For more than six years, comedian Bob Smiley (www.bobsmiley.com) has been making audiences laugh – sometimes out loud – with his dynamic brand of clean-but-not-cheesy comedy. He’s toured with bands like Third Day, Newsboys, and MercyMe, and performed at almost every major festival in the US. His new CD/DVD, “Firmer Abs in One Hour” (Full Armor Entertainment) is a rollicking follow up to his debut, “I’ve Got A Funny Feeling About This.” What’s Up reporter Ashley Nier recently chatted with Bob about his beginnings in Christian comedy.
Ashley: First of all, how did you get involved in Christian comedy?
Bob Smiley: I grew up as a Texas kid, which is like any other kid in any other state only with a gun. My town had only 281 people in it and seeing as how we only got two channels and one was channel 3 which always featured a snow storm, my friends and I…well, ok…my dad and I were forced to make up our own fun. That’s where I found that I loved comedy and making people laugh.
??After high school, I went off to Abilene Christian University in West Texas. (Motto: have you seen our Tree?). I majored in Elementary Education thinking the classes would be easy. After all, I already knew most of the alphabet. During my junior year, I entered a few standup competitions offering cash prizes. I found that standup offered a better salary per hour than determining whether or not someone desired fries with their purchase. However, a life spent in bars and standup clubs was not desirable to me. So, upon graduation, I did what most college graduates do: I got a job involving absolutely nothing I studied in college. I did want to be a teacher, but first wanted to see what it was like to have some money in a bank. So, I became a professional photographer in Dallas, TX where I worked for one year.
Towards the end of that year, I received an unexpected call from an old college friend who now lived in Nashville and was working as a road manager for Christian singer Clay Crosse. This old friend had seen me do standup in college and wanted to know if I was interested in going out on tour with Clay to do standup in between the acts. Clay’s tour opened up the possibility of doing standup without having to go to the normal comedy venues.
?Ashley: There aren’t many comedians on the Christian genre nor have there really ever been. Do you think this gave you a better shot because you didn’t have to compete against many people for spots on tours, or do you think it hurt your chances of becoming big because people didn’t know what to expect?
Bob: It hurt. It really hurt…bad. You used to say “Christian comic” to someone and they almost always thought “cheesy.” People’s idea of a Christian comic was a preacher who cracked a few story form jokes or sang song parodies. There were a few exceptions but for the most part no one wanted to hear a Christian comic. Also, I came on the scene after Mike Warnke was busted for lying about his “Satanic Hotline” scam. So Christian comics were not to be trusted as well. So it was very hard. Plus, no comic that I know of tried to blend in with the rock side of Christian music. So not only did most people think “cheesy” and “liar” but the Christian punk kids were rowdy and not used to actually listening to someone try to make them laugh. Thankfully now there are a bunch of great Christian comedians. Now when you say Christian comedian, most people have a positive attitude toward us because at some point one of us has made them laugh.
??Ashley: So many comedians, not in the Christian genre, get laughs using vulgar and rude stories and that is generally what people are laughing at. Where do you get your material from?
Bob: I get my ideas from strange stuff that happens to me. I’m pretty off when it comes to normal people so I think I get into some funny situations that make for good stories. Also, I try to keep my life clean so my show stays clean. For instance, most comics cuss. I don’t in my everyday life, so I don’t on stage. Actually, I use Old Testament words for cuss words. “Shadrack!” works really well.
?Ashley: Your real last name is Smiley. Do you think this helped at all with your stand up comedy routine (the concept that you were trying to get people to smile)? Or do you think it helped because it stuck in people’s heads?
?Bob: The last one. I’m friends with about 10 other Christian comics who have horrible names to remember or pronounce. I don’t think Smiley helped with my routine because in the end I still have to make people laugh….I can’t just stand up there repeating my name and hope they keep laughing. Kid Rock does that. But I have to actually be funny. But the first and last name is really easy to remember so I know that’s helped get the word out about me.
?Ashley: You mention on your website that you perform at not only several major Christian festivals, but also private comedy shows. If you had to chose, which would be your favorite to perform at: The smaller more intimate shows or the larger shows where people are crammed together?
Bob: Every situation is different. If it’s a big festival where I have a full 30-minute set and it’s at night when people are ready to laugh, then I’ll take the big festival. But if it’s at 10 am when I’m on while the next band sound checks through the same speakers I’m using, and while the crowd watches the kids in the sumo wrestling suits roll around at the “inflatable games” pit next to the stage, then I’ll take a regular comedy show. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been doing stand up at a festival and heard, “That guy’s pretty funny. Hey, can I get some more ketchup on my hot dog?” So it depends on the situation.
Ashley: Since we are on the topic of festivals, what has been your favorite festival or tour to perform at?
?Bob: Anything with the Newsboys because they have been so helpful and fun to tour with and because they always read my answers to questions like this. Festival Con Dios, Take Me To Your Leader are both tours I loved. Also, when I co-headlined with Riley Armstrong ( HYPERLINK “http://www.rileyarmstrong.com” www.rileyarmstrong.com) on the Once Upon A Tour was great!
?Ashley: Also on your website you mention that you toured in the United Kingdom. What was the most different aspect between the United States and the United Kingdom you noticed?
?Bob: This is an old joke but it actually happened. The first night I bombed. I got almost no laughs. I walked off stage thinking that it was going to be a long 2 1/2 weeks when this couple walked up and said that I was very funny! I said, “What?” They said, “You were so funny that it was all we could do not to laugh out loud!” Again, that’s an old joke but it actually happened to me. The church over there has always been very cold and stoic. So they didn’t think it was ok to laugh out loud. It’s changing over there now thankfully but it’s taking the young generation coming in to shake things up a bit. That was the biggest difference. In the states, people come to my show knowing to laugh at me and even sometimes point. But over there, they didn’t really know what Christian comic was going to be doing. Other than that, the UK was a lot like the States, only with a few less McDonalds … but not a lot less.
?Ashley: Artists always have crazy stories from the road. Can you tell us your best “road story” and what tour it was on?
?Bob: So the Supertones and I borrowed Jennifer Knapp’s van and were driving somewhere to eat after a show when this car in front of us went into reverse and slammed into the back of us! We were at a red light and when the car hit us it then sped off through the red light. We didn’t know what to do so we started chasing the car. We chased it for about 3 or 4 minutes and started to realize that the people in the car were drunk. So we slowed down and I guess this made the people in the car nervous so they sped up even more. Well, they tried to take corner way too fast and ran into the side of a building. We drove up right as the car caught on fire. The whole engine was on fire. So I and the Tones start dragging people out of the car. There were 6 of them in this little car and they were all Hispanic and didn’t speak English. Dan [trombone player for the Supertones] speaks great Spanish so he starts talking to them. Come to find out, they were drunk and they were illegal aliens. But the story was kind of cool because they hit us and we ended up pulling them out of the fire….kind of like what Jesus does with us. Sometimes we hit Him right in the face by denying Him yet He’s still willing to pull us out of the fire.
Ashley: If there was one movie that is closest to your life, what would it be and why?
?Bob: Old Yeller? I guess because I keep expecting someone to show up and shoot me. I don’t know. That’s a tough one. Whatever movie where a guy’s life turns out better than his dreams.