And now, Scary-Crayon presents...
Clean Christian Comedy
(What in God's name is it?)
by: Wes

So. Christians. Despite the familiar dicta to love thy neighbor and do unto others as you would have them do unto you, it sometimes seems that very few Christians take those messages to heart. Among prominent Christians like Pat Robertson predicting disaster in PA towns and hate-mongers like Fred Phelps picketing funerals, not to mention politicians exploiting their faith for political gain left and right -- which doesn't directly violate either of the two commands I mentioned above, but there's gotta be something in the Bible against it. Still, there are some good Christians out there. Some work with charity organizations and underprivileged youth. Some build houses in third world countries. Some... tell jokes. And I know this to be true, because last Friday night (11/11/05) I attended a clean Christian comedy show.

In case the last sentence of the previous paragraph left you scratching your head, I'll repeat the relevant words in boldfaced, italicized text: clean Christian comedy. Which naturally begs the question: What is clean Christian comedy? I was pretty confused myself when I read the advertisements in the local papers, and my befuddlement was further compounded by the tendency of the ads to use "clean" and "Christian" interchangeably. I mean, I could tell a fairly clean joke about pigs in a bathtub that couldn't appropriately be called "Christian" -- in that it didn't explicitly glorify God -- and there are certainly Biblical stories that can be legitimately called "Christian" but are hardly kid-safe, what with Tamar dressing up as a prostitute for the purpose of seducing her father-in-law (Genesis 38) and the brutal beating and crucifixion of Jesus (see Mel Gibson's R-rated The Passion of the Christ). So I went to the show to find out just what clean Christian comedy really is.

''Why did the Good Samaritan cross the road?''

Now, I'm not a Christian. I'll spare the reader a detailed explanation and analysis of my spiritual beliefs, but suffice it to say that (at least at this point in my life) Christianity has failed to strike a chord with me. So while I wasn't expecting to be laughing out loud at the night's performances -- not only do I have a very strange sense of humor, but I imagined that, like the words of the Bible, the jokes told would only resonate with the truly faithful -- the concept of clean Christian comedy was intriguing. Besides, even in the absence of the "Christian" element, clean comedy itself is rather difficult to pull off. Not only is one limited in one's range of topics, but one has a limited number of ways to approach those topics -- and, let's face it, a lot of the time lewd jokes seem to possess an inherent charm because of their lewdness (limericks, for example, though the bouncy meter and rhyme schemes play a role there as well). What's a clean Christian comedian to do?

One thing's for sure: Clean Christian comedy is apparently fairly popular. Granted, Synergy's Beltsville, MD, venue was kinda small (think community center rec room-sized), but both the Friday and Saturday night shows were sold out via advance ticketing by Friday afternoon -- so folks hoping to buy tickets at the door were out of luck (with a few merciful exceptions). I don't know if the shows are always this popular or if the performers this time around -- Dave and Brian, Rick Younger, Kerri Pomarolli, and Ron McGehee, with MC Coy LaSone -- were top draws for the churchgoing crowd, but I was definitely impressed with the turnout. Furthermore, despite my expectations to the contrary, I was actually impressed with the performers as well.

But what exactly is clean Christian comedy, or of what does a clean Christian comedy show consist? Well, there were jokes about the weather and a smattering of impressions. There were musical performances, with Dave and Brian alternately telling jokes and performing both folky renditions of current hits and their own original songs, one of which questioned the present state of television and asked what happened to Topanga and Urkel, "Charles in Charge", and other such references to those beloved TV shows of yesteryear. There were the typical jokes about the quirks of one's family. Ron McGehee supplied the familiar "fat guy who likes to eat and doesn't like to exercise" jokes. There were even jokes based on stereotypes, as McGehee utilized his ''No, Luke, I'M your father!''Korean-Irish heritage to tell some occasionally clever (as a kid, he recalled being told that "at the end of every rainbow is a pot of kimchee") but mostly mundane jokes. And, oddly enough, there were quite a few Star Wars references. (In fact, several of the performers are featured on a comedy CD entitled Clean Comedy Strikes Back: The Force is With Us. Is Star Wars really popular with Christians or something? E-mail me if you've got answers!) But the majority of the jokes told, while clean, weren't overtly Christian.

