by Edwin L. Carpenter – Associate Editor, The Dove Foundation
Comedian Thor Ramsey, the host of the comedy series “Bananas” and a featured performer on the newly-released DVD “Thou Shalt Laugh” spoke with The Dove Foundation recently. We had just finished laughing at his humor on “Thou Shalt Laugh,” following a screening and when this writer mentioned it, he replied, “I’m glad you enjoyed it, man.”
Our first question was: How do you remember all of the stories you tell? Do you use a system? “Yes, it’s called segues,” said Thor. “Segues help you remember what you’re going to talk about next. Sometimes they flow—you go from toys to talking about your kids or your wife or something, but sometimes you force them for the set. “
“But the thing about audiences today is that you don’t even need segues as long as you can remember what you talked about. You can just stop and start a new subject.”
“I’ve been doing stand-up comedy since 1987,” said Thor. “Some of this stuff you can do in your sleep.”
We asked if some of the Christian groups he has performed for ever take offense with any of his material. “I started in clubs in ’87 and I came to Christ in the early 90’s, about ’93. I started doing Christian events around ’94. My first Christian events were at prisons. My progression has been that I went from bars to clubs to prisons! God prepares you. Since I’ve been doing stand-up comedy in the Christian realm, I’ve only had one complaint. I had a gentleman complain because I used the phrase ‘buck naked.’ It offended him for some reason. I guess that’s the much-more-extreme form of nakedness. I haven’t for the most part experienced a lot of negativity from Christians because of stand-up.”
Thor emphasized his belief in comedy being used in a positive way. “I can’t remember exactly where it is in scripture, but basically it’s saying that everything that God created is good. You can’t compartmentalize your life: this is a religious time, this is a spiritual time, and this is not a spiritual time, because everything we do has spiritual significance, whether you’re a carpenter or you host a radio program or whether you’re a stand-up comedian—whatever you do you’re doing it in the context of glorifying God. That’s why we bless our food. We’re acknowledging that we know where this food came from–even football players who run and make a touchdown and point to the sky. They’re not really saying ‘God made me get this touchdown.’ They’re acknowledging ‘because of God’s blessing I’m able to do this.’”
Thor went on to state that he sees the body of Christ as people, not as a building, and that he sees no sacrilege at all in doing comedy in a church. In fact, we asked about the positive responses he has received and he mentioned “Thou Shalt Laugh,” which includes seven great comedians including Thor. “I’m really excited about the whole project. It’s hosted by two-time Emmy winner Patricia Heaton. It’s in the same class as the Blue Collar Tour—it has one of the same producers. It’s high quality, high production value. It was taped in front of a live audience of four thousand people. “
“It’s not like it’s a niche market anymore,” said Thor. “You can’t really call three billion dollars a year a niche market. It shows that there are people in our culture that are conscious of their relationship with Christ.”
“You want something that’s not going to pull you down spiritually,” he continued. “You want something that’s going to uplift you. Or make you sing or make you laugh or whatever it’s going to do.”
“Some people have misconceptions,” said Thor, “just because the comedians are all Christians doesn’t mean it’s all Noah and the ark jokes. We can mention our faith but it’s just all basic day-to-day stuff—it’s our lives and things we’ve noticed. My wife and I have been married now for thirteen years and we’d known each other for three and it can be a statement about marriage—that it takes work, and time, and you’re always discovering things about each other. They’re just all statements based upon your observations of life and it’s true for most everyone, it’s pretty universal for the most part.”
We asked Thor about what compelled him to act upon his dream of becoming a comedian and he said, “I think it’s a little bit like preaching. Paul talked about ‘I preach because I must’ and there’s just something about it, it’s like a parallel calling to the preacher. There’s a prophetic edge sometimes I think for comedians, at least that’s how I see it. Comedians get up and they talk about things in our lives and our culture and there’s kind of a rule—comics are supposed to say what everyone’s thinking but are afraid to say out loud.”
“I do a whole bit now on—well, we did in vitro fertilization six times to have our lovely six-year-old daughter Eden. And I talk about that whole process from a biological standpoint. When you mention sex sometimes in a Christian context we get a little uptight—which we shouldn’t because I believe you can talk about anything from a Christian point of view. Sex is a gift of God and we should treat it as such but you know celibacy is also a gift from God, but let’s be honest, it’s kind of like getting socks for Christmas!” Following his joke he said that celibacy is a life-long gift for some and not just something some wait to be rid of once they are married.
