- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.
These days, many people are clapping for comedians and humorists who choose to do acts that are clean or inspirational.
Burt Rosenberg, a Jewish humorist from Silver Spring, Md., does "Joy Training Seminars" to help people of faith live happier, more joyful lives.
"I noticed that there was sadness in the world," he said. "There are a lot of sad folks out there."
"I was doing comedy and doing comedy as a ministry. I would talk about living from the joy of the secret place," he said, referring to Psalm 91. "And afterward people would say, 'How do we get in there? Where is that?' So I began doing these seminars. It incorporates some rollick and frolic and shtick."
He is one of a growing number of comedians and humorists who are cleaning up their acts, and in some cases using them as a platform to talk about their personal faith.
Danny Murphy, a comedian and writer from Jacksonville, Fla., began doing inspirational comedy about five years ago.
"It's something to integrate humor with my spiritual beliefs," Mr. Murphy said. "I want to use humor to carry a message. It's not enough to just be funny."
Both Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Murphy try to leave their audiences with hope and joy to get through life's troubles.
Mr. Rosenberg recently delivered a "Joy Training Seminar" at Greenbelt Baptist Church, where he explained that people of faith can have fun. Through it all, he weaved in jokes, word plays and comic anecdotes, all while wearing a specially made coat, hung with 55 "colorful cravats."
Though these seminars include a lot of scriptural teaching, Mr. Rosenberg prefers not to be called a "religious comedian."
"I don't see myself as a religious comedian I see myself as a joy-smuggling jubilator," Mr. Rosenberg said. "It's not just memorizing jokes. I don't do that stupid stuff. What I do is put the ineffable into a form. That's our purpose as believers. That's what God does He's the ineffable and we're the form."
The trend for clean comedy has grown so much in the past 10 years that a booking agency, Clean Comedians, was formed to sponsor comics all over the country.
"Clean comedy is not just knock-knock jokes," said Adam Christing, president and founder of Clean Comedians, based in La Miranda, Calif. His organization books 60 different entertainers in venues from Caesar's Palace to churches and corporate meetings.
Because many people have differing ideas on just what "clean" means, the comedians at Clean Comedians sign a contract that defines the "no GROSS policy."
GROSS is an acronym for no gender-bashing, racist remarks, obscenity, sexual innuendoes or swearing in the acts. Mr. Christing says this contract forces the comedians to have variety and originality in their material.
Becky Baker, from San Diego, part of a comedy duo called "Bessie and Beulah" that works for Clean Comedians, says she has no regrets about making the choice to do clean comedy.
She performs at many corporate functions and each show is tailored to poke fun at the company's slogans, inside jokes, and even specific people designated by the firm.
"We're just going to have fun," Mrs. Baker said, "and people are so relieved."
She is one of only a few female comedy duos performing. Why, she asks, should a women's business convention hire a male comedian?
"There is such a need for female comedians," Mrs. Baker said. "Let's get females up there and have fun as women."
Cory Edwards is a professional comedian who has been performing in Los Angeles clubs and on college campuses for the past eight years.
"I think comics who do clean material are going to be more rewarded," he said. "Audiences appreciate it when it's clean and not just the churchgoers."
David Dean, a full-time "cutting-edge Christian comedian" from Huntington, Ind., agrees.
"God created laughter; the world made it ugly," said Mr. Dean. "There is a lot of funny stuff out there; it's not all filthy and raunch."
He notes that he is up against tough competition from Comedy Central and other comics on television. But the ABC show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" has opened the door for more comedy and improv teams.
Clean and inspirational comics do have harder challenges in producing material that will not offend. This balance is hard to achieve, notes Mr. Dean, because in a crowd of 500 if 499 are laughing, there is "that one who looks like they just had a root canal."
"You have to work a little harder and not take the cheap shots," Mr. Edwards said. Many comedians note that it's not hard to find good material. Mrs. Baker says she writes down things that strike her as funny; anything from phrases to road signs.
"Sometimes people think that a comedian is a jokemeister," said Mr. Rosenberg. "I like the humor of watching the world as a 360-degree, 3-D interactive sitcom. It's seeing the world as the essence of humor, seeing the circumstances from another dimension.
"We're supposed to bring heaven to earth here. That's the key, seeing through what things look like. Otherwise, you're just throwing jokes at it as a desperate defense and that's what I'm not doing."
Everybody likes to laugh, the comedians agree, but as Mr. Rosenberg notes, "There are a lot of joy killers in the world."
"People want comedy so much," said Mrs. Baker, "because life is so stressful."
According to an article by Robert Holden, who pioneered Britain's first Laughter Clinic, laughter can exercise all 400 muscles in the body and help to build white T-cells, which strengthen the immune system.
For people of faith, laughter and joy are even more important, says Mr. Rosenberg, because it keeps believers in the presence of God.
"I think we make God into an idol instead of a person in our presence," said Mr. Rosenberg. "So I think we need to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. What is laughs that's a joyful noise."
While Mr. Rosenberg's Joy Training Seminars are directly involved with spiritual teaching, he says he does not always use his act to share his faith.
"There is not always a place for it, and sometimes the less said the better," he said. He wants his acts to be a place where people can cultivate friendships and leave without feeling cornered.
Audience response is key to any act though, and Mr. Murphy says that is one of the perks.
"I like saying things that help people, give them a little bit of hope," said Mr. Murphy.
Good though the comedy may be, Mr. Dean says, the best part is going home to his wife and two children after a performance.
"If the people in my house aren't laughing, then I don't feel I have authentic faith," he said. "I want to tickle my daughter and jump on the bed with my son."

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