Still, the show did contain a number of Christian overtones. The show opened with a prayer session, and the comedians found ways to mention their faith, opening their acts with, "Praise Jesus!" in addition to the customary inquiries about how the audience was enjoying the show and references to the area. Though the bulk of Rick Younger's act -- which consisted mainly of criticisms of the musical industry and impressions of various singers -- wasn't obviously Christian (and some of it wasn't obviously clean, seeing as how he made reference to Jerry Springer and deceased rapper Notorious BIG, given that one would have to be at least marginally familiar with their decidedly unclean work to get the jokes), he did praise the Lord in song at the end. And McGehee started off his bit with a decidedly anti-Darwin bit, describing a fictitious (I hope) scenario in which he was driving along with his Christian fish on his car and was cut off by another driver with a different kind of fish on his car -- one with feet -- and thereby adding insult to injury by mocking his beliefs in addition to cutting him off. The joke ended with McGehee ramming the car from the side while cackling, "I know where I'm going when I die -- how about you?!?!?" Pretty weird -- and I believe that was the first crazed homicidal Christian joke told by an admitted Christian in a Christian comedy club that I've ever heard. Seriously.

Despite the examples above, however, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a definition for "clean Christian comedy" based on those performances. Yet a large part of Kerri Pomarolli's act could be described as Christian comedy, with jokes involving her seeking guidance through prayer in silly situations (for example, before stealing the shampoo from her hotel room, she prayed to God for guidance) -- so it is to her act that we turn for the answer to our question.

What is clean Christian comedy, then? Having seen Pomarolli's act, I suspect that clean Christian comedy is largely about context. Pomarolli told the familiar kinds of jokes -- jokes about her family, her upbringing, her dating life, etc. -- but from a Christian perspective, noting things like her mother's friends holding prayer circles for the woman because her daughter was unmarried and her mother being so conservative that she quit the choir because they added a tamborine. So while I didn't get all of these jokes based on previous knowledge (though I think it's interesting that these kinds of jokes more or less explain themselves), I get the impression that ''So, two nuns walk into a convent...''they had quite a bit to do with (Southern) Christian culture. And then there were also the jokes based on humorous interpretations and/or references to certain Biblical passages, such as the praising of the wife in Proverbs 31 and 32 (there is no Proverbs 32, RDRR) and comparisons between Patrick Swayze (whom God took to Heaven at the end of Ghost) and the story of Elijah. Oddly enough, it seems that a large part of clean Christian comedy involves misinterpreting the Bible and mocking the attitudes and lifestyles of overzealous Christians, albeit playfully so. But then perhaps that's not so surprising, given the predictable themes of standup comedy in general (if not the particularities of the routines).

So we've established that I found the clean Christian comedy show to be interesting from an anthropological standpoint. And I admit that I was definitely amused. But did I find the performers to be laugh out loud funny? Not really. One of the funniest things to me was the company's name -- "Synergy" -- considering that the company's tagline is "music and laughter the way God intended" and yet the first syllable of the name is pronounced "sin". Granted, it's not spelled the same, and "synergy" actually is a word, but I was still amused seeing as how the first three letters remind me of the old PSX fighting game Cardinal Syn (which sucked) and a goth girl I chatted with for a while via a Gothic Personal board a while back (she called herself sYn, you see) -- neither of which inspire me to revel in the greatness of God. Why not "Heavenly Humor" or even "Christian Comedy Club"? "Laughing With the Lord"? 'Allelujah for alliteration! Another thing that had me laughing pretty hard was a possession joke from Dave and Brian -- not so much because it was funny (it wasn't) but because it was the first joke with explicit Christian overtones and would've seemed completely random if not for the context of the venue. "I'm thinking, 'What is this kid, a prophet?!'" You really had to be there for that one.

I think I've about exhausted the subject for our present purposes, but to recap, clean Christian comedy differs from standard (clean) comedy in context only. Whereas another comedian might talk about his wacky redneck relatives, a clean Christian comic will talk about her wacky Christian relatives; where an academic might jokingly misinterpret a comment of Freud or submit a fictitious story about her latest scientific findings, a clean Christian comic will joke about a particular Biblical passage or tell a story about something that happened during Sunday School. In fact, all of the jokes at the show could arguably be considered to be Christian comedy in light of the venue in which they were told! And while I didn't find the performers to be terribly funny, I did think they were interesting, and kudos to them for attempting something that sounded so utterly improbable to me that I had to come out and see the show for that very reason. Given what they had to work with, they did the Lord proud.


Oh, and did you notice? Out of respect for the clean Christian comedy mission, this article didn't contain a single curseword! Praise and hallelujah! Parents and grandparents rejoice -- this piece is safe reading for those children you're too lazy to supervise during their time on the Internet! God bless Scary-Crayon! Oh, and if you're interested in seeing what clean Christian comedy entails for yourself, check out the media link on Pomarolli's site, as the video at the bottom features the majority of the act I saw. It's quite fascinating, really.

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