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Laughing with the divine

Comedian Louise Towler said church is a hysterical place. Photo courtesy of Louise Towler
LOUISE TOWLER is a Christian comedian based in Perth.

When she first came to Australia from the UK the mother of four lived next to a young woman with depression.

“I used to sit with her to try to make her laugh.”

One of these stories became her show Big Purple Undies which she wrote about a lady she used to teach Sunday School with.

“She really wanted a husband.

“We joked that ‘when you get to my age’ you’re desperate.

“The next week she came to Sunday School really hyper and when I asked her what was the matter, she opened her handbag and got out this pair of purple underpants.

“She said ‘I’ve got to show my faith, I’m going to hang this on my bedpost and pray that God is going to bring me a man’.

“I’m laughing my head off , absolutely in stitches.

“Six weeks later she got a man and got married.”

Ms Towler said a lot of her stories come from church.

“You can write a million stories about church – it’s the most hysterical place!”

Ms Towler’s stories were a hit with the Red Hat Society in America, “an over fifties fun club with lots of Christian ladies”.

After more than 300 shows in America, the family returned home and Ms Towler’s husband was diagnosed with cancer.

“I think laughter is the best medicine.

“I definitely think it’s a part of healing, even when my husband was in a coma and they told me that he wouldn’t make it.

“When he woke up the first thing I said to him was ‘I bought these sandals while you were in a coma, do you like them?’

He laughed and said ‘you’re still spending my money even when I was asleep’. ”

“The first thing he did when he woke up was laugh.”

Ms Towler closes her show with some advice for the future.

“In a hundred years time it isn’t going to matter; God is big enough to deal with everything you’re worrying about.”

One of her biggest hindrances has been being classed as a comedian.

“They think that you’re going to be vulgar,” she said.

“Christians can get a bit scared; ‘Big Purple Undies!

What’s she going to talk about?’ ”

Her message to church people is to enjoy life.

“I think a lot more people would come to church if you’re laughing than if you’re telling them what they’re not supposed to do,” she said.

Burdekin Uniting Church minister Rev Paul Clark would agree.

“Comedy and laughter are gifts from God,” he said.

“We seem to approach our faith with only reverence, seriousness and intellectual curiosity.

“God commands we worship him with our whole selves.

“Shouldn’t we approach faith with playfulness and reverence, fun and seriousness, our heads and our hearts?”

Youth ministry veterans and co-authors of four books of dramas designed to provoke thought and communicate the
Gospel, Chris and Sue Chapman, have been writing and performing comedy for 30 years and spent 10 of that as YAF drama convenors.

“Humour is a great teaching tool, it entertains and opens our defences,” said Ms Chapman.

“It can be the iron fist in the velvet glove – even quite hard hitting points or criticism can be taken on board if delivered with

“It provides us with an opportunity to laugh at ourselves.

“And it helps to blow apart the stereotype of Christians as dry humourless creeps.”

After the heyday of YAF rallies, these days the Chapmans’ drama ministry is not in high demand.

“Unfortunately, the church isn’t big on the uptake with the arts.

It’s a bit lower down on the holiness scale.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to want to offer gifts to be used but to find no one is interested in using them.

“We even have to get our stuff published in the USA because no one is interested in publishing it in Australia,” they said.

The Oxley Uniting Church members are also part of Kenmore Baptist’s drama group Logos.

“The Logos group takes four topics a year to research in great depth and make a presentation in church which includes our drama.

“This is a fantastic group, so rewarding, with some amazing minds – don’t know how we got to be in the group!” they laughed.

“Like it or not we live in an entertainment age where we need to be interesting to communicate because people are just not interested in content by itself,” said Ms Chapman.

Both Chris and Sue are teachers and Ms Chapman also does a stand-up comedy routine to talk to Year 11 and 12 students about sex and relationships.

“Over the years I’ve had so many teenagers and adults thank me for being open and using humour in those sessions, but I believe with the current educational/political climate sessions like this will become a thing of the past – seen as not “G” rated and therefore inappropriate.”

And not everyone has enjoyed the Chapmans’ sense of humour.

“Many people will be blessed and will openly thank you for laughter and insights.

“But others, for whom this expression is not one of their own gifts and who are a little low on grace, will take it upon themselves to criticise and ridicule your ministry in no uncertain terms.”

But for the Chapmans, drama is a tool to share the gospel with as many people as possible and takes serious preparation.

“Keep it fresh, new and edgy, like Jesus.

“He wasn’t tame, cheesy or mild.

Mild is for cheese.

“Then you need to research, grab a concordance, a bible, other relevant books, join study groups, play ‘devil’s advocate’,
ask questions, interview people, make sure that you seek to love God with heart, soul and mind – don’t leave your brain at the door.”

Photo : Comedian Louise Towler said church is a hysterical place. Photo courtesy of Louise Towler