Starting a comedy club – why humor communicates
Guest blog posting from a Christian editor and journalist who also runs a comedy club in his town…
I blame Bob Monkhouse. I trace my huge enjoyment of comedy, and attempts to make others laugh, largely back to his Mad Mad Movies TV programme.
All he really did was show clips of old slapstick – Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, The Keystone Cops and the rest. And I was hooked at the age of about seven or eight.
Do Not Adjust Your Set, the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, The Goons, Tony Hancock, the classic films of The Marx Brothers, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore and on through Monty Python, Fawlty Towers etc to today’s sketch shows and stand-up comedians.
You see, I believe God hard-wired something into all of us that helps us see the funny side of things. And it doesn’t just help us keep life in perspective – laughter is actually good for us. It releases all sorts of endorphins around our bodies, lessens tension and stress and helps us relax. And the best comedy can be tremendously life-affirming, positive and joyful.
So when, more than 15 years ago, my boss on the evening paper where I was working suggested I go and do an article on “this new comedy club thing” – and as part of it have a go at the open mic spot – I didn’t need persuading.
It was very scary, it was over quickly, and I think somebody laughed at one point. But it was great fun. For some years I threw myself into writing in my spare time, with a little modest success – some paid-for work for comedians like Joe Pasquale and Adrian Walsh, a line used here or there on BBC Radio 4′s News Huddlines, and writing material for comedy agent Brad Ashton.
“I never thought I’d run a comedy club”
But I never thought I’d be organising and running a comedy club – let alone launching our town’s first ever Comedy Festival. The former saw the light of day after a one-off gig with stand-up and actress Jo Enright back in November 2008 – demand soon saw an isolated event become a quarterly regular.
Why? Several reasons really:
- Comedy is a life-enhancer – we have a family-friendly ethos at our club, so the material and humor is suitable for any age from around 12/13 upwards. Enabling people to enjoy a good laugh together with all ages is a really positive thing – especially when the audience is a good mix of Christians and those outside the church community
- God loves laughter – I really believe that. He created the duck-billed platypus! The Old Testament prophets used drama and satire to deflate the pomposity of those who misused their authority and abused the weak and vulnerable. Jesus himself told stories with a surreal edge (a man with a plank in his eye?!), spent time with those on the fringes (publicans, sinners and Samaritan women), and loved a good wedding party (see Cana). It’s great for people to see that a church-run club can happily dispense with the idea that Christians are anti-fun and don’t have a sense of humor.
- Comedy disarms people and makes people think – many of the acts we book are Christians. Their faith may not be explicit in their material, but they bring a joy and a quality to their entertainment that is hard to disguise.
It’s also true that when people laugh, their defenses come down – and positive concepts and intriguing questions can be smuggled into the heart.
Our comedy is very wide-ranging, from jokes to observational storytelling, one-liners to the surreal. We’ve had comedy magic, performance poetry, and silly songs. There’s endless variety.
And it’s great using a non-church venue for this kind of event – there’s a bar for people to buy a drink at our regular venue, and people instantly feel comfortable and at ease. That’s often not the case when people come into a church building, with a whole host of baggage and expectations attached.
It’s easy for people to invite friends, neighbors and family members, and an evening of comedy is a relaxed, non-threatening occasion. It’s perfect for chatting in between acts, and building friendships.
So please …
- consider how you or your church could use humor as a bridge-building tool
- pray for Christians in comedy – for good audiences, for the joy of shared laughter, for something of the divine twinkle of God to be seen, heard and sensed
- pray also for those who can write positive, entertaining, life-affirming comedy
Finally, to quote Mr Monkhouse: “They laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well, they’re not laughing now …”
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