When it comes to poking fun at church culture, comedian Shama Mrema doesn't have to look far for content. He simply thinks back to his childhood as a church planter's kid in Africa, his time as a student at a Bible college in South Carolina, or his brief stint as a youth pastor.
"I just had so much experience from South Carolina to hundreds of churches in the southeast. I saw the gamut of everything, all the craziest experiences," the African-born-American-raised actor, comedian and producer told The Christian Post. "So, church experience, plus professional production experience and being moderately funny — I can work with these three."
It's no surprise that Mrema, a husband and father of two, has found success in the world of Christian comedy, with over 270,000 combined online followers and over 50 million views on his videos. His viral content includes everything from tongue-in-cheek takes on Evangelical culture — like "Guy who cares more about his church than Jesus" with John Crist — to catchy songs, such as a music video about Chick-fil-A being closed on Sunday.
Mrema, who attends Greenville Community Church in Greenville, South Carolina, with his family, said his videos come from a place of "deep respect" for the Church.
"I want to see churches succeed," he said. I'm like, 'Can I make fun of these names and still look my pastor in the eyes on Sunday when I get there?'"
"I know my mom is going to watch my videos, and I've been surrounded by so many great friends, family and mentors, and I want them to watch and enjoy the things I make," he said. "So, it's never been an option for me to think about pushing the envelope."
Though his videos are lighthearted, Mrema is thoughtful, touching on culturally relevant topics. For example, his recent video, "Bibleman: The Unofficial Movie Trailer," examines what Bibleman, the Scripture-quoting '90s costume hero who wielded a yellow laser, would look like if it was created in 2022.
"A modern Bibleman villain would be a pastor uniting churches only to use that as a ploy to pull everyone to his own," Zack Millsaps, who wrote and directed the video alongside Mrema, told CP.
He also encourages Christians to be self-aware about how they might come across to a watching world. His song, "The Worship Song Song by Random Action Verb Worship," calls out common worship music tropes, including the lyrics, "Life's got me down/ I'm at the end of my rope/ so here's an out-of-context verse about hope."
And though he loves the Church, his content is empathetic to those who have experienced church hurt — something Mrema himself experienced after being, in his words, "released" from his position as a youth pastor at a church he used to attend.
"It does inform a lot of what I put out," he said. "I met some really amazing people there. I had a really awesome time there because my family was overseas. So this church was my family, my community, but the leadership wasn't solid. … There were a lot of expectations placed on the role of being a student pastor, and I loved the kids. I loved spending time with them, but that almost took a backseat."
Mrema said he would spend hours working on a backdrop for the church stage or on a light production, but when he asked the leadership for money to support the youth group he led, he was told, "We can't invest too much into student ministry, because none of them tithe. They don't even support the church.'"
And he's finding that stories like his are common.
"I think it's really painful for people," he said, adding that his comedy often opens up opportunities for evangelism and provides a way for people to process their experiences.
Still, the comedian says he doesn't want to give fodder to the people who watch his videos spoofing church culture and inevitably quip, "See, this is why I left."
"It's always really heartbreaking for me because I'm like, the reason why I made this video is to say, 'This is not OK. … People have also experienced this, and we never were meant to,'" he said.
"But ultimately, it's hard to do online, obviously, in only 30 seconds, 90 seconds, 10 minutes. You can't explain theology or the importance of church culture and community in a short form video."
And though acknowledging that some of the criticism leveled at Evangelical culture is fair, Mrema is quick to point out that the Church has also done a "great job" of fostering creatives.
"I'm a byproduct of that," he said. "Every creative person that I've talked to in music, the arts, filmmakers — most of them got their starts in the Church."
The comedian said he's passionate about creating quality content within the faith space, especially videos and music families can safely consume.
He reflected on the heyday of Christian content for kids, the era of "Bibleman," "McGee and Me" and "VeggieTales." He expressed hope that looking ahead, more clean, quality content will be created — and he wants to be a part of it.
"My team and I, we're in line," he said. "And, hopefully, when they call our number, we'll be ready."
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com