Have You Heard the One About the Catholic Comic? Jennifer Fulwiler Talks Comedy
The blogger, author, talk-show host, wife and home-schooling mother of six takes on stand-up comedy.
In a suburb of Austin, Texas, a Catholic mom sits in a recording studio daily giving America what it needs: some light relief, sprinkled copiously with her Catholic faith.
The woman in question is Jennifer Fulwiler. Her Jennifer Fulwiler Show airs daily on SiriusXM’s The Catholic Channel. Each afternoon she takes a look at modern life through the lens of a woman of faith and mother of six who is, by her own admission, “barely keeping it all together.” It has been the unique (and often surprising) perspectives, as well as her sharp sense of humor, that have made her radio show a welcome addition to the afternoon world of talk radio. As well as broadcasting, Fulwiler has been busy writing. Her memoir Something Other Than God was a No. 1 best-seller. Her latest book, One Beautiful Dream, has just been published.
Living near Austin with her husband and six children, one would think that family life and her media career would be enough to keep anyone sufficiently busy, but not Fulwiler. She has now embarked upon another, albeit riskier, show business career: the high-wire act of stand-up comedy.
“I tried it and I loved it,” Fulwiler tells the Register. More than that, she sees a gap in the market for her type of comedy.
“I see a desperate need for more voices bringing high-quality entertainment to people who aren’t up for the more risqué content.” In addition, she “wants to relieve people’s burdens. A good stand-up comedy set gives people a chance to forget about their troubles for a while.”
Stand-up comedy may come as a welcome break for many from their daily troubles. Its practitioners, however, have to be not only funny but also tough, resilient and unafraid of failure. Yet Fulwiler has no fears setting out on this latest endeavor.
“I go up on these stages and I am often the only woman and the only one with a clean set. I have so many strikes against me the minute I grab the mic,” the former Register blogger says. “The guy before me will have done a wildly popular set filled with f-bombs, and I get up there with my jokes about minivans and home schooling.”
Overcoming fear is one prerequisite, but there is also the need for a healthy dose of resilience.
“I have bombed many times,” Fulwiler says, “and it’s truly one of the worst feelings ever. But it has forced me to make my material great, not just good. I have to fight for my laughs, and I’m starting to get them.”
So how much of her stand-up work is part of Fulwiler’s existing role as a Catholic media personality? “Stand-up comedy is a unique call,” she says. “Very few people have the right temperament for it.”
Like all comics, Fulwiler’s goal is to write great comedy. She says that her Catholic faith comes into that comedy. Why wouldn’t it? That is what she describes as “the foundation of my entire worldview.” But Fulwiler is clear that she is not setting out to write “Catholic comedy.” She says, “When I do my tour, it will be the kind of thing that you can invite friends of all faiths to and they’ll feel welcome.”
What reaction has there been from other comics?
“Interestingly, the folks in the comedy scene have been very welcoming to me,” Fulwiler says. “They recognize the fact that almost nobody else in this world is coming in with the perspective of a Catholic woman with a big family, and they’ve been surprisingly supportive of my work.”
And, of course, one cannot think of stand-up comedy without the inevitable hecklers. From a Catholic perspective, is this a modern form of mortification?
“That’s always a fear, of course. But, honestly, I’d rather be heckled than bomb,” Fulwiler says. But, then, on reflection, she adds: “There is just nothing like telling a joke, then another, then another, and have an audience just glare at you in silence. I’d almost rather someone yell at me.”
With a successful show on national radio, an active social-media presence, her writing, plus a home full of children and a husband, where does she get the time, never mind the energy, to work out her material at local comedy clubs?
“Yes, our lives are crazy,” she says. “But I’ve found that this new adventure has energized everyone in the house.”
There are unexpected benefits to Fulwiler’s newfound role as a comedian on the road. For one thing, since she home-schools her children, they hit the road as a family.
“The kids are excited to go out on tour. I tell them parts of my sets, and they help me work on them. And they are very honest critics!”
Fulwiler is clear about her priorities, though: “Everything we do, we do as a family. I wouldn’t have continued down this path if it had caused tension or division at home. It has been really cool to see how it’s united and energized everyone.”
In any event, her home life is more than just a support: “We have six kids, a huge dog and a one-eyed cat living in a small three-bedroom house. The jokes write themselves.”
As a Catholic who is also a comic, what about the Bible — does she find any material for laughs there?
“I love the beginning of the Book of Ezekiel,” Fulwiler says. “God goes on and on about how obstinate and stubborn the Israelites are and warns Ezekiel that dealing with them will be ‘like living among scorpions.’ That always cracks me up since I sometimes feel worn down by people and I also happen to have a major scorpion infestation in my house. It resonates on multiple levels.”
But, for all her jokes, there is a serious intent to what Fulwiler is trying to do. As she explains: The world and, in particular, Catholics right now need some comic relief from the many woes that assail.
“When I look around at my Catholic social circles, I see people who are carrying big crosses. They’re worn down by fighting the good fight every day, by the recent scandals in the Church,” she says. “They need to laugh more than anyone. They’re desperate for relief.”
She goes on to add: “Yet there is little content they can turn to for entertainment that is relatable or not wildly offensive.”
This is not another sterile lament about the state of modern entertainment, however, because Fulwiler wants to change that status quo. Listening to her speak, it is clear this is a woman on a mission.
“My dream is that one day some weary Catholic man or woman will be able to pull up one of my ‘comedy specials’ after a hard day,” she says, “and, when it’s done, be filled with that kind of joy and hope that only comes after a good laugh.”
Register correspondent K.V. Turley writes from London.