So many of us know what it’s like to be inside of an imperfect, too-human institution that we believe in so deeply, even when our friends and loved ones can’t understand it. We know what it means to imagine our only possible futures within a body that other people can’t even fathom has survived into the 21st century. We know what it means to say that, however wrong things have gone before this, we will hold faith — but hey, enough about my time with the CBC; let’s talk about church!
I don’t really think of myself as a “Christian comedian” — that label, the compound of the two terms, seems to me to fit better to someone like my very funny friend Leland Klassen. It describes not only an incidental combination of faith and profession, but a certain style of comedy and a tour circuit, a world that I’m not, and likely won’t ever be, plugged into. I am, instead, a big city left-wing comedian, reliant occasionally on profanity, who has at mid-life and mid-career found himself very seriously, and very unexpectedly, engaged with the Anglican faith of his upbringing.
My very first time onstage was aged six months, as Jesus Christ, in the Christmas pageant at All Saints Church in Burnaby, BC. I performed in one of 1980’s finest removable forward-facing front-passenger baby seats, so though this wasn’t an Easter show it did nevertheless mark a victory of sorts by life over death. But by my teenage years, I began a drift from the church. In my second-ever appearance on CBC radio’s The Debaters, in my mid-twenties, I argued for the existence of God — but from the perspective of an atheist who wished he could believe. One of the clichés about comedy is that there is some truth to every joke; I don’t know if that’s always the case, but it was that time.
Supplementing my stand-up comedian’s income in those days with some freelance book review work (the combination rocketed me into the ninth decile of Canadian income taxation, much to my accountant’s chagrin), I wrote a positive notice for Richard Dawkins’s polemic The God Delusion. In my review, I expressed my bewilderment about a very critical essay on the book written by a Marxist writer whom I greatly admired, Terry Eagleton. But as the years wore on, the superficiality and categorical confusion of Dawkins’s arguments became clearer as Eagleton’s ideas, now expanded to book-length in his Reason, Faith, & Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, found their way under my skin.
Today, I’m in discernment for the diaconate — an unpaid ministry that will therefore save my accountant another shock. I’m honoured to be among the first handful of students enrolled in VST’s Diploma in Anglican Diaconal Studies (whose acronym, DADS, is a lovely tribute to the Church fathers). Though 2020 has been a year of banned crowds and consequently idle comedians, my time at VST has felt like anything but a project to stay busy or pass the time, or an indulgence while ‘real life’ is on pause. The teachers and students at VST have been welcoming, challenging, and gracious. That, and there are almost no hecklers. A comic could get used to this.
Charles Demers is a Vancouver-based comedian, author, and voice actor who has been nominated for the BC Bookprize for Non-Fiction & the Juno Award for Best Comedy Album. He worships at Christ Church Cathedral in Downtown Vancouver.
Photo: Joshua Berson