The idea of a Christian working in secular comedy makes many Christians uneasy. But Christian performers like Jeff Allen, the King Baby comedy troupe, and Mark Anderson are taking their humor into secular venues and delighting audiences across the country.
Most people outside of church circles don't associate Christians with humor, says Anderson, a star and cowriter of Crazy Love, a long-running stage show at the Wonderama Theater in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
"It should be the opposite," Anderson says "If we're really full of joy, we ought to be among the funniest people on the planet."
Until he became a Christian about seven years ago, Allen thought Christians had "no sense of humor or outlook on life," he says. Now, Allen's good-natured riffs on family relationships have made him one of the country's hottest Christian comedians.
"I think teenagers are God's revenge on mankind," Allen says in his act. "It's as if God said, 'See how you like it to create someone in your own image who denies your existence.' "
Allen's career has spanned more than 20 years—both before and after he became a Christian. He's performed on Comedy Central, VH1's Standup Spotlight and at the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in 2000.
Before his conversion, Allen says, his comedy was "bitter, jaded and cynical" and his nickname was "Psycho." One night his anger was so extreme that his wife, Tami, left the show in tears because of the caustic way he talked about her. Years of alcoholism, other drug abuse, and rage had left his marriage and career in tatters.
Allen, an atheist at the time, finally dried out through Alcoholics Anonymous and began a relationship with God. The peace of God, he says, restored his marriage and transformed his life and comedy.
Now Allen's comedy is characterized by a refrain of "Happy Wife, Happy Life," although he still makes jokes about the difficulties of life with his beloved "Buttercup" ("My wife started menopause about a year and a half ago, so you know I lie in bed now and dream about the good old days of pms").
God's transformation made him a better person and comedian, Allen says.
"When I cleaned up my show, I found that it made me such a better comic because it narrowed the parameters," he says. "I got a dictionary and thesaurus out."
In addition to performing at corporate events and comedy clubs across the country, Allen has an outreach event for churches called Jeff Allen and Friends. One of the show's goals, Allen says, is to challenge people's stereotypes about church and what it means to be a Christian. To encourage members to bring an unchurched friend, churches distribute two-for-one tickets.
Even at the outreach shows, Allen's comedy doesn't contain explicitly Christian material, he says, because he isn't familiar enough with the Christian subculture. Allen uses the same 45 minutes of material regardless of his audience, then talks about how the peace of God has transformed his life.
The show "shatters the perception that Christians aren't allowed to have fun," Allen says. "That opens a door for the pastors and church to talk more to these people."
Laugh Now, Think Later
King Baby is a four-person comedy group that's beginning to attract attention in the secular and Christian markets around New York City. The group's motto, "Laugh Now, Think Later," reflects its goal to use comedy as an art form that can challenge people's preconceptions. Each member of King Baby is a Christian who has been successful in film, television, or commercial acting.
An effective artist "is also a prophet, in that his art reflects back to society who they are and what they believe, and offers criticism or hope," says Susan Isaacs, one member of the troupe.
King Baby has performed sketch comedy for more than a year at the church-owned Lamb's Theatre, at Performance Space nbc, and at clubs and colleges throughout the Northeast. The group was a finalist at hbo's 2001 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado (for more information, write to email@example.com).
Comedy is art and entertainment, Isaacs says. "Sometimes it uses shock and surprise to get you to laugh, and at its best, it makes you think or see yourself in the characters."
One of the group's filmed commercial parodies, "Ethical Escorts," spoofs issues of sexual temptation by imagining a Christian escort service that offers men a clean evening with a "Bible-believing babe." How well it's received depends on the audience.
"It's a total tongue-in-cheek send-up, but some Christian audiences are bound to be offended by it, so we have to discern the audience before including it in our live show," King Baby producer Chris Frederick says. "Secular audiences love 'Ethical Escorts' because we are making fun of ourselves as Christians."
King Baby is not allowed to show "Ethical Escorts" at the Lamb's Theatre, where the group performs once a month. The group understands and respects such boundaries.
Isaacs believes people in the church often have a hard time accepting comedy. "Comedy embarrasses us," she says. "It takes our dirty laundry and waves it out in the open for all to see."
"Pastor" is another King Baby sketch that has made some Christians squirm, Isaacs says. The sketch features a woman who arrives alone at her pastor's office for couples counseling. Then God arrives and has a domestic argument with the woman.
"She never spends any time with me," God says.
"Why do I always have to be the one to change?" the woman asks.
Some Christians say the sketch portrays God in a sacrilegious or negative light, but Isaacs says one hbo producer saw the skit and talked days later about the influence of its message.
Comedic truth in Tulsa
Mark Anderson was a comedian and owner of eight Improv comedy clubs before he became a Christian. But he also waged a long-term battle with depression, paranoia, and delusions. Anderson says he has experienced the power of Christ to heal even the worst psychological problems.
His show Crazy Love has been running at the Wonderama (www.wonderama.net), a 1960s-era movie theater turned playhouse in Tulsa, since January 2001. Anderson wrote Crazy Love with its featured star, John Branyan. Both are Christians and one of their goals is to show that "positive, life-affirming, God-affirming comedy can sell and attract an audience," Anderson says.
Set in a psychologist's office at the fictional Tulsa Mental Health Center, Crazy Love begins with a phone ringing off-stage, then an answering machine: "Hello. You have reached the Tulsa Mental Health Center. Please select one of the following options. If you are obsessive-compulsive, press 1 … repeatedly. If you are codependent, have someone else press 2. If you are schizophrenic, press 3, 4, and 5. If you are paranoid, hold the line. We know who you are."
The show uses humor to compare human wisdom with God's wisdom, Anderson says. In one segment, his character ("Dr. Mark Anderson") bounces onto the stage on a pogo stick wearing a white jacket. Dr. Anderson is a romance expert who compares the task orientation of men with the relationship orientation of women.
"Women are generally more attracted to relationship-oriented events like weddings," Anderson says in his monologue. "I'm not saying men hate weddings, but they don't think about them throughout their lives the way women do. My dad never pulled me aside and said, 'Son, I want to show you something. See this tuxedo? This is the tuxedo I married your mother in. I'm looking forward to the day when you walk down the aisle wearing this tux. Now, it's a rental, so we owe about $10,000.' "
Anderson and Branyan avoided making Crazy Love overtly Christian, so people outside the subculture would attend, Anderson says. People who need God's truth wouldn't go to a Christian show any more than they would any other Christian event, he says.
"There's an effort made to create a favorable environment for the gospel to be preached," Anderson says of Crazy Love. "We're trying to be salt and light, but in a manner that doesn't scare away any of the people who might be reluctant to read the Bible or step into church."
Marshall Allen is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and a reporter for the Pasadena Star-News in California.
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