February 14, 2013
By Br. Erik Lenhart
People are usually surprised to learn that I am both a Capuchin Friar and a stand-up comedian. For me, it’s not too complicated. I like being a Capuchin friar because I like Franciscan Spirituality and the Gospels. I like stand-up comedy because I like jokes. I also think that God likes jokes. In the Bible, there are many examples to prove this. Jesus was very funny, but often times when we read a joke out of the Gospel, we may miss it (as many of the disciples did). If a joke is hundreds of years old and in a different language, it is especially easy to miss. I know the language part is true because last summer when I was in Bolivia, I performed in Spanish. The audience there laughed during my performance, but I’m not sure they were laughing because they got my jokes.One of my favorite things about stand-up comedy is that it’s fun. It’s a tremendous thrill to engage a crowd and communicate part of your world view. This does not always happen, of course. There are times when people in the audience don’t share my world view and won’t laugh. In the Gospels, there were times when Jesus’ audience didn’t get his message either. Jesus had a tough time trying to communicate his vision of the Kingdom of God. Rejection is the risk you take when you attempt to share your world view.
Click to watch Br. Erik Lenhart's stand-up comedy routine on Catholic TV.
One joke I tell is about the study of theology: I study theology. People often ask what that means. I tell them that "theos" means "God" and "ology" means "the study of," so when you put them together, theology means, I’m not going to make very much money.
This is a simple type of joke, which I call a "left turn." The premise sets up the pattern, and then makes a sudden "left turn" at the end. There are many examples of "left turns" in the New Testament. Ideas like "you must be holier than the Pharisees," "turn the other cheek, or "love your enemies" are all unexpected pattern-breaking ideas. I think of Christianity as a "Left Turn" theology, which attempts to break the typical patterns of society. Comedy and the Gospels have a great deal in common. Both are often subversive to authority and social norms. Stand-up, like the Gospel, can expose the parts of our world that are unjust or absurd.
My aim is to try to imitate the humor of Jesus. Jesus’ humor proposes a truth in a memorable way that subverts typical thinking about God and the world. Jesus uses some of my favorite types of jokes: Left-turns (love your enemies), double meaning (you must be born again), and hyperbolic outcomes (If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off).
Stand-up comedy is an art form, and like all types of art, stand-up comedy is a just a vehicle to deliver material. The material is the ideas, and the art is the just the wrapping. Literature, paintings, and music are other art forms that have traditionally been used to transmit the Gospel. Comedy is like preaching. You use the tools you have to catch the audience attention and give them a glimpse of your world view.
Click to watch Br. Erik speak about humor in ministry on "This is the Day" on Catholic TV. His interview starts at 17:00.