Thor Ramsey photo courtesy of espeakers.com
Imagine for a moment that it’s the late 1990s and you are a rising comedian in Los Angeles. You are good enough that you have been on The Tonight Show five times. Life is good and getting better … or so it seems.
While your professional life is good, your personal life is somewhat complicated. That’s because you are trying to lose your religion so that you might become famous for the sake of being famous without any restrictions due to your faith. There will be no checks and balances, just a full-throttle approach to having what you WANT.
Then, one night God tells you in a dream that you only have 24 hours to live.
That’s the premise for Thor Ramsey’s latest book, The End Times Comedy Show. A nationally known standup comedian and one of the most recognized names in Christian comedy, he has always been a socially conscious performer and that has certainly carried over in his writing.
I recently sat down with Thor to discuss The End Times Comedy Show, the controversial issue of deconstructing faith, and why it was important to include supernatural themes in the book.
I first got to know you and your work through the Thou Shalt Laugh video series that came out a few years ago. I think your stand-up is fantastic. At what point of being a stand-up comedian did you think, “You know, I think the next step for me is to write books?”
When I was a junior in high school, I had this amazing English teacher and we actually had her for two years in a row. So, I had her my junior year and senior year. For my senior term, instead of doing a final exam, she allowed us to choose a project to work on. I chose to write a short story as my final. I’d been writing short stories in that class, and she introduced me to authors I had never heard of. She really birthed in me this hunger and desire to be a writer and to be a novelist. I remember writing that short story and I saved the front page of it. I still have it. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking about framing it, but she wrote on it in red ink. She wrote a glowing review that said, “Keep at it because one day you’ll be published.” That’s why I kept it. So, originally, even as I began doing standup, I did so with the hope of becoming a screenwriter. It’s just that at the time standup comedy was the lowest rung into show business. That’s something that you could actually take a step up into. You’re in show business and you’re the writer, you’re the producer, you’re the director.
Now, what I didn’t realize about standup at that time is that when you’re beginning it is all encompassing. You are learning a craft and it takes a lot of years to get good at it. Everything else kind of took a back burner until I felt I became proficient at standup. And then you’re always just continually growing. It’s really like that with anything. To make my short answer even longer, I began this book in the late 1990s and just continually worked on it throughout the years. I actually have five completed novels now, and this is the first one I’m rolling out.
The End Times Comedy Show is a fascinating title. It’s like you want to make people laugh but at the same time you want to take on some controversial issues. Would that be an accurate assessment?
That’s really an accurate assessment of all my writing. I really feel like the benefit of being a standup comedian for over three decades is that you learn the beats of comedy and you learn how to incorporate those into your writing in a way that doesn’t detract from the point you’re trying to make, or the story itself. This is a novel, so it’s fictional. But the whole point of this was I always begin with the story. I always begin with what’s an interesting story to me. I’m passionate about this story because it’s a novel from a Christian worldview, but it’s not a sermon in disguise. I know that being someone who’s been passionate about literature throughout the years, that I’ve been a little dissatisfied with the Christian genre of fiction.
And I heard somebody say years ago, if you can’t find the book you want, write it. And so that’s kind of what I’ve done with this book. I went and talked to the real influences who introduced me to writing. I went and tried to write in that vein.
One key controversial issue in your book is the Deconstructing faith movement. For the sake of our conversation today, how would you define “Deconstruction”?
Deconstructing the faith is the more recent manifestation of that, but I would go back to the old fashioned Bible word ‘backsliding’. It begins with that because I think deconstructing the faith, at least from my perspective, a lot of it begins emotionally. They begin deconstructing the faith intellectually, but it comes from an emotional place. It comes from an emotionally dark place a lot of times. And so, I think what people do is they’re looking for a reason to leave so they have to justify the leaving because this is just a reality about the human personality. We can’t live out what we don’t believe because we find that disconnect if we believe something internally and we want to live a different way. This means we’re in conflict internally with how we’re living.
If you want to live a certain way, but your belief system is against that way of living, You’ve got to find a way to justify how you want to live. I believe a lot of the deconstruction and defections
from the faith begin emotionally, and then they move to the intellectual to justify their leaving so that they can calm that emotional turmoil within.
