Chris Rock, Jimmy Fallon and other comedians meet the Pope

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Pope Francis looks at American comedians Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock and Jimmy Fallon, among others, as he meets with more than 100 comedians from around the world at the Vatican on June 14, 2024, encouraging them to cheer people up and help people see reality with all its contradictions.(Photo: Simone Risoluti/Vatican Media)

“It’s a like a meeting of every poorly behaved kid in church, and they stuck them all in a room and they thought it would be a good idea,” Jim Gaffigan told reporters after he, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and more than 100 other comedians from around the world met with Pope Francis on Friday.

As if to illustrate Gaffigan’s point, Fallon stood up just before the pope entered the audience hall and pretended to greet the room from the papal chair, to uproarious laughter.

Gaffigan described the mood in the Vatican hall as “ADHD cranked up.”

Gaffigan and Colbert, both practicing Catholics, were asked by Vatican organizers to put together the list of American comedians who would meet with the pope. “They were like, ‘We don’t want you to do any material.’ Well, then you can’t invite any comedian!” Gaffigan said.

The two said they had tried to select those who would be respectful of the occasion. Mike Birbiglia, Whoopi Goldberg, Fallon, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kathleen Madigan, Tig Notaro, Conan O’Brien, Chris Rock and David Sedaris made the list of comedic representatives from the United States.

The Rev. Jim Martin, the American Jesuit priest best known for his outreach to LGBTQ faithful who also served as chaplain of Colbert’s former Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report,” also helped organize the rare meeting, with help from Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Vatican Department of Culture. The meeting followed other Vatican overtures to the arts and entertainment world. Last June, the pope greeted some 200 artists in the Sistine Chapel to celebrate the intersection of art and faith.

The comedians, who hail from different religious and social backgrounds, confessed they were perplexed about what they were doing at the Vatican.

“I still don’t know why comedians are at the Vatican here today. I am really grateful that we are!” said Colbert, while expressing his hope to interview the pope someday. The “Late Show” host voiced the English audio version of Pope Francis’ autobiography, “Life: My Story Through History.”

Talk show host O’Brien declared himself equally puzzled by the invitation, while admitting, “Most of my career is me saying, ‘Why am I here?’

“We are all looking at each other and thinking something is wrong,” said O’Brien. “We are in this beautiful space at the Vatican and for some reason they let comedians in, which is always a mistake!”

O’Brien, discussing the long wait for just a brief handshake with the pope, observed, “It’s not like Santa Claus, where you can sit on his lap! You can’t do that. I thought I was; I was about to sit!”

Louis-Dreyfus, of “Seinfeld” and “Veep,” called the audience with comedians “so bizarre,” also a “wonderful experience” that “gives weight to the power of comedy.”

The unmistakable voice of Rock echoed through the high vaulted corridors of the Vatican: “Amazing! Incredible!”

Francis delivered a speech complimenting the ability of comedians to make light of difficult situations, and to “spread peace and smiles” as well as “making God smile.” He described comedians as having the power to unite people, “because laughter is contagious.”

The pope asked: “Can we laugh at God? Of course, we can, just as we play and joke with the people we love. The Jewish wisdom and literary tradition is a master in this!”

He continued: “It is possible to do this without offending the religious sentiments of believers, especially the poor.”

The pontiff even made a few attempts at humor himself, which went over especially well with the stellar cast of Italian comedians who were able to understand his words.

Gaffigan, who was accompanied by his wife and two children, spoke about the challenges of being a Catholic comedian. “I think one of the most punk rock things you could do is to be a comedian and then to be Catholic on top of that — you are like asking for trouble!” he said.

Despite their cultural and religious differences, the rowdy pack of comedians embraced the “warmth and openness” they experienced, Gaffigan said. “Comedians are silly but they are also very sincere. And they have a healthy ego, so they are like: ‘The pope wants to meet me, why not?'” he added.

After the healthy dose of humour and laughter, Francis left by helicopter to southern Italy to discuss the challenges presented by artificial intelligence at the G7 meeting of world leaders, including President Joe Biden, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and French President Emanuel Macron.

© Religion News Service

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