The following is an excerpt from an address by Pope Benedict XVI to Catholic…
Catholic personality Jennifer Fulwiler begins new venture as a stand-up comedian
Catholic audiences may know Jennifer Fulwiler as an author, radio host and public speaker who often shares how she entered the Catholic Church after a lifetime of atheism.
Now Fulwiler, 42, is taking her talents to the world of stand-up comedy.
“Oh, I’m completely terrified,” Fulwiler told Our Sunday Visitor in an interview a few days before the first stop of her Naughty Corner Stand-up Comedy Tour, which begins Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The show is sold out.
Fulwiler, who lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and six children, ages 6 to 14, will be doing six more comedy shows this fall: in Chicago; Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; New York; Rockville, Maryland; and Plano, Texas. The Plano and New York shows are already sold out, and her Chicago appearance will be filmed for a comedy special.
In her interview with Our Sunday Visitor, Fulwiler, the author of “Something Other than God” and “One Beautiful Dream,” discussed her new venture as a stand-up comedian. While hoping to make audiences laugh, she mentioned that she wants to continue hosting the Jennifer Fulwiler Show, which airs daily on the The Catholic Channel on SiriusXM radio.
Our Sunday Visitor: Why are you branching out into stand-up comedy?
Fulwiler: I noticed in the public presence that I had over the years, what seemed to resonate with people the most was when I used humor. It just seemed like there was some energy there. I also began to notice that I personally enjoy watching stand-up comedy. I like watching comedy specials. I then began to notice that I didn’t see my life perspective represented in stand-up comedy. I couldn’t find any stand-up comedy that was about a woman living in the suburbs, having a higher number than average of kids. I felt like there was something missing there in the stand-up comedy world.
So I started doing it. I tried it out and started getting a lot of traction. People started coming up to me and saying, “Yeah, we need this. We need someone out there speaking to this perspective.”
OSV: So you’ve already done some stand-up?
Fulwiler: Yeah, I’ve been doing stand-up in the Austin clubs for about a year and a half at this point.
OSV: What do you joke about in your sets?
Fulwiler: I talk a lot about the absurdities of suburban life, that juxtaposition about the life you might fantasize about living, and the reality of being stuck in traffic in the suburbs and parenting. That sort of thing. It’s a lot of looking at the life of the typical modern parent and everything that can kind of be ridiculous about it.
OSV: Did you find stand-up comedy to be difficult?
Fulwiler: The first few months when I was doing it, when I was in regular stand-up comedy clubs, I bombed all the time. It was really hard for me to get laughs, but it sharpened my skills. If I’m asking my fans to buy tickets to see me do stand-up comedy, I want to make sure I’m bringing them top-quality comedy. And the way to know you have top-quality comedy is if you can make people laugh who don’t know you. That’s why I always said I would not go out on tour until I could start getting laughs from audiences who didn’t know me, because that’s the only way I would know that my material is actually really good. It took a year of constantly bombing at clubs before I could start making audiences who didn’t know me really laugh.
OSV: How did you go from bombing in clubs to going on tour and selling out theaters?
Fulwiler: In order to get good quickly, it’s a very humbling process. You video each set and then get a group of people together to watch the video and talk about what went wrong. Sometimes as Catholics, we’ll pray the Litany of Humility; well, I lived the Litany of Humility. It’s just the most ego-demolishing thing you can possibly do. But it was that Catholic sense of humility that helped me to just keep getting beat up and beat up psychologically. After months of doing that, we finally started to see improvement. We’d say, ”Okay, I got a little laugh here, now why did the audience laugh? Let’s build on that.” It was that very painful process of just reviewing the tape and seeing what went wrong that taught me what I needed to know.
OSV: Can a practicing Catholic be a good stand-up comic?
Fulwiler: I’m just trying to do good comedy, not necessarily Catholic comedy. You can tell I’m Catholic from the jokes that I make, but I don’t think of it as Catholic comedy. But I would say that Catholics are set up to be the best comedians because in order to do comedy, you have to be connected to the truth, and if you don’t understand what is objectively true about humanity and about the world, then you won’t be able to be funny.
OSV: What are some other ingredients of good comedy?
Fulwiler: You have to understand human nature, and being Catholic really helps me with that. Another thing is the buildup and release of tension. One big element is being comfortable with who you really are as a person. You can’t fake it on the stand-up comedy stage. You cannot pretend to be someone you are not. A process I had to go through was accepting who I really am and how to bring that to the stand-up comedy stage in an authentic way.
OSV: Do you “stand out” from other comics?
Fulwiler: Typically, I’m one of very few women going up on stage. In this scene, maybe 10% of comics are women. I’m also always the only clean comic at these shows. It’s very hard to get laughs from those crowds as a woman and as a clean comic. I have really had to fight for those laughs.
OSV: As a Catholic, do you see stand-up comedy as another venue for evangelization?
Fulwiler: I think anytime that we can have Catholics have any sort of voice in the public square, it’s always a good witness, and I think it piques people’s curiosity. Especially with some of my humor, I make jokes about the fact that I have an atheist background and I became Catholic. I expect that will pique some people’s curiosity, and they will want to hear more about that. I always want to emphasize that my stand-up comedy is not for the specific purpose of evangelization but I do hope that it will familiarize people with Catholicism and hopefully be a good witness there.
OSV: Could comedy be a full-time career change?
Fulwiler: I really believe in letting God lead me one step at a time, and I felt moved to do this. I don’t know where God is going with this. We’ll see what happens next. So far, I’m enjoying it. I hope it continues in the future. I do plan to do more cities and more tour stops in the future. I certainly hope this is just the beginning, but I’m also open to whatever God is doing here.
OSV: Are you going to keep doing your radio show?
Fulwiler: I hope so. I love my radio show, and I find that it’s very complementary to what I’m doing in stand-up comedy. I use a lot of humor on the show, which is a natural fit with what I’m doing with comedy.
OSV: What have you learned about your own faith as you begin this endeavor?
Fulwiler: It’s been interesting. I work out my material at regular comedy clubs, so obviously I’m surrounded by people who are living lives that could not possibly be more different in every way from my life. But it’s been a really cool thing to see how much we have in common with one another and to get to know a lot of these people. It’s really been a beautiful experience to get out of the Catholic bubble that I’ve been in for so long, and encounter all sorts of different people. You never know what God might do there.
OSV: What did you do before becoming a Catholic speaker and writer?
Fulwiler: I was a computer programmer. I started with a blog, and people started reading it. That led me to write a book, and that led me to the radio, which led me to stand-up comedy. I see everything that’s happened in my career, from the blog to the stand-up comedy tour, as all the same thing. It’s essentially communicating. Whether you’re communicating through a blog post about your conversion or a stand-up comedy bit about something crazy that happened at a parent-teacher meeting, it’s all still communication. I see all of that as the same ball of wax.
OSV: What else would you like people to know about your comedy tour?
Fulwiler: Another reason I’m doing this is because I see a tremendous need to get more people in my world, the type of people who listen to my radio shows, Catholics and other people of faith, to have opportunities to get together and socialize in a fun, informal way. I think it is so important in building up our parish and Catholic communities, that we have an opportunity to just get together, have a glass of wine and just hang out. And my hope is that when I bring my tour to each city, people will use it to get together with other like-minded friends, go out to dinner, have a good time and just relax together.
Brian Fraga is contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.