Your main character is Sam Seitz, a mildly successful comedian with five Tonight Show appearances. It seems like he is on the rise. However, Sam is actively trying to lose his religion so that he might “”pursue the mindless goal of becoming famous for the sake of fame”. As someone who has also written and published a book, I realize there is usually a little bit of the author in the main character. Would this be true in your case?
Yes. I chose the world of standup comedy specifically in Los Angeles, California dealing with The Improv and The Comedy Store. So, that’s the setting. I know standup comedy. I know the world of standup comedy. I began in the secular market. So, it’s a world I was familiar with. And in another sense, you choose your heroes to write about. Francis Schaefer has always been a hero of mine. And you always think to yourself, man, wouldn’t it be great if I was his son? So, I basically took myself and inserted myself into the Schaefer family, except I highly fictionalized them because I don’t really know anything about his other kids other than Frankie, who is famous for defecting from the faith back in the 1990s. That’s when I started writing this. So, you kind of insert yourself into that situation. I think you always write from a standpoint of what you know. I think this is why readers read things a lot of times. They ask themselves, “What would that world be like?” What’s the world of a standup comedian like? What’s it like to be one of the elites of evangelical culture? There’s a little bit of that in there. I just sort of wrote it and meshed those things together.
Interestingly, this book has some supernatural elements in it. Why was it important to include these themes in the book?
I don’t think you can write from a Christian worldview without covering the supernatural. Christianity, is a religion based on a supernatural occurrence. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. It’s miraculous. It’s supernatural. You can’t get away from the supernatural aspect of Christianity. Even the premise of Christianity, God has spoken to humanity. That’s supernatural in its very core. As Christians, we believe those in the material world and the spiritual world, there’s not this separation between them, but it’s there. And so, one of the elements I put in the book and I think this is true for the Christian life is that early on, for many of us, the supernatural element of what we experience is above our knowledge and beyond what we understand about our faith.
But we all, in some sense, experience Christ the risen savior. Now, some people’s experiences with that are more dramatic than others, but we begin with the extraordinary and that leads us to live ordinary, everyday Christian lives. I think that’s what it’s all about. The mapping I put in the novel begins with the extraordinary. You have this premise of Sam, who really is a Christian. He’s just in denial of his faith. He wants to lose his belief and he can’t seem to get there. And that’s the satire in it. He’s trying to deconvert and he’s inundated with supernatural experiences. That’s kind of the idea.
For many, the problem with satire and Christians is either you “get it” and find it to be cutting yet true, whereas others think you are disgusting and quite possibly on a mission to tear down the faith as we know it. Your thoughts?
I think it’s difficult in the faith space because as Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and inspired and infallible Word of God, we are known for wanting to tell the truth and say what we mean. Christians want to say what they mean. With satire, in one sense, you’re saying the exact opposite of what you mean to make your point a lot of times. Satire has more facets than that, but that’s the foundation of it. I satirize some aspects of evangelical subculture, but I don’t think anyone can read it and not find a deep warmth for all the characters involved, even the seedy characters.
After people have read The End Times Comedy Show, what would you like to see your readers get out of the experience? What is your greatest hope for your book?
I hope my readers come away seeing that there are other ways of doing Christian art. I really do. I hope they see the potential of just doing good stories, good art, good movies, whatever it is from a Christian worldview. It doesn’t have to feel like everything has to be a tract or the four spiritual laws incorporated into a movie or a film. In my last two projects in the church, Church People, which was a movie and The End Times Comedy Show, they both dealt specifically with the Christian subculture. And so, you can’t help dealing with the subculture without talking about pertinent, theological issues. Every novel comes from a worldview.
Even if your particular story doesn’t necessarily hit on the themes of evangelical subculture, it should still reflect the worldview that is God’s reality. I hope that my readers see the possibilities for fictional writing with Christian themes. I’m hoping that I can fill a particular void in your life, so to speak. The novel is not a sermon in disguise. It’s focused mostly on telling this story and being engaging to the point where people want to continue to read the book and then recommend it to others.
Listen to our entire conversation on the Crossmap Podcast: