This exclusive with award-winning standup comedian, John Crist, explores the vulnerability and risk that comes with life as a Christian in the world of laughter and entertainment.
CRIST: WOW! You know it’s an honor for me to be in New York City. I grew up homeschooled everybody. I did. I grew up in church. I got a bunch of opportunities as a kid to go to third world countries to go on Mission Trips growing up. I’ve been to like Uganda, Guatemala, New Jersey. Haahaa. Yes sir. (laughter)
My dad named every kid in our family a Bible name. Every kid. I’m like parents just because you name your kid a Bible name doesn’t mean he’s going to be a good kid. I’m pretty sure in sixth grade a kid named Jesus (in Spanish) stole my bike.
This is Michael Easley inContext. For more information go to Michael inContext.com.Now your host: Dr.Michael Easley.
EASLEY: Today we’re talking to John Crist, who is from Lilburn, Georgia. Would anyone know anything about Lilburn, Ga?
C: Umm, No. Georgia would be the only thing. I travel all the time on the road and I have a joke that says, “When I’m out on the road all the time I’ve got to pray and read the Bible everyday if I want to overcome the devil. Growing up in Georgia was easier. All I had to do was beat them at a fiddle competition.”
E: That’s bad. That’s bad. (laughter) You can do better than that. Come on.
C: Good philosophy right up front.
E: Two hundred and seventy five shows in 2013 award winning Stand up Comedian John Crist alive with Gotham, March 2013?
C: Last year, yeah.
E: Seven thousand people at Colorado’s Legendary Concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater. Is that a cool venue?
C: It’s a great venue, yes. It’s outside so it’s different for comedy, but it’s still fun.
E: You’ve opened for Seth Meyers on late night with Seth Meyers, you’ve done the 2013 Comedy Central Up Next Generation Competition…on and on it goes. Were you funny as a kid?
C: I was one of eight kids and I was in the middle, so I always kind of had to do something to vie for attention. I was a little shy. I was funny, yeah.
E: Were you in troubled? Were you in trouble in school?
C: Were you troubled? Let me rephrase that.
E:That was actually for him to clean up my edit. But we’ll leave it alone. Were you in trouble as a child?
C: I was. Yeah. I was in trouble at school. You know the the thing about stand up comedy is all we’re doing is saying things that people were afraid to say. That’s the whole thing. The highest compliment a comedian could ever get was, “I’ve thought that.” or “That’s so true.”
C: You’re just constantly breaking rules as a comedian or as a status quo so you know the rules, the high schoolers, No chewing gum. I’m not following that. It wasn’t like I was a bad kid, you know sneaking out and doing drugs.
E: You weren’t the ADD defiant kid…
C: NO, no, no. I was just like, “You have to tuck your shirt in,” and I just couldn’t do that for some reason.
E: I grew up in a parochial schools and the nuns put the fear of God in us so we had to keep our hair the right length and our shirts tucked in.
C: I think it was more than probably just sending you to the corner. They would ….
E: Ohhh, we won’t go there. Now John if people know you they might know primarily the Christian Girl Instagram. Tell us about that.
C: Ok, Christian Girl Instagram is a video that I made. I’m pretty active online whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and you see the way people behave online and I would always see these photos and if you’re online and you’re a believer, you’ve probably seen them too. Somebody snaps a photo of their Bible, and a coffee cup and a journal and all these things and it just, as a comedian…
E: Low hanging fruit, huh?
C: It got to a point where I cannot see one more of these without doing something about it, so I read a quote from someone one time that says, “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you better make it funny, otherwise they’re going to kill you,” and it’s true.
C: Or like I, that’s a joke.
E: Have you thought about politics? I’m sorry.
C: (Laughter) That’s a joke, that video, but it’s dead serious.
C: And that’s the best kind of comedy where you’re like, “Oh, this is hilarious, but this is true.” It’s a hundred percent true and you can’t.. like if I have a joke about ummmm… I’m trying to think of a joke that has no meaning besides just the joke. Like one time in college, I got arrested by a cop on a horse. That ride back to the station was awkward. Like there’s no more meaning to that joke. It’s just stupid.
C: It’s like tada tada. Ok. There’s no meat under there. But that Christian Girl Instagram there’s funny jokes throughout it but underneath it, it’s true. That’s why it got so popular. Even the people that do it say, “Hey, I’m guilty of this, but this is hilarious.”
