There are many talents Christians can inherit, and comedian Thor Ramsey granted the gift of laughter. Best known for his appearance in the popular Christian comedy DVDs, Thou Shalt Laugh and Thou Shalt Laugh 2: The Deuce (released Nov. 6.), Thor is known to be a "good-natured funny-bomb," who appeals to the audience as family-friendly.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Ramsey touched on a range of topics – how he keeps his comical acts "clean," struggles he encounters as a comedian, and how God can use comedy in people's lives.
CP: I saw your act at the Evan Almighty concert last summer and found it quite amusing. Where do you get your uproarious ideas?
Ramsey: It's generally when something happens in real life. You'll comment on something to a group of people or a friend, and they will laugh at what you say. So it's the matter of taking that context up on stage with you, and you start talking about something you feel passionately about.
CP: Does it come naturally to you?
Ramsey: Generally, yes. Comedy is something you develop young in life. Most of the time you develop it as a coping mechanism or a defense mechanism. Sometimes you develop it so you don't get beat up – if you make the tough kids laugh, they're not going to beat you up. I think as a kid, you notice that the first time you make someone laugh, it just registers with you. Sometimes it's a family thing. If you grow up in a family where the conversation is lively and witty, you grow up with the sense of humor your family had. If you grow up in a witty environment, you're naturally going to learn that.
CP: What's the most difficult part about being a Christian comedian?
Ramsey: Being taken seriously. You don't want comedy to be taken seriously, but taken seriously as a noble endeavor. Especially in the Christian world, we view flying over to a Third-World country and feeding the starving children more noble than comedy, of course. But people don't see [comedy] as something that God is using. They see it as frivolous. If you take your Christian walk seriously, you tend to examine yourself now and then, so there were times in my life I thought, 'Is this really something in my life I should continue to pursue or am I wasting my life doing something that is frivolous?' So I did a quick study on the word 'frivolous' – and it means humor without a point. I think that you can have humor that has a point to it. Not everything in your act has to have some sort of deep meaning, but it can certainly do humor that has a point.
CP: How do you draw the line so your humor doesn't appear to be vulgar?
Ramsey: My world-view is Christian, so everything is filtered through that. If you're struggling to be clean, then you're probably not a clean comedian.
Joey Bishop died in the last month or two. He was the last of the Rat Pack to go. The Rat Pack kind of defined the generation of 'cool' – even after they were old, it was a hip-cool thing to be part of the Rat Pack. In a USA Today article, there was a quote from Bishop saying: 'When we entertain, we entertain the entire family.' What was revealing to me is that today's comedians only reach out to their own generation, their own age group. To me, it was very insightful. I think it causes you to be a family-friendly entertainer. I think it's always better to have a wider perspective.
CP: How do you think God uses comedy?
Ramsey: I attended the National Youth Worker's Convention last year in St. Louis; there were about 5,000-6,000 youth workers. I went up on the main stage and did about 10 minutes and had a lady approach me after the set. She pulled me aside – that could be good or bad, you never know – and said, 'You know, this last year has been tough. My sister died of cancer and she had three kids, and their dad died two months later so I'm raising their kids now, so it's been a hard year. But we'll sit down as a family and watch the comedy DVDs that you are on, and it really brings us all together and lifts our spirits.' Every now and then, someone will approach you like that. So there is a way that God uses comedy in people's lives. It's not always for growth purposes, but I think when comedy is done well and operating in a level where it should be, it makes us think about things that we don't always think about. [For example], I think good comedy can expose hypocrisy, and point out things about ourselves that if we were to point out in a harsher way, we might not be open to.
CP: I read that you've worked with Drew Carey at some point of your career.
Ramsey: Yes, I've worked with Drew years ago, before he was famous. I've worked with him on the road several times. Comedy is a pretty small community in a sense. I worked with Tom Arnold – that was right before the big blowup of him and Rosanne having a relationship together…. So you end up working with people throughout your career here and there.
CP: How did you get involved with Thou Shalt Laugh?
Ramsey: The producers were looking for tapes of comedians and reviewing them. So I delivered a DVD demo, and that's pretty much it. I was fortunate enough to be on the last two.
CP: How is your experience with Thou Shalt Laugh so far?
Ramsey: I'm not trying to play favorites here, but production-wise, they have just been top-notch. The thing that I like about Thou Shalt Laugh projects is that it's at the same level as anything in the market – whether it is Christian or secular – in terms of production value and the hosts that they bring in. Also having Tim Conway – everyone knows who Tim Conway is. He's been a family comedian for generations now. And he looks the same as when I watched him as a kid on The Carol Burnett Show! He hasn't aged in 40 years it seems.
Plus they've got us in a venue that shoots 5,000 people for the taping; it always helps a project when you're in front of a bunch of people.
CP: Fantastic. Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects?
Ramsey: I've got a book coming out early March. It's called 'The Comedian's Guide to Theology' – I'm really excited about that. And hopefully down the road, I'll do another Thou Shalt Laugh. I'll see if I'll be invited to the third one!