Standing up for God

Smiley finds unexpected career as ‘clean’ comedian

Being a funny guy who can tell clean jokes and give spiritually centered messages often places Bob Smiley into venues where he never expected God would send him.

“All my life people said you should be a comedian, but I didn’t want to stand up in bars,” said Smiley, 41, who will appear in Baton Rouge at 6 p.m. Aug. 11 at Broadmoor United Methodist Church, 10230 Mollylea Drive.

“Stand-up was never a dream,” he said. “But literally, God opened the door and kicked me through it.”

While studying elementary education at Abilene Christian University in Texas, Smiley’s performance in a stand-up comedian competition earned him first place and $500, but he said he didn’t put much stock into the win.

“I thought that would be a good story for the grandkids one day,” he said.

Smiley continued pursuing his teaching plans, earning a degree and working as a photographer to pay off his bills. But soon he accepted work as a comedian and merchandise manager for Clay Crosse, a Christian singer. The band’s road manager, who’d contacted Smiley, was a former student at Abilene Christian who’d heard Smiley perform in the stand-up competition.

“I thought I could travel, see the world and go back and teach,” Smiley said.

During band tours, there were malfunctions and production breakdowns that left room for Smiley to perform.

“I had to entertain the crowds and it was baptism by fire,” he said.

He also entertained and emceed for Christian bands, including Newsboys, Third Day and Mercy Me.

Youth leaders around the country began asking Smiley to entertain at youth meetings and retreats.

“I’ve performed before as little as eight people to 75,000 people,” said Smiley, who has worked in comedy for 17 years.

His unexpected career turn was a nice fit for his wife, Wendy, and their three boys, who all live in north Houston, he said.

“This actually pays the bills,” said Smiley,who does 90 shows a year, sometimes two or three in a week in fellowship halls, churches and in concert arenas.

Smiley said he uses humor about faith and the church in a nonthreatening way.

“I don’t want to alienate,” he said.

Growing up in the Church of Christ, “I do this bit about me using my armpits,” he said, explaining that his church wouldn’t use musical instruments during worship.

“I don’t talk about theology, Bible interpretation,” he said. “I don’t challenge people on their beliefs. But things that involve people’s decisions are fair game. For example, how we worship is fair game, and people do like talking about the differences in how we worship.”

Smiley said his comedy routines might target parents dropping their children off at the church day care during service only to see a message on the public monitor that their child is misbehaving.

“I don’t pick on people or embarrass people during my show. I don’t want to offend people. I get a lot of different denominations of people coming to my shows,” he said.

He said his jokes mirror his life.

“Comedians talk about what they know and I try to keep my life as clean as I can, so that what I write about is going to be clean,” he said. “My material is about my family and growing up in a Christian home.

“I love making people laugh and since I’m not chasing my dream, it’s my faith walk that drives me to travel and encourage people and bring joy to people.”