Friday, February 29, 2008

Stop me if you've heard this one

Anita Renfroe didn't become a star overnight. It took a few months of her "Mom Song" video bumping around YouTube to go viral, and then, almost overnight, she became an unlikely and lovable entertainer.
Renfroe is a suburban mom from flyover country — specifically, Cobb County, Ga., home of Newt Gingrich. She is round and soft, loves butter, carbs and sugar and worries routinely about her weight. She is maternal to just about everyone, even people she doesn’t know very well. She pinches pennies and worries that her spotless house isn’t clean enough. Renfroe is a former stay-at-home mom who for some years home-schooled her kids. Now that those children are past the age of consent, she still cannot stop telling them what to do; she is always just a little bit anxious.

Renfroe is also a devout Christian and for about eight years has been slowly building a career as a comedian on the Christian women’s circuit. Like Mike Huckabee’s easy humor, Renfroe’s wit comes as a surprise to nonevangelicals. She performs what she calls “estrogen-flavored musical comedy” in large halls and arenas, often with an inspirational group called Women of Faith. At those performances she sells her DVDs and humorous books with religious undertones: “If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother,” “If You Can’t Lose It, Decorate It” and “Purse-onality.” “I love the way God lets you use everything in your life,” she says about her chosen career as a comic. “It’s cool how it all comes together.”
The headline for this article from the New York Times Magazine, "Did You Hear the One About the Christian Comedian?," reminded me of this sort of lame article I wrote a few years ago. (Coincidentally, the magazine's piece has bristled a lot of Christians because of the condescending tone, discussed here.)
Comedian Mark Fitter's greeting is also his opening joke.

"Hi, my name's Mark, and I am a pastor of a church."

Audience members and bar patrons laugh and clap. Someone shouts, "Amen!" Another, "Hallelujah!"

Performing on the same bill as comics whose repertoire revolves around lewd innuendos and blatant bawdiness, the Victorville resident cracks clean jokes.

"You know, the tough thing about being a pastor is most people only see you work on Sundays," Fitter said as he performed at Tuesday at Omaha Jack's Grillhouse and Brewery in Rancho Cucamonga.

"And most give you a hard time about it. 'Hey Mark, it must be great having a job where you only have to work one day a week.' That really ticks me off because I don't work one day a week I only work an hour per week."

Cheesy reporting aside, there is an industry of Christian comedians -- just like there are Christian karate instructors and Christian tattoo parlors. Between 2002 and 2005 alone, the Christian Comedy Association grew tenfold, from 35 to 350. Clean comedy is not always humorous (something I witnessed Sunday at a celebration of Biola's 100th birthday) but its wholesome, often encouraging and sometimes entertaining.

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