A Talk With John Tesh
More Hope and Love, Please

Many critics really don’t appreciate the extent to which the entire gig—job though it may be—is just one giant perk, imagining that, somehow, privileged access of one kind is more corrupting than another.  Me, now, I’ve always thought that getting to watch movies and DVDs for free, most often in advance of the general public, is pretty keen, even if a lot of the material turns out fairly dull or terrible.  In other words, a free movie in Seattle is as likely to turn my head, if it’s going to be turned at all, as a room-service New York steak in L.A.  Air travel and L.A. (or NYC) taxi cabs are anything but fun, even if they’re free.

So among the swanky pleasures to be had in this biz, getting all four editions of Thou Shalt Laugh sent to me in the mail gratis over the last couple of years has ranked right up there with the best. I like to laugh, and I am mostly pained by stuff like Norbit, You, Me and Dupree, Click, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.  The list could go on quite a bit.

Better yet, with the release of Thou Shalt Laugh 4, which I reviewed last week at PtP, I also had the chance, courtesy of the film’s producers (who also happen to be my bosses, through a different corporate food chain), to talk with show emcee John Tesh about his involvement in the project.  The full transcript of that interview follows.

John Tesh, host of Thou Shalt Laugh 4

I’m a big fan of the creative work that you’ve been doing outside of your passion, the piano.  Last year, I think it was, you produced the Alive! program.

John Tesh:  Oh, yeah.

And that was very good.  I really enjoyed that.  And now, of course, getting involved with Thou Shalt Laugh is a nice touch, too.  Has there been something specific motivating you to branch out into involvement in other arts?

JT:  Yeah, I think the reason for that is: If I didn’t have a teen-aged daughter in the house, I think my perspective on just about everything would be much different.  Because [now] I do a radio show, and I don’t tour sixty cities in a row any more—we do maybe three or four a month—I spend a lot of time with the kid, and hanging out with other fifteen-year-old teenagers who listen to Ryan Seacrest every morning and learn the latest hip-hop dance, and take them to their ballet and singing lessons or whatever.  And so it’s like I’m living life as the father of somebody who is at the Fame school.  So you’re exposed to a lot of different stuff.  Alive! really came about because of what my daughter does and because her hip-hop teacher is one of the stars of the show; he also dances with us.  And then going to a progressive church where they try to not just spit out stuff from the pulpit but also involve your whole family in things that are not just “safe” family stuff but challenging family entertainment, it just naturally got me plugged into things.  Like Jonathan Bock, who goes to my church, his Thou Shalt Laugh.  And other programs.  You know, “family entertainment” is always kind of scary because it’s watered down, but there are lot of people out there who are doing good stuff, and these are a couple of those projects.

Well, it’s really good seeing that stuff.  In my review of Thou Shalt Laugh 4, I remarked that what you really project is a kindness in your persona, and to me that’s really valuable today because of what’s referred to as “the culture wars”—and so much of that, from the Christian side, is something that resembles anything but kindness.  So it’s really nice seeing your persona out there as part of a program promoting the arts in other forms from our culture.  Are you concerned, personally, about the culture wars?  Is that something you consciously involve yourself in?

JT:  That’s a great question.  I think we have to be very careful as Christians of not going back to the days of—and I think there’s a log of churches like this—the Crusades, and “If you’re not one of us, we’re not going to hang with you.  In fact, we’re not going to let our kids hang with you, and you’re just wrong. You have to change your faith.”  And during the Crusades, it was, “If you’re not a Christian, we’re going to burn you.”  So I [prefer] leading by faith, leading by example: our mission in our family is spreading the Gospel, but it’s less proselytizing and more doing of our personal best to find a way to be salt and light, if you will.  A lot of what we do on stage is to encourage people to volunteer, and provide a forum for that—not to try to take people’s religion away from them, which is what I have to say a lot of Christians try to do.  And I think a lot of what we do as Christians today, to be specific, is to build these giant churches that have their own food court, their own mall, their own basketball courts, their own school.  And so you get to the point where your kids come out of that, and what happens?  My daughter goes to this performing arts school in Los Angeles, a charter school, where it’s a lot of inner-city kids; and she didn’t have that experience.  We didn’t put her in a Christian school, or a private school or whatever—and she wouldn’t have had that experience; she wouldn’t really even know how to communicate with people outside of that environment.  So I hope I’m answering your question.  Also, over the years, I’ve seen “Christian entertainment groups” putting stuff on television [saying] “This is the Word, this is the Gospel,” but the production is terrible.  But when you watch Thou Shalt Laugh, and it’s obvious that you’re getting it, it’s like, “This is so much fun, I don’t care who these guys are!”  And it’s a lot of work to be funny without dropping the f-bomb every fifteen seconds. 