Thor added that when one becomes a Christian the person is still human and can relate to things that other people can relate to as well.
We asked about the possibility of Thor doing a sitcom in the future. “I’m open to anything in that realm—absolutely. I head towards the screenplay markets, films and stuff like that. I’ve written three screenplays and I’m working on a fourth. I think we all have aspirations. It’s different for everybody but I think one of the things all comics want at some point is to be able to have an event and people will come to the event to see you, not just because it’s a comedy night.
‘I want to go see Thor Ramsey’ or ‘I want to go see Michael Jr.’ ‘I want to go see Jeff Allen,’ or “I want to go see Taylor Mason.’ I think that’s one of the things that ‘Thou Shalt Laugh’ has really, really done—we can’t thank them enough for the exposure they’ve given us at that level. We love performing stand-up and you can’t perform unless there are people in front of you.”
We asked Thor who he enjoys listening to when it comes to comedians and he mentioned Michael Jr. and Joby Saad. “I think everyone on the DVD is very funny,” he said.
We asked Thor what he enjoyed most about working as a host for the show “Bananas”. “Well first of all, a lot of the comics that have been on the show—I’ve worked with them throughout the years. So it’s kind of cool to do something together. That’s on a different level than just a regular show. It’s a lot of fun. I think one of the greatest things about it is the challenge of having to write so much material. I really discovered how lazy we can be. When you’re in clubs you can nurse those forty-five-minute sets for years! I spoke to an evangelist once and he said ‘I’ve got about five messages and I rotate them in and out in different churches every week!’ Five messages! But you can get really good because when you do something over and over and over again, you get really good at it!”
“The thing I’ve noticed is that every show I have to have three minutes of new material and we’re shooting thirteen episodes a week. So you can come up with it if you’re forced to, if your back is up against the wall, you can do it. It’s really increased my confidence just in terms of sitting down and going, ‘All right, I’m doing a project and I need new material—let’s start writing it.’”
How about spontaneity? “There are two different types of spontaneity. There’s the kind where something pops into your head and you share it with the crowd and if they laugh, boy, you’re going to share it the next night! So then it becomes a set part of your routine. There is the kind of spontaneity that’s in the moment. You’re talking to a couple, or a man or woman or a child. You’re talking to someone from the crowd. You’re responding to something that they’re saying in response to a question you asked and most of the time you can’t take that with you to the next place.”
“It’s one of those things where people are trying to tell you something funny that happened and it’s not working at all—then they go, ‘Well, you had to be there.’ That’s because they’re not bringing the context of whatever happened to the story. And that’s really what comedy is—it’s all about context. I’ll be having lunch with a friend and I’ll say something and they’ll laugh at it and right away you’re like, ‘Ok, this is probably going to be a joke as long as I can take the context up on the stage with me.’”
Thor gave an example about speaking to an audience which might include beauty school students and that a question or joke about beauty school would not work for other audiences. He stresses remembering the audience to which you are speaking. He likes to interact with the audience and ask members where they work and start up a routine which won’t usually work as a repeat routine elsewhere.
“Your show for the most part will be eighty percent whatever set you’re working on at the time, and then you get that twenty percent of spontaneity. This gives each show a unique flavor.”
Thor added “Christian crowds have always been a piece of cake. I kind of hate to say it that way but they’ve always been great crowds.” He said it is like speaking to a theater crowd who is sitting there, ready to give you their undivided attention. “When you stop and pause, they stop and pause with you.” He was thrilled with the response of the audience while filming the “Thou Shalt Laugh” DVD. “That was an amazing crowd. In all seriousness, that was the highlight of my career, performing for four thousand people at that concert was just like walking on cloud nine.”
In concluding our interview, Thor noted that the greatest punch line in all of history was the resurrection of Christ. “Everyone thinks you’re dead and it’s like ‘Ta Da, I’m alive, I’m back from the dead!’ That’s a joyous thing for Christians.”
Thor’s future plans include an upcoming tour of “Thou Shalt Laugh” in which he will join others from the DVD to bring laughter to audiences nation-wide. “DVDs—as fun as they are, you can’t capture the atmosphere of a live show.”
The next time you catch Thor Ramsey live or on DVD or TV, remember this—when he pauses, a punch line is on the way. And you never know what it’s going to be!