April 2004: The Associated Press

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The Associated Press State & Local Wire

April 24, 2004, Saturday, BC cycle

Holy smoke! Christian Comedy Night catches on

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., AP Religion Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 868 words

DATELINE: ADDISON, Texas

“Any Billy Graham fans here?”

Al Fike grins slyly as he baits a Tuesday night crowd at the Improv comedy club.

“Woo-hoo!” a few in the audience shout back.

“I love Billy Graham,” Fike says. “He’s wonderful. I like to hear him preach.”

The iced-tea sipping crowd howls with delight as Fike lowers his voice obnoxiously and imitates the world’s most famous evangelist.

“Take the ‘D’ off devil and what do you got? You got evil,” the would-be Graham drawls. “And there’s evil all over the world today.”

Any other night, the devil might take a seat at this Dallas area nightclub.

At the least, God’s name would be used in less-than-sacred ways. But the closest thing to an expletive on Christian Comedy Night is the “Holy smoke!” uttered by Fike to describe how his mother reacted when he acted up in church.

Fike, 48, is on a self-proclaimed crusade to clean up comedy.

“Not to be a pious, super-religious, look-at-me, we’re-clean thing,” said Fike, a full-time comic and motivational speaker who lives in the Dallas suburb of Richardson. “It’s just something that would be neat to see. It’s kind of my dream.”

It’s a dream shared by others.

From West Palm Beach, Fla., to Ontario, Calif., Christian Comedy Nights are popping up in secular clubs more accustomed to profanity than prophecy.

“First of all, the Improvs are discovering that there’s a real audience for the Christian comedian,” said Dan Rupple, president of the Christian Comedy Association, which boasts about 250 members. “Second of all, there’s a lot of people, just in mainstream society, that want to see clean humor. They just don’t want to subject themselves to a bunch of filth.”

Fike, who jokes that he earned a master of divinity from a Baptist seminary so he could make candy, has performed at churches and corporate events for more than 30 years.

A year ago, he approached the Improv in Addison, a Dallas suburb, with a proposal for starting a Christian Comedy Night. The owners were already pondering the possibility of a “clean comedy night,” so they bit on the idea.

“There’s a lot of people out there who would not even think of coming here,” co-owner Trey Belew said. “It’s kind of an effort to let them know that there are other clean shows that they could come see.”

Attendance at the monthly Christian Comedy Nights ranges from 150 to 250, with tickets priced at $12 per person. With the success in Addison, Fike has taken the concept to the Houston Improv, where he now emcees a monthly Christian Comedy Night.

Despite the name, the humor isn’t preachy or even pithy.

“So, anybody drinking tonight?” comedian Darren Collins asked at the recent Addison show. “I’m just being facetious. Actually, there are. I went to the bartender – I’m not making this up. There were about 90 drinks sold, eight of them alcoholic.”

Collins paused just briefly, then delivered the punchline: “So apparently, the Episcopalians made it out tonight.”

As the laughter subsided, he added, “And then some of the Baptists are like, ‘It’s just dark enough in here …”‘

No denomination was deemed too divine for Collins’ wit.

“I’ve done a lot of evangelism and stuff, but I’m not comfortable with door-to-door stuff,” he teased. “Unless I was raised Jehovah’s Witness, then I would. Not to share the good news, but just to see what regular people live like.”

Sheila Wallace, 47, drove 40 miles from Waxahachie to see the show, which she said she was able to enjoy without worrying about hearing R-rated language.

“I have heard it before, but people can and are extremely funny without using that kind of language,” Wallace said.

Ken Mathews, 33, a mechanical engineer from nearby Plano, said he and his wife, Amy, sometimes attend regular comedy nights with nationally known headliners.

The quality of entertainment at the Christian Comedy Night surprised him. Rating the comedians on “laughs per minute,” the better Christian comedians would compare favorably with the top secular acts, he said.

“It would be something you could bring your family to,” Mathews said. “If you go on a typical Saturday night, there’s no way in heck you’d want your teenager there. It can get very lewd.”

For shock value at Christian Comedy Night, Fike relies on a fake microphone that shoots confetti into the crowd.

He also emphasizes physical comedy, squeezing his palms together to bring “Jesus Loves Me” to life. He calls it a “hand choir.”

With a violin bow, he strokes a saw to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” He can’t resist mentioning his compact disc, “Sawlent Night.”

“There are several cuts on the album,” he says.

At the end of the two-hour show, after Fike and three other comedians have performed, Fike makes a pitch for God.

It’s not an altar call, just a suggestion to consider that life is fleeting.

“Like my friend Zig Ziglar says, you’re going to be dead a lot longer than you’re alive,” Fike tells the crowd. “So it’s best that you do something with this nanosecond you have here on Earth, right?”

On the Net:

Al Fike: http://www.alfike.com

The Improv: http://www.improvclubs.com

Bobby Ross Jr. has covered religion since 1999. He can be reached at bross(at)ap.org.

 

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