Religion in Comedy—Where Do We Draw the Line?

I had an interesting interaction recently with a fellow comedian on Twitter. He was promoting an upcoming show at an improv comedy club with his other comedians. In their promotion they were using a picture of a well-known Scientologist wearing a medal awarded to him by the Church for years of outstanding humanitarian work combatting illiteracy. The message of the promotion was something like: “come to our show and this celebrity will give you a medal.”

Best comedy shows of Orlando
A comedy show by the SAK Comedy Lab in Orlando, Florida. (Image from SAK Comedy Lab’s website)

One of the reasons I write blogs for STAND and do the STAND League podcast is to address these hints of religious slander, which is exactly how I took it. I wrote a fiery response, and admit I probably went a little too “Scarface” on this comedian, but I know one of the other comedians in the show he was promoting regularly makes anti-Scientology jokes. In an earlier post on STAND I talk about why these jokes don’t fly.

The comedian, who is a friend of mine, was not aware I was a Scientologist. He said: “whatever makes you happy.”

I explained the reason I responded so intensely was because when non-Scientologists bring up Scientology it is usually to regurgitate rumors. Case in point: the comedian thought he was very educated about Scientology, because he watched things like “that show” on “that network” by “her.”

Saying you get your information from “that” source is like saying you know all about Jews because you attended “that” Hitler rally. It’s like saying you know all about Islam because you watched Fox News after a terrorist attack.

When you want to bring up a faith that’s not your own, you better know what you’re talking about.

Couple that with my friend, in his response, telling me that religion is fair game in comedy and that, as a comedian, I should know that.

Is he right?

I believe, if it’s your faith, it’s solely up to you to decide what’s okay to bring to the stage. If you grew up Catholic and want to talk about that, that’s your prerogative. If I want to say: “I’m so hungry it’s like I’m getting a head start on Yom Kippur (the Jewish day of atonement which you fast for),” I’m okay with that because that’s my religion. Even if I weren’t Jewish, it’s a fairly benign reference.

But when you want to bring up a faith that’s not your own, you better know what you’re talking about. You better be accurate, and you better not side with a bigot. History tells us a lot of the biggest wars came from misunderstanding—or not tolerating—another’s faith. Don’t add to it.

So if you’re a comedian or a public figure, if your job is to make people laugh or gain attention by telling the truth, and if religion is on your set list, make sure what you say is accurate. I pray that you do.

Evan Wecksell
Evan Wecksell is a comedian who has performed in 46 states and has appeared on VH1, E!, Conan and The Goldbergs. He is also one of the best tutors in the world (says Evan).