Pope Francis gets laughs at meeting with big-name comedians

Pope Francis gets laughs at meeting with big-name comedians

A group of comedians and humorists, including Chris Rock and Jimmy Fallon (center), share a lighthearted exchange with Pope Francis during a gathering with the pope in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on June 14, 2024. VATICAN MEDIA VIA CNA

By Hannah Brockhaus

Catholic News Agency

June 14, 2024

VATICAN— Pope Francis got a chuckle from an audience of comedians on Friday morning after he suggested throwing away his prepared remarks for simply making people laugh with a silly gesture.

Following the advice of St. Thomas Aquinas, who said, “Those who lack playfulness are sinful,” the pope joked that instead of reading his prepared speech, “I’ll do this, and we will all laugh,” as he held his thumb to his head and wiggled his fingers.

Pope Francis took the stage in front of over 100 comics, stand-up comedians, and humorists, including Americans Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brien, on June 14 in the largest — and possibly only — gathering of comics in the Vatican since Pope Pius V eliminated the role of the papal jester in the 1500s.

U.S. comedians Jim Gaffigan, Chris Rock, Tig Notaro, Mike Birbiglia, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kathleen Madigan, and Whoopi Goldberg also took part, as well as American humorist writer David Sedaris and British TV writer and comedian Stephen Merchant.

Improvising, the pontiff said he had been told that morning that there is an Italian saying that “smiling brings good health.” The phrase in Italian, “il sorriso fa buon sangue,” is a variation of an Italian proverb: “Il vino fa buon sangue”; in English, “wine brings good health.”

The June 14 meeting, organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education and Dicastery for Communication, included 107 comics and humorists from 15 countries.

Pope Francis had high praise for their ability to bring people together through humor.

“In the midst of so much gloomy news, immersed as we are in many social and even personal emergencies, you have the power to spread peace and smiles,” he said.

He called the ability to make people smile amid their problems a “miracle,” praising their ability to “denounce abuses of power” and inappropriate behavior, and to give voice to forgotten situations.

Humor, he added, “does not offend, humiliate, or put people down according to their flaws.”

Stephen Colbert told EWTN News after shaking hands with the pope that the connection between faith and humor is “in the back of my mind all the time.”

“I mean, not in the front of my mind, in the front of my mind is what the joke is. But at a certain point in the back of the mind you have to say, ‘Do I want to tell that joke? And does that go with everything else that you are besides a comedian?’”

“Especially doing political satire, you’re kind of dancing around with a knife in your hand a lot and you want to be careful who and what you cut,” the host of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” added. “So it was lovely to hear the pope acknowledge that there’s a value in that for people’s hearts, and it made me think a little bit harder about how I want to use it.”

Colbert also said he occasionally watches Mass on EWTN.

Jim Gaffigan came to the Vatican with his wife, Jeannie, and 11- and 12-year-old sons, Patrick and Michael, who asked the pope to bless their rosaries.

“I’m going to brag about meeting the pope. That’s so cool,” Michael told CNA.

“And now you have to become a priest!” Gaffigan said to Patrick after he had received a pat on the cheek and candy from Pope Francis.

“I know that [Pope Francis] has always liked comedy,” Gaffigan said in comments to CNA. “If I was like Stephen Colbert, educated about Catholicism, I’d be able to reference St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Thomas More and all that stuff, but I can’t. I’m just a dumb guy that went to church and tried to listen. But I pay attention more now.”

The comedian, who performed stand-up at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015, joked after the papal meeting Friday that assembling a group of comedians is “like the ultimate ‘Hail Mary’” for the world’s ills. “[The pope’s] like, ‘What if we just call in all the clowns? What if we just get the court jesters …’” he told CNA.

In his remarks, Pope Francis referenced a prayer, mistakenly attributed to St. Thomas More, to “give me a sense of humor, Lord,” saying he has prayed it every day for more than 40 years.

The full version of the prayer, which can be found in Chester Cathedral, was read aloud by Italian comedian and television host Luciana Littizzetto at the end of the audience.

The last stanza of the anonymously-authored poem says: “Give me a sense of humor, Lord, give me the grace to see a joke; to get some happiness from life, and pass it on to other folk.”

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