CHRISTIAN GIRL INSTAGRAM VIDEO
E: Did you have any idea it would go almost half a million now?
C: Not that big.
C: I knew that it was a hit when I posted it because it just took off right away. It’s something that’s easy to share and it’s a message. It’s funny because the actress that I got to do it, she’s from my acting agency she doesn’t get what it is. It was just hilarious. What is this? I don’t even get it. I was like, “Just say the lines.”
E: That’s funny. I thought she was totally into it.
C: Well I tried to hire some girls from my church, but it’s too close to home. You know what I’m saying?
E: Well I went on my Facebook account and deleted all the one’s I’d taken of my computer and my coffee cup and French Press.
C: (Laughter) The French Press.
E: I did. I have the French Press.
C: Listen. I’ve taken some heat for that video. I’m not….I do devotions too. I’m not making fun of people.
E: Well, that’s one of your bio pieces. You’re the edgy guy because sometimes you’re on the edge of allllmost insulting people. You kind of have that little chagrin, you bring it back around, you kind of have that little tittering. Am I supposed to laugh at this?
C: I have to as a mainstream comic, it’s not funny, unless it’s inappropriate so we have to cross this line of common sense, but as a believer I have another line out here that I don’t want to offend anybody. I do want to offend people. That’s not the right word.
E: Just a little.
C: I don’t want to have any joke at the expense of someone.
E: What’s inappropriate?
C: I would say that never make a joke about someone that if they were in that crowd that they would be offended by, like if it was easy to pick on let’s say, Kim Kardashian or Tiger Woods or maybe recently Bill Cosby, it’s easy. But if that guy was in the crowd would you do that joke? I have jokes about my dad, but my dad has been to shows and he loves the jokes. I have jokes about my roommate. I have jokes that are at the expense of people, but I have another comic I tour with and his name is Tim Hawkins and he’s one of the biggest guys that you would call “Christian Comedy” maybe. Our whole goal is if a mom is cooking and her kids are in the living room You-Tubing John Crist, that she should have no worries about what she’s going to fine. As a comedian that’s kind of a fine line and I have overstepped the boundaries a million times and I’ll be the first guy to admit that if something was to cross the line.
You want to hear the worst story that ever happen to me?
C: This is probably about a month ago. When you get real confident on stage you start to roast people a little bit. You just figure you’re feeling real good. I was making fun of this one guy, just light hearted making fun of his mustache, just joking around, “You look like you’re from the movie, Breaking Bad.” There was this table of three girls here right in the front, sold out, ok? There was five hundred people in there. The one girl, and there was three girls and they were both looking at me, and the one girl wasn’t looking at me. I was like, “Hey, If I’m going to talk to you, you better look me in the eye.” and her friend goes, “She’s blind.”
C: What do you do?
E: What do you do?
C: And it’s awkward now talking about it, can you imagine how hard it was with five hundred people in there? I froze.
C: I was like, “I’m so sorry” and I…because you’re there.
E: It’s live. You’re there.
C: But that’s the best thing about stand up comedy is that, yeah watch the stuff on Youtube, but go to see it live because you never know what’s going to happen.
E: Did you see the film, Punchline?
C: I did not. No.
E: Put it in your…
C: Watch it. Yeah.
E: It’s a tragic story. Sally Fields, Tom Hanks. I forget the third actor. And they live to do stand up. It’s dark. Dark story and they live for the laugh. You live for the laugh?
C: I do. I was just telling somebody I will be the first guy to admit, and not in a good way that I’m a little over leveraged in the stand up comedy where if something were to happen to my voice or my ability to travel, I worry about myself whether I’d be depressed. I don’t know. I wouldn’t’ say suicidal but I do…
E: What would I do next?
C: What would I do today, not what would I do next. I work every night, but I don’t have to, right? I make plenty of money. I don’t need to be on the road. I don’t need to be in six airports a week. It’s like a drug, maybe? I don’t know.
E: Well, there’s a…I teach Homiletics Preachers how to preach. There’s a line I use from Helmet, I think is his last name. He says, “To preach, to really preach, is the pulpit calls the preacher like the sea calls the sailor. He knows he must do it again. To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little bit at a time and to know that he must do it again.
C: He had no choice. one hundred percent.
E: So could you say that’s John Crist has to do stand up?
C: Yeah, I’m embarrassed to admit that, but yeah.
E: What is it? Unpack that a little bit. What is it about stand up that? Is it your identity?
C: Yeah, one hundred percent. I, like I said my dad’s a preacher. I grew up in church. I spent a good amount of time. I lived out in Denver. I spent a good amount of time with Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.
E: Homeschooled If I recall?
C: Homeschooled. Yeah. I don’t like to bring that up. Thanks for bringing that to the front. (Laughter)
E: You twitched a little bit when you said that.
C: I started doing stand up when I did it two or three times. It was back in 2009 and I was dating a girl real seriously that I thought I was going to marry. She broke up with me out of the blue.
E: That wasn’t funny?
C: No, there’s no punch line coming after that. I had two or three shows that next week. I was like, “How am I going to do these shows? I’m hurting bad.” Right? I did the shows and it felt really, really good. Then I was super involved in my church in Colorado Springs and it was during worship at church, and it was on stage as a comic that I was free from that pain, maybe?
C: Everybody was like, “Oh, you’re such a hard working guy. You’re such a hard working comic.” Before comedy, I wasn’t a hard working industrious guy. I was a slob. You know what I’m saying? I don’t know what to really make of that. I work hard maybe because I’m trying to escape something. I don’t know.
E: Do you write?
C: I do. All day.
E: So you write your jokes? You don’t just sit there and kind of free will?
C: It’s a combination of both. I mean I have a plan like I’ve told you a few stories it kind of goes off track sometimes.
E: That’s where the gold probably is.
C: That’s where the gold is and I record every show on my phone in my pocket so then I put those jokes into the show for next time.
E: Who are some comics you like?
C: If you ask me who my favorite comic is, I’m going to tell you it’s Tim Hawkins. He’s my favorite comic. If I have a night off, and I could go see anybody, I’d see him. Adam Carolla is one of my favorite comics.
E: Which you’re doing the film with him it says here.
C: Yeah, we already filmed it and it’s coming this summer.
E: He’s got quite a story.
C: He’s got an interesting story. Ok, he’s a guy that’s super…I don’t know if he’d call himself conservative,
E: I’d call him conservative.
C: Yeah, I mean a lot of the stuff that he talks about whether it’s sexual in nature or racist, I can’t get on board with but I’d be the first to say this guy should preach. It’s just so true. You know the government’s not here to bail you out. You need to be responsible for your own life, make your own choices, and own your own choices.
E: Yeah. And I’m sorry to interrupt you but we so often hear Hollywood being anti anything conservative in nature and he seems to have navigated that.
C: I like his stand up because it’s the same way, because underneath it, it’s a joke, but underneath it, it’s true. He’s not up there…yeah, he’s joking but he would defend those premises and those points of view to death and like this thing about Christian Girl Instagram, it’s a joke but I would, not to death, but I would go anywhere to defend that.
C: I just don’t agree with the way people present themselves. So it’s funny on the surface, but then if it has a message below it, I think is the best kind of comedy.
C: Katt Williams is a favorite of mine and I wouldn’t recommend any of these people go Youtube. Very crude.
E: Let’s talk about that and again this may predate your interest in comedy. Chris Rock had done very well and then he went really raw. You mentioned Bill Cosby. Bill Cosby had seen him and I forget precisely the story.
C: Bill Cosby helped him come up, yeah.
E: He was so off put by the language, he actually wrote the Cosby Show as sort of “let’s show a family that’s having fun and not at peoples’ expense.” Unfortunately, the current trend with Mr. Cosby is sad. That’s said, there was trying to be a compensation where humor has gone too far. Some of these guys were remarkable, but live or film, F Bomb, you know salacious.
C: That’s where I think, let’s say in the 90’s, the early 2000’s, shock value was a thing in comedy. Like, “Oh my gosh, he talked about whatever that taboo topic was,” but it’s 2015 now. The internet exists. There’s nothing shocking anymore. Right? If you go to a comedy club, about every topic has been uncovered, and mined for humor and now people I think, there’s a renaissance back to people like Jimmy Fallon, who are like, it’s all clean. Right? If you notice the difference between Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno, Jay Leno is full of innuendo. Full of it and Letterman is the same.
E: Early on he wasn’t.
C: Yeah, right.
E: Early on he was like Fallon. It was not at people’s expense. Later it got innuendo laden.
