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'Thou Shalt Laugh,' Says New DVD

23 Sep, 2006 By: Holly J. Wagner

There's a new commandment coming down the Christian entertainment pipeline: Thou Shalt Laugh.

The messengers are Patricia Heaton, the Emmy Award-winning actress best known as Ray's wife Debra on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and a handful of other self-declared Christian comedians performing family-friendly standup comedy.

“I think it is not unlike ‘Blue Collar Comedy,' that's pretty light ‘PG-13,’ said producer Hunt Lowry, who also produced the first “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” movie. “With the big focus on the family, it's clean. You can watch it and have your kids come through the room without flipping the channel or turning it off.”

Most of the material in Thou Shalt Laugh (prebook Oct. 3, street Nov. 7, $19.97, Warner Home Video) isn't faith-based. The routines by Thor Ramsey, Michael Jr., Jeff Allen, Teresa Roberts Logan, Joby Saad, Gilbert Esquivel and Taylor Mason are more about everyday life, relationships and working-class values. Christian or otherwise, almost everyone can relate to experiences with traffic, bureaucracies and relationships.

“These comedians are comedians first,” Lowry said. “They are Christians, but they have done ‘The Tonight Show.' Their whole crowd is not the Wednesday night church crowd. There are some Christian jokes in there that are funny. Since the dawn of time, people have always kidded about family, religion, sex, boyfriends and girlfriends, work. You don't have to be a card-carrying Christian to enjoy this humor.”

Although singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of the “Gilligan's Island” theme is funny regardless of one's religious bent, Lowry acknowledges there is some small risk that people of other faiths might not pick the disc up because of the marketing.

“You can't please everyone,” he said. “When you read that title — Thou Shalt Laugh — that's a pretty Christian title. But there is word-of-mouth. That was a big influence from ‘Blue Collar Comedy.’

Lowry hopes the family-friendly humor will transcend the possible religious boundaries.

“There's no question [studios] make a lot of family movies, but in standup, there is not much,” he said. “I'm not a prude — I like Chris Rock — but I don't want my 12-year-old daughter to see that at this stage.”

Warner plans to support the title with national advertising, as well as radio and online campaigns targeting the Christian community. The label also is putting together a concert tour with the disc's stars that should begin in November, just as the disc hits release.

“We've had tremendous interest in the tour,” Lowy said. “We've even got a greeting card line coming out called Thou Shalt Laugh. They will be in stores in November.”

“Christian-based entertainment has a huge consumer demand that has come to prominence in the past five years,” said Tehya Kopp, Warner executive director of special-interest marketing. “Look at the success of the Christian music industry and the recent popularity of Christian-themed films. It has left the ‘niche' status and entered the mainstream marketplace with a strong foothold that is only going to expand.”

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