Giving your life to Christ after a Mexican lunch can only happen to Christian comedian Jim Labriola, known as the delivery man on the former hit show “Home Improvement.”
Labriola never expected to go into “Christian comedy.” To him, comedy – at least the kind popularly portrayed today – was about injecting a few curse words here and there with a mixture of sexual innuendos added to the punch line.
Labriola fit the generic profile of a comedian up until he married and found Christ.
The New York native, who came from a Roman Catholic family, was invited to a non-denominational church by his wife's sister, a church he described to The Christian Post as "one where people raised their hands and [were] happy."
His first impression was one of awe, he said. "I never heard a guy talk so much about Jesus almost as if he knew him personally."
He continued going to church and got to know the pastor on a personal level. A few months later, he met with the pastor at a Mexican restaurant and "by the end of lunch I gave my life over to Jesus," he recounted.
"It was surprising because I didn’t expect it," he shared. "It felt like a high and it felt good but then my life got very hard because I didn't know how to read the Bible. The guy used to come over to my house and teach me and once I started reading it I couldn't put it down."
Giving his life to Christ was only the beginning. He then realized that he had to change his life completely because as a comedian he never had to contend against using profanity in his act.
When he read Ephesians 5:4 (Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving) it dawned on him the need for censorship. After all, "I can't just read the Bible and go up state and do the opposite."
"My acting comedy for years had been R-rated and when I read that I said 'gee, how am I going to do my acting if I profess to be a Christian?'"
He wasn't daunted by the amount of work it would take for him to change his comedy style. He left the business for about three to four years, noting "after doing comedy over the years you can't just change your act overnight."
"After three years later I started cleaning up my act and started doing Christian comedy."
He happily reported that he has “never been happier doing comedy. Before it was about me trying to become famous and now it's about God. I'm honored to be using my gift for God.”
He was stunned by how much people appreciated his clean take on comedy and not just Christians but the secular audience alike. People came up to him thanking him for giving them the option to take families to a comedy show without the overlaying fear of listening to an uncomfortable joke while sitting next to your grandma.
Labriola enjoys a church audience more than anything, he said, because he gets to do a bit on his testimony.
His audience has also included Sarah Palin during the Tea Party Express.
Clean comedy requires extra effort, he noted. "When you use the filth, it’s the easy way out. They don't need to curse but they do it because it's easier."
He recently released his CD Heart Improvement, which was recorded during a church performance. One of the track titles includes "Goliath Had a Heart Attack," among others.
Here's his take on the exodus account in Genesis: "God used Moses to free the whole country. Here's God using a stutterer to free all the Jewish people and he goes up to the pharaoh and says 'hey you, you better let my pppp.' The Pharaoh goes, 'what's he is talking about this guy? Moses, what do you want? Let your puppet go?' Now you know why the Jews wandered the desert for 40 years. You have this guy leading around. 'Where do you we go now?' 'I don't know, ask Moses.' 'Make a lelelele.'"
Labriola is currently getting ready for an act during the 2nd Annual Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Concert on June 12. The event is aimed at helping protect the rights of people with cognitive disabilities.
His advice to Christians looking into comedy is to first give credit to God and second, "always remember you are representing God because people are always looking at you."