E: Fallon’s interesting though. Once in a while he’ll get there, but he wields back pretty quickly.
C: I don’t know what that likeability is that if he does cross the line, we’re like “Aww, it’s Jimmy.” You know what I’m saying. We want to forgive him which is I think I have a little bit of that myself, “Where he didn’t know.” You could watch that with your kids. That’s the highest compliment me or where people say, when you got a mom and a dad who bring a grandparent and then kids, how are you going to make all three of them laugh for an hour? You’ve got kids and grandparents.
E: As a preacher, I know how to make them sleep. I don’t know how to make them laugh. So go back to your, you mentioned the one situation that was uncomfortable. What was the worst stand up experience?
C: Ooph. You know what stand up, I often say the difference between, let’s say music. There’s no way to practice stand up. I can’t run a joke by you because you might think it’s hilarious and then I do it and it bombs, or you might think it’s a terrible joke and it’s actually a good joke. There’s no way to do it instead of in front of a group of people which boggles my mind. It’s the worst and the best because that adrenaline is what we…
E: It’s a little bit, you know too much information, but I”m going to Star Trek guy.
C: There you go.
E: I love the way they portray this Ai individual who had no humor.
E: You watch any of this…?
E: Next generation. So there’s this android, he’s brilliant, he’s a computer. He’s smarter than everybody combined, but he doesn’t get humor.
C: Oh it doesn’t compute to him, or something?
E: Can’t figure out humor and emotion no matter how hard he works at it.
C: It’s brilliant. Yeah
E: The creator, the character had in mind, how do you illustration to your point. How do you define humor?
C: How do you do it?
E: Why does it work?
C: Sometimes you have a joke. I have a joke that I wrote early on. I don’t have a church to go to, so I’ve been giving my tithe money to this Christian organization that feeds the hungry: Chick-fil-A. That joke in the south…
E: It works.
C: ..because we grew up with Chick-fil-A. It crushes because I did that joke in California and I got booed. Not only did it not work, I got booed. So jokes often times, aren’t not that they’re not good, it’s just that it’s a poor choice for that venue. I mean if you do a casino, that’s generally an older crowd vs. if you do a youth group, it’s younger. So if you have a joke about, you know this girl favorited one of my tweets or something in a casino, they would have no idea what you’re talking about but the kids. I have jokes bomb every night, but you keep going. Well now if you’re going to do a new bit, you would sandwich it in between your best two good ones, so if you get a big laugh, you do it and then you can bail out at any time and have a line that could rescue you in essence. The crowds-their memories real short, so if you have a great joke they forget, and then you close on something big every night and it’s the best night of their lives. That’s kind of a cocky statement. I shouldn’t have said that, but you know what I’m saying, “Oh, it’s a great show.”
E: Last question: Do you see any humor in the Bible?
E: For example.
C: If you could imagine we read a lot of these stories and we’re like, “Hold on. Hold on. What?” Jonah, imagine that. I think it’s funny; it’s not funny, but like imagine watching that. I’m trying to think if there’s any direct, like people saying things that are, maybe humor is different back then.
C: My pastor says, “Try to read the stories like you’ve never heard it before.” and then new things come out. I think a lot of those stories, we have a joke about making fun of it. We’re not making fun of the Bible. We’re not being disrespectful. It’s a funny. Can you imagine being Michael Junior? Can you imagine being Jesus brother? Right?
C: Like saying, “What can you do?”
E: Walk beside Him.
C: He can’t do anything. I used to have a joke about it. When Jesus when He turned the water into wine which was His first miracle when He was thirty, was He practicing over like when He was a kid? Did He get the water to grape juice? and then He got the water to…
E: Larson one framer where Moses is a child and he’s trying to parting the Red Sea.
C: It’s not wine, but keeping working on it. You’ll get there. I used to have a bit about how Jesus what if you sell the furniture? And what if the furniture was not good and He made a table and it didn’t balance or something like that. People come up and say, “Who made this?” You’re like uhhh…God. God made that. (laughter) That’s just stupid. But can you imagine? He was perfect but was all of His furniture perfect? I don’t know. I don’t know the answer.
E: John Crist. Thanks for being on.
C: I appreciate that.
E: Michael Easley inContext.
Christian Girl Instagram Video
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video by John that we talk about during the interview.