Religion in Humor

I’m a comedian. (And an actor, and a writer, and an artist as well, but that’’s another story.) As a comedian I really feel that most things are fair game. I can have a joke that includes nearly any subject. HOWEVER there are a couple of rules. First you cannot make fun of the victim. Humour must attack power. To attack the weak, the victim, the downtrodden, is in bad taste and simply put not funny. Conversely, having religion in a joke is fine as long as you don’t MOCK the religion. For example:

A Muslim, a Mormon, and a Methodist walk into a bar.
And nobody knows why.

You see there’s an example where religion is the backdrop, but the target is the classic joke form. The other aspect of religious, or for that matter any humour is that the rules are more lax if you are a member of that group. Years ago I memorizes some great routines by Jackie Mason. But I cannot use most of that material because I am not Jewish. On the other hand:

Heaven hired an efficiency expert who told St. Peter that he could tell where someone should be by the first thing they said upon arrival. Doubtful, St. Peter decided to give it a try. The next person to arrive was an Evangelical Christian.

“Welcome to Heaven,” said St Peter.
“Heaven? Well, praise the Lord.”
“Okay,” said St. Peter, “But that was an easy one.
Just then an Atheist arrived.
“Welcome to Heaven,” said St. Peter.
The Atheist looked around “Heaven is REAL? Well I’ll be damned.”

Which is fine because I AM an Atheist, even though the target of the joke isn’t Atheists as much as common vernacular. Sometimes you need to make it fairly clear what the target of the joke is, to whit:

I have a number of Muslim friends and they’re really cool people. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I want to fly someplace with my friend Jihad. But that has more to do with the TSA.

In that case it’s not only not making fun of Islam and Muslims, it shines a light on some of the unfair treatment they have received. There is a difference between having religion as a part of, as the setting for, as a critical element of, a joke, and making FUN of a particular religion. In this day and age it’s just not gonna fly to make fun of particular religion, or ethnic or sexual group. Or for that matter handicapped people. Charlie Callas had a routine back in the ’60s about a person with spasticity and someone with a stutter going hunting together. Very funny, but you just can’t do that kind of material any more. Times, and what is considered acceptable, change.

I’m not Catholic but I was at a Catholic funeral a while back. At a point in the service everyone had to go up for Communion. The Priest said if you weren’t receiving just put your hand on your heart and he would know to just give a blessing, which was cool. However, being the kind of guy I am, when it was my turn I put my hand on my chest…and said “Qapla”. The best part was the Priest knew what I meant. 

What’s important is to be very aware of what the TARGET of the joke is. You can include religion, or other taboo subjects, as long as they aren’t the target of the joke. You can have fun WITH religion, just not make fun OF religion. Some of the funniest people I’ve ever known were ministers or priests.