Pastor Dwight McCormick of Northminster Presbyterian in Springfield is used to time limits on his sermons while at the pulpit, but he has another vocation that is all about timing of another kind. He needs to know the exact amount of time to pause before delivering the punchline.
McCormick has been moonlighting as a standup comic since 2006.
We asked him to tell us how he balances this curious mix of testimonies and tomfoolery.
Q: Most of your stand-up material comes from your experiences as a pastor. Has this second vocation influenced your role as a minister in any way?
A: Comedy has influenced my preaching by giving me more awareness of whether the congregation is with me while I’m speaking. In a club you have laughter to tell you, but it isn’t as easy to know at church. During a sermon, I’ve learned to recognize certain signs of losing the crowd. Open-mouthed snoring for instance, or hurling objects toward the pulpit are very telling. Or folks clearing their throat while pointing repeatedly at their watch in a rhythmic fashion.
Q: In what other ways has comedy helped you at church?
A: Doing standup helps me not to panic if something happens during worship that is unplanned, or if I forgot something I planned to say. If we are in the pulpit preaching about God’s unconditional love but are not practicing forgiveness and the ability to laugh at ourselves, then I believe we’re out of sync with the Holy Spirit.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your comedy club appearances?
A: Being able to speak the truth candidly about what’s wrong with culture and organized religion. I think we take ourselves too seriously, especially the Christian community. I think that laughter can bring the Holy Spirit into our presence, and that it improves all areas of our lives.
Q: What kinds of compliments have you received after your comedy routines?
A: That’s assuming I’ve received any.
Q: Well, we did find some nice testimonials on your website, www.preachercomic.com. Here is one of them:
“I’m so glad we asked Dwight to come and provide the entertainment for our group,” said Dr. Barbara Barnes, co-pastor of Oxford Presbyterian Church in Ohio.
“We laughed until it hurt. Everyone agreed that his talent was unique and we were glad he shared it with us.”
Q: Give us an example of commentary and jokes that have worked well during your comedy routines.
A: Here are just a few:
• I can’t understand why brides ask me not to do 20 minutes of stand-up before they light the unity candle. Divas.
• My wife and I named our children Biblical names … Abinadab and Nebuchadnezzar. It’s particularly hard on them because they’re both girls.
• Little Nebbie comes up to me the other day and asks, “Daddy how come all the kids in Sunday school make fun of my name?”
“It’s because they’re jealous, honey. Now go play with your Bible-based toys.”
• I love those Bible-based Noah’s Ark sets. Cause if there’s anything I want my children playing with, it’s the most heinous act of God’s wrath in all of history. “Have fun girls! Drown the world with God’s anger!’”
Q: Have you ever offended anyone during your comedy routines?
A: Of course, when you put yourself out there, you’re going to offend some people. Once when I was performing in West Virginia, I upset a local man who came up to me after I was done. He pointed his finger at me and said, “Hey boy, are you really a preacher?” I answered, “Well, yes I am.” Then he instructed, “Well, do something preacher-like then.” So I baptized him.
Q: What encouraged you early on as a comedian?
A: Well, my first performance on a stage wasn’t until 2006, but I won an Open Mic contest at the Funnybone Comedy Club in 2007.
Q: What types of comedians did you watch while you were growing up?
A: I grew up laughing at Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Bill Cosby, and George Carlin. Starting around 11, I was telling funny stories on the steps of First Baptist Church of Bluefield, and getting laughs from Steve Martin and Robin Williams routines at home.
Q: What clubs have invited you to perform?
A: I emcee a monthly show at a local bar in Springfield, and I’ve appeared at Bogeys in Cleveland, Go Bananas at Newport, and Mortys in Indianapolis, among others.
Q: What is your educational background?
A: I have a bachelors in psychology, with a minor in communications, and a masters degree in divinity, all from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
I’ve had 13 years of experience in parish ministry.
Q: What appearances have you scheduled in the near future?
A. I have a radio show appearance on July 23 at The Wicked Circus in Indianapolis. Then I’ll be performing at 7:30 p.m. at Wiley’s Comedy Club on August 15 with “The Oddfathers”: Mike Canestaro, Dave Glardon and Ray Price.
I’ll also be headlining the Harvest Home Festival in northern Kentucky October 10-13.