You Know What’s Funny? Catholicism!

Catholic humor could be the key to the “New Evangelization.”

Last September, two Catholic comedians traded jokes and thoughts on their faith in front of a large crowd of 3,000 students at Fordham University. The two Catholic comedians? Stephen Colbert, host of the Comedy Central show The Colbert Report, and Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York. The use of humor by Catholic public figures to make their faith more relatable and to break through the noise of  themodern media is a growing trend that is increasingly successful at reaching the religiously curious, especially the young. In a world where piety and public expressions of faith are often marginalized, humor offers an entrance to thinking and talking about faith in a way that captures a core part of the Catholic tradition: the joy of Christianity.

Catholic humor is spreading in a number of ways, and often in unlikely places. While popular wisdom would say one should “never talk religion and politics and the dinner table,” Stephen Colbert goes one step further–he jokes about both on the air. As perhaps the best-known Catholic comedian, Colbert speaks sincerely about his faith out of the studio while walking a fine line of religious humor and cynicism on the air. What is certain though is the exposure that his show provides to the Catholic faith in a variety of ways, reaching millions of young people. Colbert spreads Catholic culture through hysterical segments such as a “Catholic Throwdown” with rock legend Jack White and by bringing on thoughtful and relatable figures such as Fr. James Martin S.J. to talk about Catholic issues in the news. Martin himself authored a book “Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.” Colbert’s humor is in many ways of form of evangelization, however unconventional.

Less explicitly but with the same impact, comedian Jim Gaffigan has gained a following in the Catholic community for his clean humor and jokes about Catholic family life. In a world where many families face high stress situations and where a romanticized view of love leads many into marriage unprepared, Gaffigan’s jokes about living out Catholic family values delivers an honest and personable look into the church’s teachings in practice.

Within the Catholic community, a sense of humor goes a long way towards easing tensions around age-old debates in the church, issues that too often become ideological or political and lose sight of Christ. The website “Eye of the Tiber” – well-described as the “Catholic” version of The Onion – takes first prize in this effort, providing much needed comic relief from issues that too often divide us, and in the process, just might raise some curiosity about the issues themselves. Adding some humor to the much-needed reform of the Curia – essentially the Vatican government – Eye of the Tiber featured this headline: “Pope Francis To Investigate Roman Curia On TV Show “Undercover Boss.”  The article “Expert Analysis From Community College World Religions Teacher On CNN” added some humorous perspective to the frustration Catholics face when unqualified individuals speak on behalf of the church in media. After Pope Francis’ vehicle made a wrong turn at World Youth Day, this headline told the real story: “I Told Him Left…Make A Freaking Left,’ Pope Vents To Youth.” At the end of the day, G.K. Chesterton’s maxim “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it,” has a lot to offer. Our faith is a joy, and when we take ourselves too seriously, we risk the pride and close-mindedness that humor can restore to humility.

These examples point to the larger message; using a sense of humor is “Catholic” in a number of ways. It promotes a sense of humility, and thereby an openness and readiness to embrace those we encounter as Christ. Pope Francis has proven this point time and time again, as his sense of humor plays a large part in presenting a more “relatable” papacy. He jokes often about himself, dispelling any sense of pretension and self-importance even as pontiff of the church. When addressing an audience of Jesuit-school children in Italy, Pope Francis quipped: “Someone who wants to be pope does not really like themselves.” Cardinal Ratzinger, before being elected as Pope Benedict XVI, noted God’s “sense of humor” calls us not to “take ourselves so seriously.” He beautifully explained how, “Humor is in fact an essential element in the mirth of creation. We can see how, in many matters in our lives, God wants to prod us into taking things a bit more lightly; to see the funny side of it; to get down off our pedestal and not to forget our sense of fun.”

“Lightening up a bit” does not mean taking our faith – which should stand at the center of our life – any less seriously. It simply means recognizing that no person escapes from mistakes and embarrassments, they are part of human nature. Jokes are not meant to teach like parables are, but humor is a way to both humble ourselves and to break through the pallor of anxiety and insecurity that hangs over much of Western society and especially oppresses the young. More importantly, humor is a way to grab attention for the questions of faith and religious contemplation that are drowned out amidst the noise of our busy lives.

Kevin D. Sullivan is a member of Georgetown University’s class of ‘14.

Kevin D. Sullivan
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  • nkri401

    I guess all the AID victimes of no condom policy of RCC are LOL at Heaven.

  • di89

    Tom Lehrer’s “Vatican Rag” is still the best.

  • Jade2016

    I really like this article. Thank you, Washington Post.

  • beekeeper6

    just don’t ever make fun of Islam, you might lose your head…

  • CCNL

    “Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God’s hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus’ failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing.”

    p.168. by Ted Peters:

    Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. ”

    So where are the bones”? As per Professor Crossan’s analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

  • Anneinnj

    Sorry, this is like: “Know what’s funny? Rampant AIDS in Africa because of Catholic lies. Kids being raped by the thousands all over the world and this organization using their influence to protect the guilty and perpetuate the crimes. Money laundering. Abusing the political systems of your host countries to prevent civil rights being given to gay people. Telling women they are not worthy to fully participate in your organization. Letting women die from dangerous pregnancies because you have sexual hang-ups and control too many hospitals around the world. Excommunicating the mother of a child rape victim while welcoming the rapist into the fold. Taking advantage of the naivete and desperation of people in the third world.”

