:: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 ::

Standup for the Lord
The New Yorker has a fascinating article about Christian standup comic Brad Stine, a guy I'd never heard of until discovering the New Yorker link today via GetReligion. The New Yorker piece, by Adam Green, treats Stine's evangelical background with respect and a refreshing approach not often seen in the media.

Stine is a conservative evangelical Christian who uses his stage -- usually in Christian churches, not comedy clubs -- as a pulpit. But apparently he's preaching to the converted -- and calls it his ministry. "Stine's act," writes Green, "is built around his rants, which often have the flavor of sermons. He rails against atheists, liberals, Darwinists, pro-choicers, animal-rights activists, moral relativists -- pretty much anyone who doesn't believe that the Bible is the literal truth -- with a vitriol that seems to tap into his audience's own resentments."

As Douglas LeBlanc notes in his GetReligion post, "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 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's introductory paragraphs describe Stine's "conversion" experience -- how he turned his comedic ambitions over to God:
Most accounts of religious awakening feature a dark night of the soul, a moment just before God reveals his grace, when everything looks hopeless and faith seems impossible. For Brad Stine, a forty-four-year-old politically conservative, Evangelical Christian standup comic, that moment came at the end of the last millennium, when his agent and his manager both stopped returning his calls. For more than a decade, Stine (who was nine when he found Christ) had earned a decent living in show business -- first as a magician, then as a clean, though not overtly pious, comedian, doing his bits in front of brick walls in clubs across the country. But his career had slackened, and his chances of making it to the big time -- the "Tonight Show," his own sitcom -- had grown remote. Mired in depression and doubt, he started to question his most fundamental beliefs. As Stine recalls it, "I thought: Jesus, either you're not real or I'm missing something."

Then, one afternoon in the tiny kitchen of a one-bedroom apartment in Las Flores, California, where Stine was living with his pregnant wife and young son, he began to pray. 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.'"

Later that day, he got an offer to appear on a televised Christmas special on North Carolina's Inspiration Network, and he realized, he says, "I was a mainstream artist who wanted everything the secular entertainment industry had to offer, but he -- God -- had bigger plans." Stine quit the club circuit, found new management, and started working a different set of rooms, bringing what he calls his "progressive, contemporary-style" humor to a new audience. The enthusiastic response showed Stine that he had at last found his calling -- that his career had become a ministry. "What these churches are becoming, as venues, is sort of what those comedy clubs were in the seventies and eighties," he told me. "It's this gigantic market of people who literally have never had this before. I've been stinkin' digging for years in this mine, and suddenly it's like -- oh-ho-ho-ho -- I’ve struck the mother lode."

The story also provides a brief historical perspective on Christian comedy, describing its humble beginnings with "a self-proclaimed ex-hippie named Mike Warnke, whose act combined jokes, sermons, and hair-raising tales about his past as a satanic high priest," and mentioning Ken Davis, Mark Lowry and Chondra Pierce before returning to the subject as a study in contrast.
Stine sees himself less as a Christian comedian than as a comedian who happens to be Christian, one to whom conservative, Bible-believing Americans, who "have never had their own George Carlin," can point with pride. He also considers himself a subversive and a gadfly, in the tradition of Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and Bill Hicks. "Christianity has a lot more gray than fundamentalists want to think about," he said. "And I'm exploring the gray. Until I run into black. Or white."

:: Andrew 12:43 + ::

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