Can Christians do comedy? Many would consider the prospect either impossible or ill-advised. To some, the Church is a dour enterprise more invested in judgement than joviality. Christians might be laughable as a group, but intentional attempts at comedy aren't thought to end well.
Imagine my surprise last year when I attended a conference hosting a 'Christian comedian' named Andy Kind. I don't think many expected much. Perhaps something similar in hilarity to that joke about how Moses makes his coffee ('Hebrews it!').
To the surprise and delight of the crowd however, Kind brought the house down. Unafraid to push boundaries while possessing both deadpan charm and an infectious childlike joy, he was just really funny.
When I meet Kind a year later though, he tells me he's 'grieving'. He isn't actually bereaved – his crisis is internal, a dramatic contest with his very ego. He's a veritable jester, but there's also a wise, honest prophet here.
So why is he now quitting Christian comedy?
We were meeting to discuss po-faced Christianity, grace and egomania and, obviously, the best Christian joke.
The Bible declares that 'the joy of the Lord is your strength' (Nehemiah 8:10). By that token, should Christians be the best at comedy?
'I think we should be the best at laughing.' Kind says.
'A lot of comedy comes out of pain and cynicism. But yes we should be the best at laughing, and I don't know why we're not. We should also be the least fearful and were not, were the most fearful.'
Why are Christians so serious then? Kind explains: 'We're still living by the moralism of previous generations...imperialist law where it's about good behaviour and obedience. That's not the gospel.
'People are worried about being offended. Well, don't be offended!' Kind posits, that since Jesus bears the offences offered by any insult (Romans 15:3), Christians have no right to be offended. He suggests an alternative perspective: 'Pour yourself out, make yourself a living sacrifice. We should be so busy thinking about him that we don't have time to think about us. We deal in pride so much. 'We always want to give people a piece of our mind but really we should give people a piece of his mind – which is that you are fearfully and wonderfully made.' Too often it seems, Christian audiences are anxious and 'waiting to be offended'.
Performing on stage, Kind jokes about one enthusiastic but suspicious American who inquired after one gig: 'Are you 'pro-gay'?
Andy admited: 'I'm not even amateur-gay.'
On 'taking offence', Andy insists 'the gospel is not about good manners. It's not law, it's grace!' Ever self-aware, he notes, 'there I am on my high horse again...'
None of this is to say that Andy is anti-Church. 'Don't get me wrong, I love the church...there may not be much grace in the Church but there isn't any anywhere else. It's the only place you will find grace. I don't find it outside the walls of the church.'
Kind has been a comedian for 12 years, largely touring churches, clubs and Christian festivals. Now though, he feels he's hit a wall. Andy's seeking an audience beyond simply middle class-middle aged Christians. He's found success, written books, and largely pioneered modern Christian stand-up, but not quite grasped the fame or name-recognition that he hoped for.
When your job is performance, and pleasing people is what pays the bills - that's a challenge. He notes: 'You're never gonna keep everybody happy. And comedians want to make everybody happy. Until you realise that, you're gonna have pain.'
Pain, grief and shattered illusions are dominant themes of the moment for Kind. With an inescapable melancholy, he declares:'I didn't achieve what I set out to achieve... the only thing I know is that the season of being a comedian is over.' So what's next? He took a break from his stand-up work last year to undertake the running of a Christian retreat centre.
His vision though, is to use his comedy and creative, Christian vision to do something that's not been done before. It began when Andy found himself preaching at a church, where he delivered a gospel preach, with his own comedy mixed in. At the end of the service 'five people made commitments'. He adds: 'To Jesus not to me.'
He felt 'more exhilarated than I have with any other gig'. When it happened again on another occasion, Kind sensed God moving him in a new, more evangelical direction.
'God is helping me to decrease so he can increase. Comedy by its nature is self-elevating. Evangelism by its nature is Jesus elevating and self-denying.' But that makes Andy's new call a crushing blow to his ego.
'My hope for God was that he'd make me something. Rather than my hope being for him to be manifest in me. I'd been living a personal prosperity gospel. I had to tear down some idols – one of them looks exactly like me. It's a golden statue of me.'
But if God is blocking Andy from seeing his name in lights, he reckons that's actually a mercy: 'God's grace in the midst of ego'. Many Christians who find fame eventually fall because 'they believe the hype about themselves'. Standing on stage doesn't always lend itself to Christian living: 'The shadow side of the artist is the opposite of Philippians 2, to consider 'equality with God' something to be grasped, so we refuse to let ourselves be nothing'.
It's a popular conception that the modern comedy scene is a den of atheists, where Christians make good joke material, but not good comedians. Andy's more optimistic about space for outreach. Most comedians he says, will accept prayer if offered it.
'If you read Facebook, the world is really anti-Christian, and so is the comedy world. Individuals aren't. When you take the keyboard away and you look them in the eye you realise there's fear and there's hope and there's need.'
Our interview took place at the Christian festival Spring Harvest. Andy likens the experience of attending Spring Harvest to 'laying flowers at a grave' – a quote the organisers probably won't put on their posters next year.
It's not because he hates Butlins, Christians or the West Country, at least not specifically. It's becausehe's been a stage-presence for there for years, and now he has to let go of what was – and what he'd hoped for.
But if Andy's killing his dream, its only so that another can be born. Whatever's next is less a revolution, more of a 'sidestep...into the unknown.'
It may be the 'end of an era' for Kind, but with his sense of humour, the future must be bright. Whatever he does, wherever and however, one thing's for sure. He does a cracking joke about Christian bakeries.
'There's a Christian bakery near where I live.
'It's called baguette behind me Satan.'
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