Calling someone a “Jesuit comedian” comes with some baggage. That admittedly odd phrase conjures up several images, all unfortunate: a fully vested priest telling lame-o jokes during a Sunday Mass while the bored parishioners roll their eyes; a young Jesuit scholastic (i.e., priest-in-training) trying to yuck it up with his high-school religion classes as they look on in slack-jawed ennui; or a blowhard cleric cracking wise in the community rec room with jokes that were first rehearsed in the Ford administration.
But Jake Martin, SJ, really is a “Jesuit comedian,” hard as that may be for some to believe – though it shouldn’t be any more difficult than believing in a “Jesuit astrophysicist,” a “Jesuit physician” or a “Jesuit lawyer,” all flourishing species.
Jake’s marvelous new book What’s So Funny About Faith? is a memoir, recounted in brief vignettes about, yes, being a professional comedian who enters the Society of Jesus, a.k.a. the Jesuits. WSF traces Jake’s burgeoning religious sensibilities, which deepen at the same time that he’s honing his standup routines. Sprightly yet profound, it’s the rare book that can talk about the Virgin Mary, Tina Fey, the Brady Bunch, prayer, God, vocation, Jon Stewart (and Stephen Colbert), Scooby Doo and Walter Ciszek. If you don’t know who some of those people (and cartoon animals) are, it’s more than worth your while to read Jake’s book to find out. (By the way, that’s probably the only time that the words “Scooby Doo” and “Walter Ciszek” have appeared in the same sentence.)
My favorite story in WSF comes when Jake receives a tart note from the Jesuit vocation director (full disclosure: one of my best friends) chiding Jake on confusing St. Teresa of Ávila with St. Thérèse of Lisieux. To be fair, Jake had it coming: when you write to a vocation director and tell him that today is the feast day of your “favorite saint,” it might be a good idea to get the feast day right. I laughed out loud when he subsequently named the vocation director, one of the gentlest Jesuits ever formed, “hostile Dave.” But as with the best authors (and comedians), the joke is always on Jake, and his book is full of gentle, self-deprecating humor. “Hostile Dave” turns out to be not-so-hostile at all, and welcomes Jake into the discernment process that leads to his entering the Society of Jesus. (Where, presumably he now knows St. Thérèse’s Feast Day: Oct. 1.).
That’s just one of many laugh-out-loud stories in WSF. (You know, I loathe the phrase “laugh-out-loud funny” and avoid using it as much as possible, but that’s the best way of describing my reaction to his book.) So: you want to laugh? Buy this book. Want to understand more about prayer? Buy this book. Want to know what makes a comedian tick? Buy this book. Want to learn more about living a spiritual life in a pop-culture world? Buy this book. Want to… oh, just go ahead and buy it!