Behind the Christian comedy story — two views of culture

victoria_jacksonAs Doug just noted, this whole “Christian comedy” story is really, down at the roots, about the wider issue of Christian and conservative subcultures.

Surely it says something about our age that culturally conservative believers are plugging away at influencing real politics (as opposed to Contemporary Christian Politics?) at the precise moment that so many Americans are turned off by real politics. But in the area of entertainment and mass media — the heart of American cultural life — Christians flee to niche cultures. Movies. Comic books. Music. You name it. There is a whole world with the letters CC in front of the product.

The Washington Post recently waded into this topic, as well, in a Natalie Hopkinson feature entitled “The Ha-Ha-Hallelujah Comedy Movement.” Here is the crucial “love offering” passage in this report on the opening night at the Synergy comedy club. If you don’t know what a “love offering” is, this club isn’t for you.

Row by row, the audience marches to the stage and drops singles, fives and checks hastily made out to Synergy Ministries — $1,260 by the end of the night. He’s joking, but it’s no joke. This is the house of the Lord.

You can call them “inspirational,” “alternative,” “Christian” and even, as some of them plead, “just clean.” They are the dozens of comedians working the Washington area’s gospel comedy scene. For years, these comedians have been performing at churches, community centers, parties and weddings. But now a small circuit of Christian comedy venues has popped up, struggling to make a go.

In addition to keeping it clean, the key to these clubs is that they offer a mixture of entertainment and “ministry.” Remember that this is supposed to be evangelism, even if everyone in the crowd is a born-again consumer.

But these set-apart “Christian venues” are not the whole story — in comedy and in other forms of popular culture. The larger story is elsewhere.

All across the country, mainstream comedy clubs have spotted the large and, well, passionate audience of mainstream believers. They have started holding “Christian” or “clean” comedy nights in real comedy clubs, often featuring real comedians with mainstream credentials. The key is that these funny people happen to be Christians.

These two crowds may overlap, but are not quite the same. But we are talking about two entirely different ways of doing business and creating culture.

If you want to spot the difference, just Google the name “Victoria Jackson.” Yes, that Victoria Jackson from the Saturday Night Live crew. She’s alive and well and still funny as, well, heck. Here is a Cox News Service glimpse into her experiments in this emerging marketplace.

ATLANTA — Dressed in a sequined black French maid costume, comic Victoria Jackson was complaining about men in her squeaky high-pitched voice. “We get rewarded for big boobs in your face, but you can’t see our souls,” she said.

She paused, eyes wide, looking a little nervous: “I probably wasn’t supposed to say ‘boob’ on Christian comedy night.”

Well, she did, but nobody stomped out of the Funny Farm at the club’s first Christian comedy night with Jackson, a lifelong Christian known as the ditsy blonde from “Saturday Night Live” from 1986 to 1992. She’s still delightfully amusing at age 44.

The very phrase “Christian comedy” can be confusing.

No joke. That is why this is such an interesting story. It is a doorway into a clash between two different worlds, two different ways of living and working. One seeks to be in the world but not of it. The other is, well, of the world but not in it. There’s a difference.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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