
So what happens when your material is necessarily restricted? When you can’t use certain words or bring up certain situations? What happens when a part of your set has to include a sermon?
Harmon Leon of Vice visited a conference for Christian comedians to get an inside look at their world:
Christian comedy, by contrast, is squeaky-clean, Jesus-centered, and often tied to an inspirational message. There are, needless to say, no dick jokes. From what I’d seen, it’s mostly made up of observational humor about things Christians do, like go to church or do chores for their wives…
For [comedian Chonda] Pierce, being a Christian comedian means “at some point in the night, you want your audience to make a decision. That’s what Christianity is: We have made a decision to believe Jesus.”
That’s a key reason the biggest names on the Christian comedy circuit are virtually unknown beyond that niche. No one goes to a comedy club to be told they’re sinners.
Doug Stanhope, a comedian with a huge secular following, explained the problem in his usual blunt manner:
“There is no question that religion is born in power and control,” he said. Stanhope feels that this ideology spills over into Christian standup comedy. “Their followers are guilty of trying to find an easy answer, whether it’s in a book, a sermon — or even a joke — rather than question the quandary of life on their own terms.”
Great comedians question things; they don’t obey those in power by nature of their authority. They think critically; they don’t shut down that part of their brain when the subject of religion comes up. The Christian comedy circuit may be lucrative for some — and there are no doubt many talented performers — but it’s hard to imagine people breaking out of that shell without compromising their act in the process.
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