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Jewish Journal

Humor from the pulpit

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 10, 2010 | 3:32 pm

Christian comedy is nothing new. I blogged a few years ago about the state of Christian stand-up, and my GetReligion colleague Bobby Ross wrote about it for the AP back in 2004. More recently, the Birmingham News had an article about Alabama’s secretary of state moonlighting as a Christian comedian.

But the workshop held Friday at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan was a bit unique. The “Humor in Ministry” workshop was led by the Rev. Susan Sparks, pastor of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church and Rabbi Bob A. Alper, self-styled as “the only practicing rabbi in the world doing stand-up comedy intentionally.”

Paul Vitello of The New York Times writes:

They discussed the often-overlooked humor in some passages of the Bible, including Jesus’ use of irony and exaggeration, and the ribaldry in the Book of Esther. They reviewed the basic etiquette of being funny at a funeral. (“It has to be very carefully done,” Rabbi Alper said.) They talked technique — how it helps to edit sermons, to stay topical and to use small words.

But both Ms. Sparks and Rabbi Alper took pains to assert — as almost all comedians who talk about comedy do — that being funny is a serious business.

“Being a comedian and being a minister are basically about the same thing, which is making people feel less alone,” Ms. Sparks said. “I think of it as a rhetorical tool that can reach people in a way that no other rhetorical tool can reach them.”

Ms. Sparks, 48, has made double careers a trademark of her life. Before entering divinity school in 1999, she worked for 15 years as a corporate lawyer while moonlighting as a country singer and comedian. (When she gave up her legal practice, she gave up country singing.)

Now that’s subtle irony.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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