Once a month, parishioners at Christ the King Church in Hollywood who make their way to the parish hall after 10:30 a.m. Mass aren’t just treated to coffee, donuts and bagels; they’re also treated to a full hour of laughs courtesy of an impressive lineup of touring comics.
The show, called “Sunday Funnies,” was established last September by comedian/film critic Carl Kozlowski with the help of Christ the King pastor Father Don Woznicki, and has quickly caught the eye (and struck the funny bone) of several other parishes and colleges.
“It’s a great way to get people excited to go to church, to keep young people interested but entertain old folks, and I think we’ve got a great mix here that does that,” stated Kozlowski, who also serves as the show’s host and emcee. “We want to give people a show that’s clean and genuinely funny without being cheesy and soft, where they really laugh without being offended.”
And if the audience’s response at last month’s rendition of “Sunday Funnies” is indicative of the show’s general reception, Kozlowski has indubitably succeeded in his goal. At a mid-January show, the lineup featured very diverse acts, including a touring partner of famous comedian Dane Cook (Vinny Fasline), a guitarist (Scott Vinci), two piano players (Hannah Gansen and David Wheatley), and even a juggler (Ron Pearson), who performed his jokes atop a unicycle 10 feet up in the air (as if performing stand-up in a room full of strangers at ground level isn’t terrifying enough!).
But all the comedians on the ticket were unified by a trait that is all too rare in comedy today: they all refuse to “go blue” — in other words, tell crass or offensive jokes.
Suffice it to say that, when you’re performing for a crowd of churchgoers on a stage with a background mural of Jesus and St. Peter, you want to keep your act as clean as possible. But the best comedians, the “Sunday Funnies” performers included, strive to develop clean material not so much due to a fear of offending people, but rather to challenge themselves to ensure the audience’s laughter is free from the cheap influence of shock value.
“I don’t mind going a little periwinkle,” joked Gansen, who first performed stand-up after a schoolteacher signed her up for a contest without telling her. “But there’s a big difference between being funny and just being shocking. There’s a sense of enlightenment that comes with making people laugh at something they all find to be true.”
“When you work clean, you have to work your comedy muscles a little harder and make sure the joke is really well done,” added headliner Pearson, who had the audience both dazzled by, and howling with laughter at, his juggling routine, which featured juggling several pins as a visual metaphor for figuratively juggling the many responsibilities of adulthood. “I believe God gave me a gift to do comedy, and I better use it to glorify him. He’s done so much to bless me, and I can’t take that lightly when I perform.”
In addition to their desire to perform clean comedy, the “Sunday Funnies” performers are also unified by an awareness that people — all people — want to laugh.
“I once did a show for 80 nuns, which I was so nervous about going into it, but ended up having a great time,” recalled Fasline, who first tried stand-up as a “bucket list adventure” after being diagnosed with a brain tumor as a teenager. “Every venue is different and will draw different audiences, but no matter where you go or who’s in the room, people want to laugh. You can always make people laugh, and you don’t have to tell dirty jokes to do it.”
“Spirituality should be a source of joy, not one of guilt and shame,” added Kozlowski. “We live in a really intense time in which people desperately need to feel joy and feel that God wants them to be happy and wants them to do good in the world for his glory, and have fun doing it.”
Indeed, the many inquiries that Kozlowski has been fielding from parishes and colleges all over the country (and even from the Laugh Factory and the popular dating website CatholicSingles.com) evinces the fact that there is most definitely a market for clean comedy, and that there are plenty of talented comics who are eager to produce it as a way of honoring the gift God has given to them.
“Comedy is based on truth, and God is complete truth,” assessed Pearson. “He’s also the creator, which, by extension, means he’s creative. He created everything and we were born in his image. So when we (i.e., comedians) are using our jokes to glorify him, we’re fulfilling what he created us to do.”
“I pray every time before I go onstage,” added Fasline. “And it’s a very simple, short prayer. I say, ‘Dear God, I’m your warrior. Thank you, God, I am your warrior.’ I’m a positive person, and I believe that comedy, and life in general, isn’t the same without God. And I use that belief to my advantage.”
The next “Sunday Funnies” show at Christ the King Church in Hollywood will be presented in the parish hall on Sunday, Feb. 12, after the 10:30 a.m. Mass.