Wednesday, October 11, 2006


God, That's Funny! Funny...that's God

As regular readers of this space know, the author dabbles in stand-up comedy and improv (upcoming next week is a comedy show at the IGNITE Festival in Soho; I'll be appearing with several of the folks from my "Laughing With The Enemy" show).

Well, occasional Commenter Umar Lee discusses two topics that people don't often consider going together --
comedy and Islam.

Umar's view on how different types of comics approach religion in the context of their audiences is particularly interesting:
I recognize that Maher and Carlin are funny men, and enjoy it when they talk about some things (just as I enjoy John Stewart and Colbert); but when they talk about religion and the religious I tune them out because I know they are going to be disrespectful and arrogant.

Contrast this with the humor you will see from Americas funniest comedians, who are almost always African-American, such as Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Mike Epps, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey and the like and you will see that even when they joke about religion they show respect and draw a line. You will also see that comedians that cater to the white working-class, such as Jeff Foxworthy, draw the same line.

The reason for these different stances on the issue of comedy and religion is the fact that African-American comedians, Latino comedians, and white comedians of “blue collar comedy”, are speaking to audiences of people who believe in God and respect the scripture even if they do not follow it. Comedians such as Maher and Carlin speak to audiences largely made up of atheists, agnostics, “progressive” believers, and cultural and moral relativists. For them, there is nothing they are hostile to more than religion, and no group of people that angers them more than people of faith.
Umar is onto something here and it has a real significant serious ramifications in the context of politics as well. I was raised a Catholic(though now perhaps something of a lazy Catholic -- no, not quite an Episcopalian).

When I was working for the Republican National Committee as its Coalitions Director, I was able to have very straightforward conversations with all groups from the pro-choice Republicans to the Christian Coalition to the Log Cabin Republicans to the Right To Life Committee. Why? Because I was able to respect the viewpoints of all sides and not treat any of them as either "nutty" or "extreme."

Yes, that was part of my job, but it's also not something that comes easily to everyone -- especially people who grow up on the coasts.

Among the modern urban citizen -- regardless of official political identification -- there is an instinct to be dismissive of those people with strong religious faith.

Now, white liberals are more comfortable deriding white Southern Baptists than they are African American protestants, but that has more to do with concerns over race, than anything else. (Besides, they have to live on a daily basis with religious blacks, but don't have to worry about the Southern Baptists, except for when they are flying over their towns).

This gives liberals and, by extension, Democrats a "brand" that is often perceived as being
anti-religious or contemptuous of those grounded in faith (except, again, those coming out of the traditional civil rights movement).

One of the reasons why Harold Ford is doing pretty well down in Tennesssee is that he recognizes religion as being
of tangible significance in the lives of the people in his state -- and figures out how to make a personal appeal on that basis:
In one commercial, Ford walks down the aisle of his Memphis church, sun shining through the stained glass windows, and says: "I started church the old-fashioned way - I was forced to. And I'm better for it.
"Here, I learned the difference between right and wrong," he says before accusing Republican opponents of "doing wrong," distorting his record on homeland security and military spending.
He settles into a pew and adds: "I won't let them make me someone I'm not, and I'll always fight for you. Give me that chance."

Yes, the cynics among us can wonder about the blatant use of a church for a political ad, but the presentation makes a strong impact. Furthermore, whether the sincerity is "fake" or not, the fact is that Ford doesn't appear like he's walking around a building that he's never been in before:

The appeal he is making in the context of faith is personalm, not academic and so it resonates. Of course, this is something that Sen. Barack Obama recognizes as well -- and why he
mesmerized the nation at his DNC speech in 2004. And, while one can question how "moderate" or "conservative" Ford and Obama are politically, no one can really dispute that they are true "believers."

In short, whether the topic is comic or serious, the best way to connect with the broadest audience is to recognize that faith and values do inform large swaths of an "audience." Dismissing it contemptuously may only cause one to be "booed" on-stage -- but it can be suicide in the political world.

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