Usually, when I hear the word “Jesuit,” I think of scholars, missionaries, and leaders who organize social justice efforts across the globe. “Jesuit” usually does not make me think “stand-up comedian.” Yet, Jake Martin, author of What’s So Funny about Faith? is a stand-up comedian who is also a Jesuit-in-formation. As he goes through his years of education and training to become a priest in the Society of Jesus, he continues to perform comedy.
I have a soft spot in my heart for stand-up comedians. In many cases they have replaced preachers in the role of prophets for our time. A comedian can speak about serious issues in a way that makes it more likely that people will actually listen. A purveyor of comedy helps the rest of us see ourselves more honestly but also with grace. When a person laughs, her defenses go down, and she might just consider what’s really happening in the world, in her neighborhood, even in her own life.
I’ll let Jake speak for himself:
I’d come up in a tradition of comedy that believed in unflinching truth: I believed that humor did not have to be manufactured or invented but rather came from our honest appraisals of our own lives and the lives of those around us. Being a Jesuit was such a huge component of who I was that it seemed uncomfortable to talk around it. Still, my announcement that I was studying to be a priest had met with some pretty lukewarm responses from audiences in the past. Heading to New York that weekend, I was resolute that I would not mention it, that I was a comic like everyone else, and that, just as many of them never mentioned their day jobs in their acts, neither did I have to mention mine, however enormous and consuming that “day job” might be.
. . . As the emcee called my name, I still had very little idea of what exactly I’d do. But I did say a little prayer as I walked toward the stage, a very little prayer. “Help me,” said a very small voice deep from within. And as I began my set, it occurred to me that like everything else with comedy, it was not what you said but how you said it that made all the difference. It all depended on timing and delivery.
If I said my set was perfect, I’d be lying. It was too sloppy for me. I rushed through the last minute because I had such a good response to my talking about being a Jesuit—but comedy is not math and is not entirely reliant on precision. It is the most pragmatic of art forms, and at the end of the day the only thing that matters is if the audience laughed. I told the truth, the whole truth, and they laughed. They laughed!
- What role has humor had in your life?
- What helps you see the comedy in everyday events and situations?
- Why do you think humor/comedy is—or is not—important in the life of faith?