The tears of a clown

brad_stineStandup comedian Brad Stine faces the same dilemmas as many other evangelicals in the performing arts. In the Aug. 9 & 16 issue of The New Yorker, Adam Green describes Stine’s surrendering his ambitions to God:

He asked God to take over, to tell him what to do, offering to forgo wealth and fame in return for peace of mind. “It was Abraham and Isaac,” Stine told me. “I finally brought the knife down on my life and my career, and said, ‘I’m willing to sacrifice this thing. I’m willing to let go of what I love most — my comedy — in order to have God.’”

Stine received a call that same day to perform on the Inspiration Network (formerly Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s PTL Network), and he has enjoyed greater career stability ever since. So why does he seem so unsettled?

Green mines Stine’s paradoxes well. Stine counts George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce among his comic heroes, but he repeatedly uses stinkin’ as a synonym for the F-word. He tweaks Christians who blame Satan if they lose a job (“No — your incompetence made you lose your job!”) but complains that he’s excluded from The Tonight Show (and from launching his own sitcom) because “I’m a conservative, I’m a Christian, and I think the United States is the greatest country that has ever existed on the face of the earth!”

Green understands the evangelical subculture well enough to poke fun at its awkward stabs at building an alternative culture. Here’s a cringe-inducing passage:

In York, Pennsylvania, Stine performed at the Praise Center, a hangar-size nondenominational church and television-production facility in the middle of an open field. He had been hired by a local Christian broadcasting entrepreneur, talk-show host, and weight-loss-formula salesman named Jerry Jacobs, who didn’t appear to be a regular user of his own product. Jacobs was hoping to interest Stine in his plan to produce a late-night comedy show, which, he explained, would be “similar to ‘Saturday Night Live,’ only without all the ah-moral tendencies.” He said, “I can’t say, ‘Live from York — it’s Saturday night,’ because my lawyers told me that wouldn’t fly. But I can say, ‘We’re in York, and we’re live, and it’s Saturday night.’”

Stine’s shtick on his first DVD (Put a Helmet On!) does not leave an impression of an uproarious comic held back by thought police at television networks. He’s moderately funny, and his manic delivery sometimes transcends his more pedantic material — how often do you hear “And that’s the problem with these secular humanists” as a segue?

In an online-only conversation, Green offers a surprising answer when asked whether he picked up any good jokes from Stine:

He tends to not be, when he does his rants, cutting and harsh. His jokes are much gentler, in fact, and when he rails against gay marriage, the joke he does is “Guys want to marry other guys? Cowards!” To me that’s a funny joke. Then he goes off on a routine about how much easier it would be to be married to a guy: “You never pick up your clothes, you would never have to say ‘Honey, where’s my underwear?’ You’d know where it was, lying in a heap in the corner, where you left it the night before.” You know, when he does that, that’s not a conservative or a Christian point of view, that could be anything. That’s when you see that he is, in fact, just a comedian.

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