Monday, August 09, 2004

TODAY'S READING: The current New Yorker has this profile of Christian stand-up comic Brad Stine. There is also an interview with the writer of the article, Adam Green, in the New Yorker's Online Only section.

This is worth reading if you're interested in the Christian entertainment market as a phenomenon. If not, not. I'm not a consumer of Creed albums or Left Behind books, but too many people consume them for me to easily dismiss them. Figuring out their appeal plays amusing tricks with my categories of liberal & conservative, cool & square.

Maybe this is just the story of a guy who struggled and finally succeeded in finding a market niche. Brad Stine stopped doing gigs at comedy clubs and began doing them at Promise Keepers meetings and other Christian venues, and found that he went down better at 8 pm with Diet Pepsi drinkers than he ever did at 1 am in front of a crowd of drunks. Stine is emblematic of the way that many churches and parachurch organizations, trying to stay relevant to young people and others in our 100-plus channel mediaverse, are learning to deliver a Christian message in a non-corny package. Brad Stine is distinctive because his comedy heroes are George Carlin and Bill Hicks, but he grafts their edginess and truth-telling attitude to a much different political and spiritual orientation. God and Mammon have joined forces to bring this brand of tasty-but-wholesome culture product to an audience. Christian music and book publishing operations are state-of-the-art. The William Morris Agency (I learned from this article) has a Christian entertainment division.

But the article is rich in details, and who can say if the Lord or the devil is in them? Brad Stine is the child of divorce, of a devoutly Christian mother and a father who toiled on the fringes of show business, as a singer and carnival-sideshow performer. Brad seems both angry at his father for abandoning him and driven to fulfill Dad's dreams of showbiz success. He has consciously departed from the mainstream comedy career path, yet he resents "liberal Hollywood bias" and crows that if he gets to perform at "the stinkin' GOP convention" (which he might--his people are talking to their people) then the Tonight Show and the sitcom producers will have to take notice of him. Brad's wife is the former girlfriend of the drummer from Dokken, and she thinks the two men, the Christian comic and the heavy metal musician, are much alike in their road warrior lifestyle and creative temperament. Both Mr. and Mrs. Stine use the adjective "stinkin'" as an obvious conversational substitute for "fucking." So the line between the sacred and the secular often seems to vanish.

I still have questions. Stine is obviously downplaying religion and highlighting politics in his standup act, trying to position himself for a role in the Republican campaign this year. So how seriously are we supposed to take his convictions? I'm guardedly in favor of the church's effort to update its worship style and engage popular culture. But doesn't that put one in the camp of the liberal relativists? How can you be a Biblical fundamentalist, while being engaged in updating the Gospel for the MTV generation? Is it all part of Stine's daddy complex? Caveat emptor, dear reader, but I'm bookmarking this one.

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