Riley Fox is a stand-up comedian and the first person that ever gave me stage time when I attempted my own stint at saying funny words at people. I’ve been eager to hear his thoughts on God, as his comedy tends to lambaste both politics and religion. Check out his website, Riley Fox Comedy for clips, tour dates, and to let him know what you thought about his post.
They say the two things you should never discuss in mixed company or at the dinner table are politics and religion. Well, it just so happens that those two topics comprise about 90% of my stand-up comedy act, so I missed that memo entirely. I choose this approach not out of any kind of active rebellion against anything–though I have my own personal motives–but I tackle these subjects in my comedy because I think they are topics that will always provide springboards for interesting and funny material. I know it might seem like suicide doing religious jokes in the South, but I never had any fear in talking about it onstage in front of strangers.
I guess the reason I never thought twice about making jokes about religion was because I wasn’t raised in a religious household. My father technically classifies himself as a Christian, but he’s a Christian in the same way that Taco Bell classifies itself as “Mexican cuisine.” If my dad’s devoutness were an 80’s hair metal band, it would be Poison–it’s still around, but nobody really gives a shit. My mother, on the other hand, is a closet hippie who essentially believes in fairies and has had experiences with the harmonic convergence of the trees, et cetera. When you grow up with that combination of religious apathy and left-field spiritualism, you tend not to worry too much about that whole “afterlife” thing, and I suppose it does affect the way you think about the NOW.
Of course, this is not to say that I’ve never seriously considered the idea of God. Growing up, many of my best friends were church-going, God-fearing kids. I tried to give God a shot, but it just never really worked for me. I remember the exact moment that my doubt occurred: I was in fourth grade, and after school I would stay at my elementary school in a YMCA after-school care program until my parents got off work and picked me up. One of the caretakers was a man in his twenties–for the life of me, I cannot remember his name, but it’s not important. We’ll just call him Beardo, because he had a beard. He also had a lot of tattoos, and he considered himself a Christian. This confused nine-year-old Riley. Nine-year-old Riley thought tattoos and beards were for rock and roll guys, like the band KISS. And KISS scared the hell out of me. (Honestly, what nine-year-old kid WOULDN’T be scared of Gene Simmons breathing fire like some sort of all-night-rocking-and-all-day-partying demon?)
However, I was curious, because I noticed that one of his tattoos was a picture of Jesus. I asked him about it, and he said, “This is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I gave myself to him years ago, and this tattoo is how I remember that.” Faced with this intensely personal revelation, nine-year-old Riley replied the only way he knew how: “Oh, okay.” Looking back, I never realized how, in that moment of sharing the origins of his huge spiritual decision, I responded with the same dismissive tone of that of a trust-fund hipster. (I guess that makes kids the real hipsters–because they’re hipsters before they’ve even HEARD of hipsters.) Anyway, Beardo then asked me the fateful question, “Are you a Christian, Riley?” and I said, “Not really.” Beardo replied, “Would you like to change that?”
Rather than give an answer that a more sensible person would come up with, such as, “Let me sleep on it and get back to you,” or, “Get the fuck away from me,” nine-year-old Riley went with, “Yeah, I guess.”
The following morning, Beardo met me at school in the cafeteria before class started, Bible in hand. He sat me down and–I shit you not–pulled out a water bottle (I guess because goblets of holy water would seem rather out of place in a public fucking elementary school), and got to business:
“Riley, do you accept that Jesus Christ died for your sins?”
“Do you accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your Lord and Savior?”
“Are you willing to give your life to the teachings of Christ?”
“Are we done yet?”
Beardo then opened his bottle of water, poured a small amount into his hand (I don’t know why, because that bottle of water was completely full–he was either drinking it or he was gonna be doing A LOT of baptizin’ later on), and then poured that small amount from his hand onto my head. Then he began to pray:
“Heavenly Father, we are grateful today that young Riley here has chosen to accept your only son, Jesus Christ, into his heart. We pray that you give him guidance and show him grace, as he grows into a man of Christ. We pray that you watch over him and his family, and help them find their own spiritual path in your name. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”
Throughout the rest of the day, I kept thinking that maybe I would feel different after having accepted Christ into my heart. I never did. I felt no different than I did the day before, nor did I feel any different the day after. Now, maybe it was because Beardo the Doofus used a bottle of Dasani to conduct his low-rent baptism, but I’m not in any hurry to test the theory otherwise. I’m fine in my non-spiritual corner over here. The way I look at it, I don’t need a god in my life when I have comedy. To me, comedy is about developing your own unique take on the world, and developing your own personal philosophy. In one of my jokes from my stand-up act, I describe myself as a cynical secular humanist: that means that I believe we are the sole designers and architects of our own lives and our own futures.
And that we will ultimately fuck it all up somehow. I think I can accept that.