Branding Our Comedy
The Sozo Group caught up with Ha Ha Men's Improv & Sketch Comedy Troupe to ask them how they effectively brand their type of comedy.
Written by Jess Olivito, Contributing Writer
In describing the performances of Ha Ha Men, I've experienced many confused looks and questions. What IS Christian comedy? Are they making fun of religion? Is the troupe geared towards elementary schools? How can clean comedy even be funny? As a result, I decided to get some clarity right from the horse's mouth.
Actor and comedian Jim Bushy explains it like this: "It's hard to describe what we do without coming across like we're just funny Sunday school teachers. Actually, we're a comedy troupe that's safe for family fun nights, couples' retreats, as well as charity and corporate events."
But Ha Ha Men co-founder and networker extraordinaire Dave Ebert told me even more. He shared that they're one of the only clean comedy troupes in the entire Chicagoland area because there's not a large number of faith-based groups focused on improv.
“There is always been a stigma attached to the term Christian comedy and at times, this has made it more difficult to market ourselves. For instance, in Kansas City, where I’m from, they hear the term 'Christian comedian' and their immediate reaction is, 'that’s really lame,' writing you off as a nerd and disregarding us a viable entertainment option," says co-founder Ryan McChesney.
What I've come to quickly understand is that not all Christian comics (who are truly rooted in their faith) are willing to share that Christianity is part of their gimmick in order to to book shows. Unfortunately, it's often because Christians just aren’t perceived to be funny and typically don’t succeed by branding as such. These facts make me sad, as I know God truly desires this type of entertainment for this time and space.
One of biggest challenges Ha Ha Men faces is dispelling the stigma. "When we go up there to perform, we never want to forget Who we're representing - even if it’s a club where there's not a direct witnessing opportunity. We enjoy bringing light to the room and letting the Spirit move however He wants," says Ebert.
As I chatted with the different members of the comedic team, it became increasingly evident that this group unabashedly admits that their group IS a Christian group despite the stereotyping that often happens. They shared that their brand of comedy is what they believe will become the "standard" - praying that they never forget (as a group, or individually as people) WHY they're doing what they do.
“It essentially comes down to making a conscious choice," says improviser Jim Bushy. "Our choice was to either market ourselves in a way that caused us to have a steeper climb, or we would have to have left our faith to the side - allowing us to get lumped in with a larger pool of comics who's message or purpose becomes diluted. So we made the conscious choice to put our faith out front, but then when asking about our challenges...that’s precisely our challenge as well - the hill is now steeper.”
Ha Ha Men's newest team member Brooke Simkins put it this way, “I can see how it could be confusing to people...like what IS Christian comedy? Are you just making jokes about religion? And answer on most occasions, is absolutely NOT. We're not focused on Biblical or theological content as the basis for our improv shows because often it can be difficult to pull that off in a way that is consistently tasteful and God-honoring. But, on occasion - something funny happens when we unintentionally end up in these uncharted waters. I’ll never forget that time when Dave Zarbock and I were doing this Gabriel scene for a Christmas talent show where he turned it into many hilarious dance moments. That worked incredibly well.”
Ha Ha Men co-founder Dave Ebert added this: “So much of laughter is just a simple recognition of that myself, or someone that I know, is experiencing what I've been through. It’s when people are identifying with you relationally that it's really funny. The main goal is for the audience to identify with us as people first.”