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Comedy Was My Religion

In an issue of CT magazine, comedian Michael Kingsbury writes:

For the longest time, comedy was my religion. If you asked about my theological perspective, I would have replied that I was a comedian first and an atheist second. I was only interested in getting to the next show and making people laugh.

I grew up in a Methodist church. Nothing specific happened to scar my view of religion. I simply drifted away. In my eyes, I was a good person, and that was all that mattered. I would try attending church or reading the Bible, but the commitment was always short-lived. Whenever I got to Matthew 10:37 (“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me”), I would close the book and walk away. The truth is, I was uneasy with the concept of making God the most important thing in my life.

Around each other, comedians will share intimate secrets they might not share with anyone else, even a spouse. It forms a tight bond. Craig was one of my “brothers” in the stand-up fraternity. Normally, I would see him once a week, but when he got sick (and didn’t tell anyone), several months passed without a word. Then he just vanished without a goodbye. I organized a memorial show to honor his life. But when I went on stage and tried to say something meaningful, I kept drawing a blank. Even though I had known Craig for years, I had nothing to say.

That night, I realized that it’s possible to “know” someone without knowing anything significant. I had no idea whether he believed in God or had ever wondered what happens after we die. It bothered me that it never would have crossed my mind to ask those questions.

So I started reading the Bible and attending church again, still clinging to the notion that I was an atheist. Slowly, I started noticing subtle changes in my behavior and outlook. Around the same time, my iPhone playlist underwent an inexplicable shift. I am a huge fan of heavy metal, so it surprised me to find songs by DC Talk and Hillsong Worship butting in amid the likes of Metallica and Megadeth. At this point I thought, “What is happening to me?”

One Sunday after church, I was talking with my pastor about our mutual love of the band The Smiths, which was surreal. As he got into his car, I yelled, “Hey, at some time I’d like to talk to you about how to read the Bible without going stark raving mad.” Instantly, I regretted it.

We set a time to meet, but I didn’t go. I was scared he would try to convert me over a plate of eggs Benedict. He was understanding, and we set another time to meet. Although he prayed before we ate, mostly we just talked—about family, college, hobbies—like regular people.

A few days later, I decided to try looking at things from a Christian perspective: “If there is a God, and he is all-knowing and all-loving, then he would know everything about me, and I would find ultimate satisfaction in him. And that relationship would affect all the relationships in my life in a positive way.”

Comedy had been the focus of my life. I thought back to Matthew 10:37, the verse I once found so abhorrent, and suddenly it became a thing of beauty. In a moment of clarity, I saw how my own pursuits had pushed me away from what is most important. I finally understood what it felt like to put God first.

Two days later, I set an appointment to meet with my pastor. But I didn’t feel a trace of anxiety, because I knew I was already a Christian. I had been terrified that putting God first was going to paralyze my sense of humor. Now I delight in bringing to him all of who I am, comedy included.

Editor’s Note: Michael Ray Kingsbury is a stand-up comedian and comedic storyteller living in Vermont. He performs throughout New England and upstate New York.

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