    Sure, Washington Post, it’s just hysterical.

  • nkri401

    Yea, I hear Tomás de Torquemada was a real cut up of a frier…

  • Rongoklunk

    The new pope is trying to distract people from the reality that folks are not attending church in big numbers anymore. The Pew Research Poll noted a decline in religiosity especially among the younger people. In earlier times selling the supernatural was a piece of cake. We all fell for it in our ignorance. But these days we look to science for the truth about things, not to ancient myths and superstition. Religion is losing its credibility because we have better explanations for everything. The church got everything wrong.

  • pjs-1965

    Being able to laugh at ones self is a mark of genuine humility. Life is too important to take seriously.

  • leibowde84

    well-put

  • leibowde84

    I am religious, but I never go to mass. I pray on a daily basis, but I find my time is better spent volunteering on Sundays. And, with work, I really don’t have any other time to do it. Mass is not necessary and, in my humble opinion, is a waste when that time could be spent making an actual difference in the world.

  • J. Davis

    This comment is a good example of what happens when our education system does not exceed the boundaries of a tv, a banana, and an inner-tube.

  • J. Davis

    Nrk: Did you know that the single most prosecuted crime of heresy in the Spanish Inquisition was the sodomy of young children (a practice introduced into Spain among non-Catholics by the Moors when they invaded Spain)?

    Did you know that the Church did not conduct the inquisition – that it was conducted by the Spanish Government?

    Did you know that when the Pope heard of the abuses of the inquisition by the Spanish government, he recalled any Papal authority from the inquisition, and, as a result, Spain decided to invade Italy and Rome to punish the Pope?

  • xexon

    Catho-holics

    That’s what I call real devout Catholics. Drunk on the spirit.

    I find all religions funny. Especially when it comes to the way you dress. Why do you feel a need to show off who you are by what you wear? What’s “Godly” about that?

    As a yogi in the modern world, I’ve spent as much time blending into the mainstream as you have distancing yourselves from it. Because that mainstream is where the need is.

    So that’s where I am.

    x

  • J. Davis

    So, do you like, walk barefoot across red hot coals and stuff?

    Why do you feel the need to criticize the choices of other religions and the way people dress? What’s godly about that?

  • Truth & Justice

    I’ll bet the AIDS victims are right up there laughing with the 55 million victims of abortion since Roe v. Wade in the U.S.

    Then, there must be howls of laughter from the 400 million chinese victims of state compelled abortions in Red China . . . .

    The list goes on, and on . . . .

    Your comment is in really bad taste.

  • Andy Sullivan

    Great article. Whenever I put on the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM radio they will more likely than not, be laughing withing a few seconds. Humor is very attractive.

  • xexon

    Nothing godly. Just funny what people will do because they think it makes some deity happy.

    God is you. Until you realize that, you’re going to continue to embarrass yourselves. Funny. But you can only stand to watch a child fall so many times before the humor leaves you. At that point, you need to assist.

    I call you out. But only because I care enough to see you down a proper path that will bring you closer to what you desire.

    And yes. I’d walk hot coals if would help you to understand. But it wouldn’t. So I won’t.

    x

  • davidslaura

    That’s unfortunate. But, as the great Catholic author Flannery O’Connor quipped, “If the Eucharist is a symbol, then to hell with it.”

  • Frank Regan

    Joy is sthe first sign of the presence of God, wrote a French
    author many years ago. I liked the photo (has anyone seen it?)
    of Pope Francis showing up at a matrimony Mass wearing a
    red nose. The couple were involved in an Italian ngo which
    uses humour in its work.

  • mreirden

    Why is it when someone tries to disparage a comment with a crack at the education system, they invariably reveal their own educational deficiencies? A tv, a banana, and an inner-tube? Keep your fantasies and your hobbies off the internet; they add nothing to the discussion.

    As it happens, the Church is responsible for horrific crimes, none of them particularly funny. This is an inconvenient fact that apparently aroused your anger, and caused you to dip into fantasy mode.

  • Truth & Justice

    “This is an inconvenient fact that apparently aroused your anger, and caused you to dip into fantasy mode.”

    As it happens, the Church has saved more lives than any other organization in the history of man. Your fantasies about horrific crimes that are fantasies of those who have an axe to grind against the Church only betray YOUR poor education skills, narcissism and stupidity.

  • Epigone

    If you understood how Catholics define God, you’d know how ridiculous that claim is. Just as a simple example, I cannot be God because I am a contingent being. I do not contain in myself the cause of my own existence. God, by definition, is non-contingent.

    Throwing an offhand statement like “God is you” against the bulwark of Catholic theology is like trying to cut down a tree with a herring. It can’t be done. (Ni!)

