Beliefs Culture

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Stephen Colbert to star in Catholic comedy slam

RNS photo courtesy Scott Gries/Comedy Central

NEW YORK (RNS) So who is the funniest Catholic in the Western world: New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan or Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert?

It's a tough call for anyone who has followed either man's impressive record of rim shots, but we may finally get an answer to that urgent question when the cardinal and the comedian team up for a panel on faith and humor this September at Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y.

Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert has used his “Colbert Report” to gently make fun of religion and religious institutions, even as he remains a man of deep and devout Catholic faith.

“I’m looking forward to a great conversation with a terrific theologian and a gifted comedian. They are both,” quipped the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and popular author. Martin will be moderating the Sept. 14 event, titled “The Cardinal and Colbert: Humor, Joy, and the Spiritual Life.”

Martin’s recent book, “Between Heaven and Mirth,” explores the relationship between humor and faith, and the priest said that the panel wouldn’t be just a couple of Catholic tummlers yukking it up for the audience – or distracting the public from the many controversial stories about the church.

“This is just what the Catholic Church needs,” said Martin, who has been on “The Colbert Report” so many times that he is called the official chaplain of the Emmy-winning news parody program. “Being joyful does not mean that you overlook suffering or pain or even scandal.”

Martin noted that the Book of Ecclesiastes says that there is a time to mourn and a time to laugh. “In the Catholic Church we tend to mourn more than we tend to laugh. This panel is trying to help restore the balance.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said talks with the White House over a proposed contraception mandate are “going nowhere.”

Colbert is a lifelong Catholic whose spirituality was shaped in part by the loss of his father and two of his brothers in a plane crash when he was 10. The comedian credits his mother with imbuing him with a deep faith through all the trials.

“She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us,” Colbert told The New York Times earlier this year.

“What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain — it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.”

Today, Colbert is a married father of three, a churchgoing Catholic who sometimes teaches Sunday school at his New Jersey parish – a far cry from the right-wing blunderbuss he portrays on his popular cable show.

But even his bloviating on-screen persona manages to work Catholic riffs into the program on a regular basis. In one episode after Easter Sunday, Colbert came on looking hungover and confessed to having just ended a “Catholic bender.”

Dolan is certainly no slouch when it comes to faith, and he’s also pretty good in the humor department – especially when he is joking at his own expense, usually about his ample girth.

“As we pass Radio City and pass the Ed Sullivan Theater and pass Times Square, the greatest challenge is to pass the hot dog carts and not stop,” Dolan said after his appointment to New York.

In a similar vein, he once said: “My first pastoral letter's gonna be a condemnation of light beer and instant mashed potatoes – I hate those two things.”

And to “60 Minutes” there was this one: “They asked me when I got here, ‘Are you Cardinals, Mets, Brewers, or Yankees?’ And I said, ‘When it comes to baseball, I think I can be pro-choice.’ ”

Dolan, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has also made it clear that he thinks humor is integral to the church’s future.

“What weighs on me the most, is the caricature of the Catholic Church as crabby, nay-saying, down in the dumps, discouraging, on the run,” he told The New York Times in January. “And I’m thinking if there is anything that should be upbeat, affirming, positive, joyful, it should be people of faith.”

If there was a potential pitfall for the Dolan-Colbert panel, it might have been that Dolan’s ally, William Donohue of the Catholic League, has for months been campaigning to force Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” star, Jon Stewart, to apologize for a satiric segment last April on the contraception mandate controversy that featured a photo of a manger over a woman’s crotch.

But Donohue, head of the New York-based league, said Stewart “is a different kettle of fish” from Colbert. He said he has been on Colbert’s show twice “and both times we had some fun” – and he told Dolan as much.

“So … no, I don't see a problem. If anything, given the dust-up between Stewart and me, Colbert is not likely to cross the line.”


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • When you say “Western world” in your opening sentence, you mean the USA, right? Britain has some very funny Catholic comedians, as I’m sure do most of the countries of Europe. Please try to remember there’s a world (even part of the western world) beyond your borders. I know it’s hard for you Americans.

  • Peter: No, I meant the entire Western world, including Europe and everywhere you could imagine…

    Actually, I meant that — much like Synge did, I imagine — because I was being a tad ironic, in keeping with the subject matter.

  • This is wonderful! These two men are absolutely hilarious and I can’t wait to see them together! I laughed out loud just reading this article 🙂

  • I’m sorry, I find Dolan to be a windbag. His report on the situation in Ireland was a joke, but not in the humorous meaning.

  • Colbert is a true genius! And I’m sure he was not offended by the Daily Show’s humor regarding the contraceptives issue. I don’t feel as warmly about Card. Dolan, but he is funny, you have to admit. As for the third guy named, who is he and why should anybody care?

  • Cindy, I am sure it will be streaming on the web but I also think it may be broadcast.

  • Because today is the day that Fordham was to make a news release about the event and because we could not find anything on the Fordham site this morning, we called Fordham and were told that this event is closed to the public. We are deeply disappointed that, after all the buildup, that is the case! Will the event be broadcast or live-streamed or recorded for later broadcast? Thank you!

  • This would certainly be an event primarily for the Fordham community, I’m sure. Opening it to the general public would swamp any venue. Just the undergrads will fill the hall easy. Which is why I think they’ll broadcast it.

  • We need a good dose of humor now a days, specially with all the bad news lately. Let’s hope for a great show. Hopefully it will be broadcast, if not simultaneously, then at least later in the week on the web.

  • Stephen is just trying to smooth his way into heaven. He tried to have an audience with the Pope, but was turned away. He has to start a little lower first.

  • I am so glad this is happening! Some years ago I heard Colbert, whom I had not then seen in action, on the public radio show Fresh Air and found his overt Catholicism combined with humor both rare and delightful, so I devoted one of my weekly columns to him and to the interview. I was slammed by “more Catholic than Catholic” readers who insisted Colbert was unacceptably irreverent. I’m not a big fan of Cardinal Dolan but applaud him for joining this platform. Wish I could be there!

  • I found this comedy thing a big waste of time. With all the very serious issues going on in the Church and the very serious battle to save the lives of the most innocent human beings in the womb in US and the world, and this is what our Church leaders are doing???? And, then I read we are fraternizing with a person who has a picture of a manger over a women’s crouch? Stupidity! Does anyone ever ask, “Please keep your panties out of our pocketbooks!” Why should we pay for contraception out of our hard-earned work dollar? And, I am upset to hear a Bishop say, “I am pro-choice.” even in a joke about which team to support. How can he make a joke about the heartache of the many marginalized women who have suffered from choosing abortion. This is an absurd comedian panel and just another attempt to numb everyone into pretending all is just fine. This is not material to laugh about. And, I would imagine that most people reading this will not even get my point. God love you all.

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