Saturday, May 28, 2005

Funny thing happened on the way to church

From: The Sun

Comedian Mark Fitter's greeting is also his opening joke.

"Hi, my name's Mark, and I am a pastor of a church.'

Audience members and bar patrons laugh and clap. Someone shouts, "Amen!' Another, "Hallelujah!'

Performing on the same bill as comics whose repertoire revolves around lewd innuendos and blatant bawdiness, the Victorville resident cracks clean jokes.

"You know, the tough thing about being a pastor is most people only see you work on Sundays,' Fitter said as he performed at Tuesday at Omaha Jack's Grillhouse and Brewery in Rancho Cucamonga.

"And most give you a hard time about it. 'Hey Mark, it must be great having a job where you only have to work one day a week.' That really ticks me off because I don't work one day a week I only work an hour per week.'

Fitter, pastor of Desert Winds Community Church in Adelanto, is part of a growing alternative to blue humor.

Christian comedy has exploded during the past decade, said Dan Rupple, president of the Southern California-based Christian Comedy Association. Since the group began with 35 comedians in 2002, its nationwide membership has swelled to 350.

But as a full-time pastor who recently took his act outside the church walls, Fitter is an anomaly, Rupple said. Most Christian comedians stay away from bars and clubs unless its Christian comedy night and those who work at churches only do so part time.

Fitter's moonlighting may seem unusual, but the 43-year-old doesn't think so.

"Everybody wants to laugh. Everybody has problems,' Fitter said in an interview.

Also, he said, being a comedian helps supplement his pastor's salary.

In fact, at a monthly meeting of American Baptist pastors in San Bernardino and Riverside and counties, Fitter teaches others how to fling zingers during their sermons.

"He's very funny,' said Dane Aaker, senior pastor of Colton First Baptist. "He catches you off guard and makes you laugh when you are not expecting it.'

Randy Barnes, who attends Fitter's church, said the pastor "makes sure we are still awake by throwing in a joke.'

But the sermons don't turn into stand-up acts, Barnes said.

Fitter has performed comedy at churches in the Inland Empire and High Desert for a few years. Three months ago, he branched into the unknown world of nightclubs, bars and comedy clubs.

Christians and non-Christians alike can relate to his "observations' of being married, living in suburbia and raising kids. And his jokes about religion don't demand the audience share his beliefs.

"When you turn 40, you start to see God's sense of humor because God starts repositioning your hair,' says Fitter, who still has most of his salt-and-pepper mane. "It's like Chia Pet meets Mr. Potato Head.'

As could be expected, not all of Fitter's jokes were a hit at Omaha Jack's.

On this night, though, Fitter entertains as well as any of the other amateur comics.

"If it's funny, it's funny,' said Rosemary Gore, a Rancho Cucamonga comedian whose jokes probably shouldn't be delivered from the pulpit.