There are two clichés among many that stand out when thinking of faith-based comedians and preachers’ kids. One is the religious (usually Christian) comedian who performs a full set then closes by telling the audience (usually teens) how salvation pulled them from the pits of hell, out-of-control sex, sharing needles with circus animals, etc. — their intentions to guide you off the road they walked. The second cliché is the kid of the preacher who, for myriad psychological reasons, loses his mind and spins dangerously out of control.
Then there is a third category, less talked about but prominent in the comedy world. It’s the preacher’s kid who turned from the institution of religion yet maintained a sense of self-control to become a successful standup comic. They don’t shun their background, but they also don’t mind if you walk the road less traveled. Comics Spanky Brown and Kristin Key are examples of the latter. Both grew up watching their fathers in the pulpit, and both now hold their audiences’ attention with a different kind of message.
Spanky is known as the “R&B of Comedy.” He got his start in a club in Savannah, Ga., and thanks his parents for making him funny. He joins the Bob and Tom Tour this year and can be heard frequently on Sirius and XM radio and BET. His comedy covers not only the trials of being a preacher’s kid growing up in Memphis, but dealing with all of life’s tragedies and surprises — from marriage to politics to race.
Kristin competed on “Last Comic Standing” and began her professional comedy act at age 19. Her decision to leave the church came when she realized how hard it was for her father to be criticized as a result of her and her brother’s actions. “People would tell him what we did on Saturday night, and it made me feel bad for him. So I stopped going,” she says. Her journey meeting thousands of people on the road has made her even more intolerant with intolerance. “I don’t like closed-minded people, whether it be about religion, race, sexual orientation or gender … I also hate the button for the cross-walk, because I really don’t think it’s attached to anything. It’s just there to make people more patient.”
She’s liberated herself from the fear-of-hell-if-I-sin guilt of her childhood, allowing herself to create an onstage intimacy with the audience where she’ll say whatever comes to mind, including an improvised heckler moment about blowjobs that turned into a bit about giving women hints on how to get out of them. “Parts of my show are true, parts of my show are just plain silly,” Kristen says. “That one is just silly. I have never been good at them. I just remember having a ‘surprise’ and realizing that I had been working all that time for that?”
Kristin doesn’t regret being raised in a church, as it kept her family together and kept them close. Her father was one of her earliest closeted fans. “In college, I suffered from insomnia for six years. I hated school, and the only time I was happy was in a room full of laughing people. Even that began to depress me because I saw comics on TV doing the same thing and wondered how and why they could do that for work. I wanted to fail so I could give up on the dream and go on with life knowing I tried.” Instead, she found her place despite the unstable pay and long hours. “For the first time, I had a sense of purpose, and I finally began sleeping again.”
Both Kristin and Spanky found their paths not from a paternal voice in the pulpit, but the voice in their head that kept them laughing even when life kicked hard. Catch them both in the next few weeks at Comedy Caravan.
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Spanky Brown (Feb. 20-24)
Kristin Key (Feb. 27-March 3)
1250 Bardstown Road
$8-12; various times