A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian, and Baptist preacher, Susan Sparks is America’s only female comedian with a pulpit. Currently, the senior pastor of the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City (and the first woman in its 170-year history), Susan is also a TEDx speaker and professional comedian appearing with a stand-up rabbi and a Muslim comic in the long-standing Laugh in Peace Comedy Tour. A nationally syndicated columnist and author of the award-winning Laugh Your Way to Grace, her work with humor and healing has been featured by O (The Oprah) Magazine, the New York Times, and CBS. While her ministry is in NYC, Susan still loves to fly-fish, ride her Harley, wear great cowboy boots, eat good BBQ, and hang out anywhere that reminds her of her childhood home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
When did you first realize you wanted to write Preaching Punchlines? What were you hoping to accomplish when you sat down to write Preaching Punchlines?
For years, I’ve given workshops to seminary students and pastors on the power of leveraging the tools of standup comedy for preaching. Over and over people asked me – when are you going to write a book about this?! Finally, I decided it was time. This book captures many of the lessons from my seminars and invites preachers to be authentically themselves, to tap into their creative gifts, and to build bridges, to influence change, and to share a universal message of good news through humor and joy!
In your book, you share about using humor in sermons to better relate and connect with your audience. Why do you think humor does this and what can humor teach us about our faith?
Humor generates intimacy and honesty with listeners because it shows a bit of authenticity and vulnerability for the speaker. When you laugh with someone, your worlds overlap for a split second. It’s then that the commonalities gleam through and the differences fade. Humor also helps us remember a message. It is how Jesus taught. He used a universal message linked to a memorial visual. Many of his parables not only contain important messages, but they are also linked to creative and funny images. For example, for a rich man to get into heaven, it is like trying to shove a camel through an eye of a needle. It’s why these lessons were repeated for hundreds of years before they were written down.
What nurtures your imagination?
Riding my motorcycle, walking or hiking in the outdoors, a great book, poetry, visiting a museum, live music, kids.
When did Scripture first come alive for you?
When I was little. I used to pile all my stuffed animals in the corner and make up sermons around the Bible study lessons.
How does your writing impact your faith? What does the writing process mean to you?
Writing is like praying for me. Writing is easy for me to tap into deeper places, thoughts, ideas, hopes, and dreams. I feel a stronger faith connection when creating words. It brings me peace.
Are there any other preachers that you believe would make good comedians? Are there any other comedians who you think would make good preachers?
Yes to both. Dr. Fred Craddock was an amazing comedian and storyteller. So was Jesus. Alternatively, Jackie Mason was a Rabbi and a comedian. The two worlds are very similar when both comedians and preachers do their job right and make people feel less alone.