It’s been a rough year—over a year now—of dealing with the stress of the pandemic, economic disruption, divisive politics, and difficulties within the Church. While these serious topics are important to discuss and pray about, everyone can use some good comedy and healthy laughter during difficult times.
Sadly, finding comedy that is genuinely funny without being morally offensive can be a difficult task, but the past few years have seen several new, talented, Catholic stand-up comedians come on the scene. Everyone knows Jim Gaffigan, famed for his jokes about food and life as a “bad Catholic” with a flock of children, and his talented comic writer wife, Jeannie; without meaning to dismiss them, I want to spotlight some less well-known, emerging Catholic comedians who deserve attention (and who are themselves struggling with a year that was bad for live shows, to say the least). The following is a list of three, and may their success encourage more funny Catholics to step onto the stage in the future.
The Catholic comedian, rather like the Catholic novelist or artist, should hold himself or herself to the highest standard of their trade, understanding that God is glorified when they produce excellent comedy. This does not mean shying away from mentioning religion at all, nor does it mean harping artificially on religious themes exclusive of all else; a good Catholic comedian is a complete person who can find humor and spread joy through many topics, using a Catholic-informed imagination to embrace every aspect of human life. These three comics do just that, entertaining and uplifting their audiences admirably in these difficult times.
Jennifer Fulwiler was well known as an author, radio host, and convert from atheism before she delved into stand-up comedy, selling out venues across the US on her debut tour in the fall of 2019. Her themes center around being a suburban, homeschooling mom with a minivan full of kids: a relatable experience for many Catholics. But Fulwiler says she’s not just offering “Catholic comedy”; her voice is needed in the comedy world at large, for the sake of anyone who doesn’t care for the risqué material often peddled by secular comics.
Although she’ll joke about drinking heavily, she needs no overtly sexual content or vulgar language to be hilarious: natural childbirth, Chuck E. Cheese, a scorpion infestation, and speculation on what it would be like if Protestants had relics are just a few of the topics in her repertoire. COVID shutdowns naturally put further live shows on hold, but luckily, Fulwiler’s 2019 set was filmed and produced as a comedy special, “The Naughty Corner,” which can be found on Amazon Prime, Pandora, and other streaming services.
Jeremy McLellan straddles two main fan bases: Catholics and Muslims. Since entering the comedy scene around 2010, he has sold out shows in several countries, including the US and Pakistan. Far from ignoring the religious and cultural differences between his fans, his comedy thrives on controversy: besides the topics of Catholicism and Islam, he manages to handle even the polarized politics of our age with witty hyperbole that can make adherents of both sides chuckle.
Racism, riots, death, mental illness: none of these seemingly dark topics is off the table for McLellan, but in his hands, they become occasions for laughter—at each other and ourselves. (What if you want to riot, but you’re in the suburbs, so the only business you can wreck is your neighborhood soccer moms’ multi-level marketing scheme?)
His live shows are also on hold for now, but his recorded Zoom performance for the New York Encounter in February is a good appetizer for, hopefully, future successful tours. He can also be found making slyly controversial remarks about faith and current events on Twitter, interspersed with cute photos of his children.
Aaron Weber is only occasionally explicit about his Catholicism, but his down-home, Southern humor is a style Christians can welcome in the comedy world regardless. His joke topics of choice in his debut album, “Shirts and Skins,” include fast food, TV, cars, being a heavier person, and a general awareness of the funniness of modern life. In his own words to the Tennessee Register, “There’s no politics. There’s nothing serious. It’s just silly stories about me and things I’ve observed.” In other words, his humor is the perfect distraction from the politics and serious things that plague us all the rest of the time.
Some of my favorite bits of Weber’s are about running out of gas on the side of the road, getting fewer MBPS’s of WiFi than you pay for (what other industry could get away with a similar discrepancy just because it’s raining?), and about breaking a chair… in a movie theater. Saying more would give too much away; find “Shirts and Skins” on Pandora, YouTube, Spotify, and other audio streaming services.
(Disclaimer: While I cannot, of course, vouch for the complete moral uprightness of these comics’ material or personal lives, their recorded routines are overall “clean” and can be laughed at by Catholics in good conscience.)
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