Nobody used humor like Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He was a master of radio and television, with the rare gift of knowing when and when not to play the funny card, and then playing it deftly. I won’t cite the many examples here. You can have fun exploring. Plus, I don’t feel like doing the research.
Bishop Sheen paved the way for everything from the punny titles of Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina, to the apologetics antics of the late, great Envoy Magazine (of which I am an alum; thank you, Patrick Madrid, who is now a staple at Relevant Radio), to the many podcasts now bantering about all things Catholic.
There is subtle humor on the Catholic mediascape, and some not-so-subtle humor. I’m a fan of the not-so-subtle camp. That said, let me tell you about two programs that make use of laughter in different, but deliberate ways: The Catholic Talk Show and The Catholic Guy Show.
Two dudes and their priest bro...
The Catholic Talk Show features Ryan Dellacrosse and Ryan Scheel (partners in a Catholic marketing firm) and Father Rich Pagano of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida.
The three share what you might call a “bro” relationship: 40-something guys who call one another “dude” and rib one another with obvious brotherly affection. They’ve been podcasting together for five years and counting, exploring Church history, biblical history, devotions, apologetics, catechetics and more. Essentially, they sit around a table chatting as if they were having a few beers. They’ve covered everything from “Is There Proof That God Exists?” and “What Happens When You Die and Hopefully Go to Heaven?” to “Eating Like Jesus: The Foods of The Bible” and “Can Catholics Smoke Weed?”
Come to think of it, browsing their 200-plus titles, one gets the feeling there were definitely a few beers involved (full disclosure, I’m a Patreon supporter, which tells you all you need to know about my mindset).
Whether these guys are throwing gentle shade at one another, cracking a joke about a saint, or cracking themselves up with quotes from movies I’ve never heard of, they manage to consistently offer an edifying and entertaining experience. Plus, they never allow a joke to overshadow a serious point; they always go back to clarify if they think they’ve stretched a gag too far.
Once in a while, The Catholic Talk Show dedicates an episode to helping a Catholic business hawk its wares, which is less than edifying, but that's still doing something for team Catholic; they always try to tie in the spiritual value of the various sacramentals and other products being discussed.
The “bros” of The Catholic Talk Show do an excellent job of using conversational humor to walk the line between education and entertainment, providing enough intriguing and/or useful information to engage the mind while also showing their audience a good time. And with 188k YouTube subscribers, and more listening via various podcast apps, The Catholic Talk Show brand of humor is reaching an audience that might not get much of the information the show provides if presented in a less casual atmosphere.
A man, his nose, and an atheist...
Taking casual atmosphere to a whole new level is Lino Rulli, host of The Catholic Guy Show on Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel, who broadcasts from the comfort of his Minnesota home. Well into his second decade on the air (the show started in New York City in 2006), Rulli focuses on simply trying to be Catholic when you’re surrounded by 2,000 years of heritage and culture you'd need 37 lifetimes to wade through.
The Catholic Guy Show is filled with unabashedly goofy sidekick banter, jokes about the size of the host’s nose, games, skits, humorous ruminations, and audience chats (full disclosure, I’ve been a caller) during which Rulli perhaps tries a little too hard to be a zing-slinger (think Don Imus or Howard Stern with a Catholic moral compass).
By sharing his own faith journey, in highly self-deprecating fashion, Rulli has built a considerable audience of people who identify with just trying to be Catholic guys and gals. The overall goal seems to be assuring practicing Catholics we’re all in the same boat, no matter how much practice we need.
Interestingly, there’s a decent-sized non-Catholic portion of Rulli’s audience. I chalk that demographic up to Rulli going out of his way to make the show accessible. In fact, his producer/sidekick, Tyler Veghte, is a good-natured atheist who researches Church history and the Bible for content; having developed a pretty good knowledge base, he may just research his way into the Church one day, if he doesn’t remain stubbornly atheist for the sake of branding.
Unlike some with a national platform, Rulli studiously avoids any hint of divisiveness. For instance, he’s a fan of the papacy, period, with kind words for every pope in his lifetime. No "conservative" Francis criticizer, he. But Rulli also doesn't cater to the "liberal" tendency to downplay sin, specifically his own; he's a frequenter and vocal proponent of the confessional. Rulli might not be deep, but he’s deeply aware of the need for Christ's mercy in his life, which must also sit well with non-Catholic listeners.
I never expect to come away from The Catholic Guy Show having learned anything (although I often do, finding the occasional relatable moment in Rulli’s musings or a nugget of knowledge in a game about Church history), but I always come away knowing I’m not alone in believing that laughing while Catholic isn’t a ticketable offense.
A time to think hard, a time to laugh heartily…
If you’re looking for deep-dives into doctrine and other aspects of the Faith, The Catholic Talk Show and The Catholic Guy Show ain’t that; try The Bishop Strickland Hour from Virgin Most Powerful Radio, or the wonderful priests at the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast.
I’m a fan of both serious and humorous program styles. Just as I can enjoy a cold bottle of beer every bit as much as a nice glass of wine, I find myself enjoying a few Catholic laughs with a bunch of likeable guys as much as I enjoy soaking up much-needed knowledge from people a lot smarter than me.
To take this awkward simile-cum-metaphor about drinking a step further, there’s room for a lot of labels on the shelves of the Catholic media bar. You can decide for yourself which shelves The Catholic Talk Show and The Catholic Guy Show should occupy.
The hosts would probably describe themselves as heavily-discounted, happy hour well drinks.