Time Magazine's View on Clean Comedy -- Funny or Lame?

Joel Stein, a humorist for Time Magazine recently performed with an improv team from Saddleback Church in California. Apparently, Joel was intrigued that a church would be doing improv and just had to check it out to see if Christians could be clean AND funny. I've included a link to Stein's article here. Give it a read.

I have also included a link to a Blog that gives a different perspective on Steins article and on clean comedy. Finally, of course, I provide my own thoughts on the article, and on Christians doing comedy. Let us know what you think.  

Christian Improv: What's Funny at Warren's Church - by Joel Stein


Blog Post on Stein's Article


Andrew's Thoughts...


As I read Stein’s article I found that one phrase stood out amongst the jabs and stereotyping. When talking about the Saddleback improvisers, Stein states, "My troupe mates were impressively funny...” That's what it is all about in my view, quality of entertainment. Contrary to Stein's generalization that "Christians will laugh at anything", they won't. People, all people, laugh only at what they think is funny. The burden is on the performer to bring the quality. 


I believe that Joel Stein is way off base on two issues. One, that Christians produce, and expect, a lower level of comedy. Two, that “shackle-free” or dirty comedy is funnier, or more inclusive, than clean comedy.


Unfortunately, Christian entertainment has a somewhat deserved reputation of being high on the lame scale. Maybe that's why Stein seems surprised that his troupe mates at Saddleback were actually funny. I think there are too many “Christian” acts that are banking on simply being Christian as a good enough reason to draw an audience or book gigs with churches and other ministries. That’s about as stupid as expecting an audience to laugh at your lame jokes just because THEY are Christians. It’s not about affiliation, it’s about excellence.


For The Panic Squad, our faith drives us to put on an excellent show. God asks us to give our best in whatever we do. Because each member of The Panic Squad is a Christian, we take that call seriously. That said, we don’t necessarily label ourselves as Christian comedians. Sure, we do a lot of ministry related events and love to share our faith with audiences when we get the chance. We also do a lot of events where we simply put on a great, clean comedy show. While we are not shy about our faith, we want to be known first as excellent comedians.


You have to build some sort of platform of credibility before anyone will take you seriously. I commend Ron Ruhman and his teammates on welcoming Stein to perform with them. I also commend them for sticking to their guns morally while avoiding the cheese ball Christianese jokes. Stein himself said they were impressively funny within their moral boundaries. Sounds to me like they are using a quality act to shine a bit of light.


My second issue is that of clean comedy vs. dirty comedy. Stein tries to qualify his “impressively funny” comment with “within those boundaries”, as if they would have been way funnier had they had license to go to the gutter with their humor. Granted, that seems to be the general opinion of our culture today.


Many people expect comedians to be edgy in an innuendo laden, raw kind of way. When they hear “clean comedy” they automatically go to the stereotype that clean comedy is lame comedy. Sadly, they are not totally wrong. But Ruhman’s group and other quality, clean acts are consistently chipping away at that stereotype


In my view, base comedy is a type of cop-out. Dirty comedy is easy, and it’s guaranteed to illicit some sort of response. Most entertainers would rather have a slight chuckle or even a gasp over a gap of silence when they hit the punch line. Personally, I’d rather have a fork in the eyeball over a courtesy laugh. As a result, however, many comedians resort to below-the-belt humor woven into their act to guarantee a response. But it’s a cop-out. It takes more work, and I feel, is more rewarding, to perform sidesplitting humor that is completely clean in content. The laughter is deeper, more genuine, and the performers don’t need “shots of Cuervo” to pull it off.


As far as being exclusive, I would consider an act that you can’t bring children too, or that may offend a part of your audience as exclusive. Clean comedy is the epitome of all-inclusive. The most common comment The Panic Squad hears is, “that was refreshing.” People are tired of being offended by routine, “edgy” acts. If you take good look at what the majority of comedians are doing today, I’d say performing a clean comedy show that is incredibly funny is edgier than just another comedian or improv troupe using shock-humor.  Kudos to Ruhman's team of improv actors. Keep it going and strive for excellence.


Andrew Bright