Laughing All the Way to the Church

By day he's a computer programmer, by night the Catholic answer to “Weird Al” Yankovic.

In Nick Alexander's case, the words he puts to pop music tunes aren't just funny; they're Catholic and, at times, instructive, too. His first CD, “A Time to Laugh,” features parodies of such songs as Sonny & Cher's “I Got You Babe” (“I Got You Saved” in Alexander's version) and the Beatles' “Revolution” (“Transubstantiation”). He spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.

Drake: Tell me about your childhood. Where did you grow up?

I was born in Southern California, but my family moved around a lot because of job situations. I spent most of my youth in New York. Religiously, my mother is a devout Episcopalian, while my father was raised Catholic but is now an atheist. As a child I was given the choice between staying home from church on Sundays or going with my mother. If I stayed home, my father would put me to work doing chores, so church was a nice option.

Have you always been musical?

No, neither of my parents was into music. I did take guitar lessons and, as a teen, I watched MTV all the time. “Weird Al” was in heavy rotation then with songs like “Eat It” and “Like a Surgeon” and I fell in love with his parodies. My older sister is a musician as well. She is a flutist and has composed for orchestra.

Tell me about your own journey into the Church?

During high school I was the president of the Bible study, and very anti-Catholic. None of us knew any Catholics who really loved the Word of God. When I went onto college at Rutgers University in New Jersey, I signed up for every Christian group on campus. One group particularly intrigued me. Although I didn't know it at the time, it was an outgrowth of the charismatic renewal in the Church. I belonged to this group for months before realizing that they were Catholic. For the first time I realized that there were Catholics who loved the Church.

I loved picking up tracts and publications like the Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchtower magazine and finding the loopholes in it. While I was in college, my mother purchased a book for me about the reported apparitions at Medjugorje. She had no idea that she had purchased something that was totally offensive to me. I read through it, looking for the loopholes that I expected I would find — Catholics worshipping Mary, Mary replacing Jesus and so on, but couldn't find any. After reading the book, I started praying the rosary. Several Protestant friends who had read the book also started praying the rosary and ended up converting before I did.

Because of many other issues, such as the Real Presence and the ordination of women, I found great comfort in remaining an Episcopalian for many years. However, about a year after I graduated from college, those issues toppled and I came into the Church.

Tell me how A Time to Laugh came about?

Through the years, I wanted to be recognized for my praise music. I had occasionally written parody songs to sharpen my own songwriting skills and I would sing these songs every so often, when the opportunity arose. But I had never taken this side of my music seriously. I always saw it as a stepping stone for my “serious” work.

So, trying to put away childish things, I went to the Catholic Association of Musicians conference and performed my serious work. It was after-hours at a Pizza Hut that I was handed a guitar and pushed to play my silly songs. I sang “Old Time Gregorian Chant,” “I Got You Saved,” and “Repent.” Most great inventions happen by accident, and the crowd was stunned with delight. Nobody had ever attempted what I had done before — blending orthodoxy with humor.

They were very enthusiastic and gave me a strong push to record a CD. To me this was both a shock and a relief. I realized I could be silly and get away with it. I spent the rest of year writing parodies and finished recording the album during Lent. The album was released in May of 2000.

What is the goal of your music?

When I first learned about Medjugorje, it seemed like a secret hidden behind the walls. It seemed as if no one knew about it. A part of me subconsciously wanted to share the treasures of the Catholic Church, yet to do so in a manner that would be both funny and acceptable. When I started writing the parodies, my love for apologetics would come into play because that is a part of me.

I wrote a lot of parodies, but the ones that seemed to work best were those that dealt with specifically Catholic issues. They end up being funny because no one expects that. My music is influenced by Weird Al, but it is also influenced by the likes of Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, who tried to further their causes through the use of humor. I'm doing the same thing, but I'm talking about Christian unity and specific aspects of the Catholic faith. That's who I am.

What kind of response is your music getting?

The music has gone over really well. I performed on the comedy stage for the National Conference for Catholic Youth Ministers in Birmingham and received a standing ovation. I also emceed a musicians' showcase at the Catholic Marketing Network tradeshow in Miami in January.

Everyone who has seen me live has encouraged me to take my show on the road. My live show has many elements that the CD does not. I use props. For example, when I sing “I Got You Saved” I use a cardboard cutout of Cher for the duet. In my parody of The Clash song “Should I Stand or Should I Kneel,” I have a missalette that opens up like an accordian, and in my parody of The Village People singing “RCIA” — instead of “YMCA” — I bring people up on stage to do the hand motions along with the song. The audience loves it.

What do you have planned next?

I'm getting married in May, but hope to record my next album soon after that. All of the songs focus on the desire for sainthood and holiness. It will include a song about St. Therese of Lisieux, one about missionaries, and a parody of Billy Joel's “We Didn't Start the Fire” called “We Want to Stand United” which will go through all of the schisms throughout Church history. All of the songs will be very funny, while maintaining respect and reverence for their subject matter.

Features correspondent Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.