Yes.  I remarked in my review that Thou Shalt Laugh 4—well, the whole series, really—doesn’t carry the feeling that “this is humor that is only going to appeal to Christians.”  It’s funniness that’s funny for the sake of being funny.  So it’s good comedy regardless of the target niche.  Now, that’s a marketing concern; and I think niche marketing has its place and is entirely valid.  But the approach in these programs is broader than that.  Yesterday, as I was driving down the freeway and was thinking about questions to ask you, the thing that really struck me—which is kind of unrelated—is that the church today seems a lot more concerned about the darkness than the light.  And that doesn’t seem consistent, to me, with the Gospel, the story of which was: there was darkness, and into it came a great light.  And for some reason, we’ve forgotten about being about the light, instead complaining constantly about how dark things are, or about how dark they are becoming.

JT:  I agree.  We call those “defensive Christians.” We acknowledge that Satan is in this world, and there is a great darkness that needs to be respected, if you will; but I think there’s been a retreating of what you’re talking about: which is, why don’t we embrace the light of what Christianity is, which is hope—and love?  But I think what happens is—and you talked about it earlier, where these battle lines end up being drawn—Christians decide they’re going to pick that One Thing, maybe same-sex marriage; but there’s a lot of stuff in the Bible that’s considered just as bad as that.  But when draw battle lines in one area like that, that becomes what you’re known for.  And that’s one thing that casts a lot of darkness on Christians as individuals—and on the faith itself.  So I love it with something like this, with Jonathan and crew creating Thou Shalt Laugh, because it becomes a rallying point.  Here’s something that’s a lot of fun and gives you hope in fun with your family—and even in Michael Jr.’s case, in making fun of faith, making fun of your weekend in the church, making fun of ourselves.  You know, we don’t do that enough.

Absolutley.  So I really want to commend you for being a part of that, projecting a positive part of the fruit of the Spirit and light into a dark world rather than just contributing more toward the controversy and argument.

JT:  I appreciate that.  I appreciate you saying that.  That’s a real encouragement for me.  Three months a go I began a journey that took my faith away from me.  I had the L5 disc in my back break off, and land on the nerve root for my leg, giving me just excruciating pain, if you’ve ever been through that.  For about three months.  And it was just like a paralysis for my whole life, and I only had surgery about four weeks ago.  But during that time, there was so much pain I couldn’t go to church, I couldn’t be with family; and I couldn’t take pain pills because I was still trying to do the radio show.  But that thing: when you go to that place?  And there are so many millions of people who are in so much pain every day, which you realize once you go into those surgery centers.  But when you go that place [of pain], nothing matters any more. Just waking up, and trying to stay positive, and thanking God for the next day.  So I think it’s great that you’re promoting Thou Shalt Laugh; because when I watch my fifteen-year-old, my hip-hop daughter sitting down to watch the first few episodes and just laughing hysterically, I think, “That’s just great!”  The only other person she laughs at that hard is George Lopez.  It’s very cool.

Well, thank you, John, for your time this morning—and I really hope your recovery from your surgery sticks.  Both my mother-in-law and sister have had similar back surgeries recently, too.

JT:  Well, tell them that I’m in the club, and I have a lot of respect for them!