Listen: Comedian John Crist chats to Laura Bennett
Telling comedian John Crist not to bite the hand that feeds him, would be bad advice.
He’s built an entire career on satirising the lives of Christians – the very people who come to his shows – and pointing out embarrassing attitudes within the Christian faith.
To date, Crist’s videos have amassed over 1billion YouTube views, with a 1 million-strong Instagram following continually coming back for more.
One of his most successful videos, Church Hunters, follows a young couple as they look for a new church with free Wi-Fi and good parking, and a pastor with “the humour of Andy Stanley and the body of Steven Furtick.”
It’s a bitingly honest reflection on modern church culture—but the fans love it.
“They [email me],” said John, “and say, ‘we’re looking for a new church in a new city, and your video has honestly convicted us’.”
Raised by pastors in the southern American state of Georgia, venturing in to Christian-based comedy was a no-brainer for Crist.
“Any comedian would say that if you’re going to be a transformative comedian, we need you talking about what you know indepth and deeply,” said Crist. “I grew up in church, my Dad’s a pastor and I was home-schooled… this is what I know.”
The ability of his comedy to transform society is something Crist is keenly aware of. Even though a lot of his jokes are just for fun, like any comedian they have the power to change people’s attitudes and show them the hypocrisy of their behaviour.
When asked what the intention of his comedy was, Crist recalled a famous quote among comedians: “’If you’re going to tell someone the truth, make it funny or they’ll kill you’”.
“There’s a lot of truth in that,” said Crist.
“The Church That Makes Everyone Very Comfortable”
Speaking about Church Hunters, Crist said, “I was in South America on a missions trip, and we went to this church and were sitting on plastic chairs on concrete, and it was [50 degrees] outside.
“[The service] was in Spanish and we couldn’t understand a lot of it, but the Holy Spirit was alive in that place and people were so excited to be there. I got very angry at the American church that just makes everyone very comfortable… [But] if I just post a blog or a video, being angry at these seeker-sensitive churches, that message doesn’t really [make an impact].”
Crist’s shareable ‘roast approach’ to Christian culture is also indicative of the generation of Christians he’s speaking to. Unlike that of his parents, with its polished ideal of a faith with no imperfections, his is a more transparent generation.
“Our [generation’s] version of Christianity is, ‘let’s be honest about our flaws and be open about who we are’ – and if there’s ever going to be any improvement or healing that takes place it’s going to be because [that] darkness came into the light.”
For Crist, that also includes acknowledging that like many comedians, his jokes are a source of refuge in the harder seasons of life.
“No comedian would ever be like, ‘I’m the man’ because we’re so heavily reliant on the crowd.”
“If anyone’s [ever felt] some kind of escape or easing of pain [though my comedy],” said Crist, “whatever it does to you, it does 10 times more for me to make it. If I’m going though breakups or issues in my family that have been hard, [my work] makes it way easier, because the escape is so real when you’re up on that stage.”
Having performed to nearly 200,000 on his, ‘Human Being Tour’ the stage is a place Crist is very comfortable. He’s shared it with comics like Trevor Noah, Seth Myers, Larry the Cable Guy, and all-time great Louie Anderson. He’s been able to breach the church-mainstream divide, appearing on The Today Show, US Weekly, The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed among others.
Despite the success of his career so far though, Crist isn’t quite ready to say he’s ‘made it’.
“I’m the one that’s like, ‘I don’t even know if I showered today’”, laughs Crist. “…I need the audience so bad; no comedian would ever be like, ‘I’m the man’ because we’re so heavily reliant on the crowd – whether that’s digitally or in person.”
Will audiences get to see him in Australia? Watch this space.