    Also, you may need to get over yourself. Do you really think that you’re an adult in a world of children? You’re no less of a child than we. But we, at least, have the sense to acknowledge our father and learn from him.

  • Epigone

    If you understood how Catholics define God, you’d know how silly that statement is. I’m God? Am I non-contingent? Ipsum esse subsistens? Am I being itself? Obviously not.

    Throwing an offhand statement like “God is you” against the bulwark of Catholic theology is like trying to cut down a tree with a herring. It can’t be done (even if you do say Ni).

    Also, you may need to get over yourself a bit. You really think you’re an adult in a world of children? You’re no less of a child than we. Have the sense to listen to your father as a child should.

  • Epigone

    That’s all a crock. People weren’t stupid in previous generations. Science doesn’t make the choice for you between hedonistic relativism and a more sensible philosophy.

    The first-world move away from faith is more a matter of culture than science. The culture embraces immorality, and therefore it makes excuses against truth. Nothing scientific enters into it.

  • Epigone

    Thank you, Jack Chick.

  • Epigone

    Yeah our apologies for trying to solve problems with education and medicine, rather than modernist sexual ethics.

    Catholics have done and continue to do more good for Africa and the poor everywhere than an infinite supply of condoms ever could.

  • Anneinnj

    Sure, these Catholics are a laugh-riot. Point out why people might not be too thrilled with their global cabal and you get all kinds of strange daggers thrown at you — tv’s, bananas, inner tubes, pointy white hoods. Bizarro world. No wonder the pews are empty and they are on here screaming.

  • Erin2014

    Ease up your crack pipe Annie. Time to take your meds and get back to the group.

  • Anneinnj

    Fairly typical. There are the kind and soft-spoken Catholics, now accusing someone of being an unstable drug abuser, based on nothing, simply because you do not like what is being said. All full of goodness and kindness, aren’t you?

  • Jade2016

    I am full of kindness and goodness . . . . there is nothing in our religion, nor in any religion, however, that compels anyone to tolerate your bigotry and ignorance.

  • Anneinnj

    Is there something in your religion that causes you to call someone you don’t know a drug-addict? An unstable person off of meds for the moment? A pointy white hood wearer? (I suppose that’s an accusation of KKK membership.)

    And, actually, there is something in your religion that calls for tolerance. “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Matthew 5:39.

    It also seems to be common for Catholics to say things like, “I am full of kindness and goodness,” while actively engaging in the opposite. “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.” Also, the Gospel of St. Matthew.

    It’s this kind of hypocrisy that turns people’s stomachs. As for being ignorant of religion, I’m quite well informed. And people like you (I assume you are both Jade2016 and Erin2014, the same person) continue to educate me on just what kind of an organization this is — desperate, defensive, deceitful, and hypocritical.

  • Erin2014

    I just looked up that picture. I hadn’t seen it. It is really cute. He was showing his support for a charity that uses clowns to cheer up children.

  • Erin2014

    Pot calling the kettle black.

  • xexon

    My statements should give you some indication of what I think of theology.

    Your only “authority” is what gullible people are willing to give you. That, I find funny. Organized religion in general, and Catholicism specifically, is rotten to the core spiritually.

    As is your fruit. Your tree is dying because of it.

    x

  • Erin2014

    Your statements give a good indication of your credibility. You remind me of the character “Otto” in the film “A Fish Called Wanda. . . . ”

    What kind of yoga do you perform to help focus your aggression?

  • Anneinnj

    Hmm. Showing support for a charity that uses clowns to cheer up children. Reminds me of John Wayne Gacy. Deceit is never cute.

    The Jesuit priest who said that “joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God” was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Vatican disagreed strongly with some of his ideas, particularly those about original sin, and so refused to publish his works. The Church forced him to sign a statement withdrawing his ideas (or be thrown out of his order) and the poor man was forced out of France.

  • CCNL

    Jack Chick? You might want to reread my comments.

  • Anneinnj

    Again, Erin2014/Jaden2016, your nastiness is showing but, no worries, it only proves the point. Sad though.

    And, yes, they changed their collective mind on Teilhard, after his death, as they often do.

  • Truth & Justice

    big·ot noun ˈbi-gət
    : a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)

  • Anneinnj

    I don’t hate Catholics. I feel deeply sorry for them. The brainwashing, and the years of lies and abuse, causes them to lash out in anger, often taking the form of unwarranted personal attacks (such as Erin/Jaden suggesting that anyone who says anything against the organization must be on crack or you suggesting that anyone who criticizes the group is a bigot) whenever their organization is criticized, even for well-documented abuses.

    Here you are hurling personal insults simply because I pointed out that the Catholic Church disagreed with Teilhard’s views on original sin and forced him to sign a repudiation. It’s an odd phenomena really, but shows how so many Catholics must truly live on the edge — just one criticism away from a breakdown and a epiphany. No wonder you react so strongly.

    But I suppose the good news is that you (and Jaden/Erin) are on the edge — imagine how strange it must be for those who are so deeply embedded that criticism doesn’t even bother them. I’m sorry you feel under attack, but it’s coming from an internal struggle — a positive one that you would do well to examine more closely.