Patricia Heaton: Faithfully Funny
The 'Everybody Loves Raymond' actress discusses the religious value of comedy and remaining grounded as a Hollywood Christian.
BY: Interview by Michael Kress
Patricia Heaton spent nine years as the devoted stay-at-home mom, never-can-win daughter-in-law and voice-of-reason wife Debra Barone on the popular sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," winning two Emmys in the process. Now, Heaton, a conservativeChristian
, emcees the straight-to-DVD film "Thou Shalt Laugh," a stand-up comedy concert featuring seven Christian comedians. Heaton spoke to Beliefnet about the spiritual value of comedy, what she learned from "Raymond," and raising kids--while staying true to her values--in Hollywood.
Listen to Patricia Heaton Talk About:
Watch Clips from "Thou Shalt Laugh":
What is a Christian comedian, or Christian comedy?
The material itself [in "Thou Shalt Laugh] doesn't deal directly with Christianity at all. You just know that what you're going to be listening to will be safe for the family. But these guys are all really accomplished, and I was surprised to find that there were so many of them, and they have these thriving careers.
I'm not sure that there was such a big difference between what these comedians did and what you would get from, say, Ray Romano or Ellen DeGeneres, who do really great comedy that's for the whole family. I think that this is more about countering this idea that if you're a Christian, you don't go out and have fun, and you don't go out to be entertained, and you're some kind of dour, Bible-thumping killjoy who doesn't want to have any fun.
People tend to be easily offended when it comes to religious humor. Do you see value in comedy about religion?
I think there's a difference when you make fun of yourself and your own behavior, and when you dishonor or disrespect Christ. If you're making a mockery of Christ is one thing. But if you're just joking about human foibles and weaknesses, I think that's perfectly acceptable. And if you're Christian and you go to church, there's a lot of stuff you see that drives you crazy, that you can make fun of, and everybody who's a Christian knows that.
Garrison Keillor, in his "Prairie Home Companion" shows, is always making jokes about Methodists, and it's very funny, and it's very warm, and it's loving, and it's true. Look, bottom line is, we're all human beings, and so there's always funny things to joke about.
Do you think that comedy and humor can play a role in deepening people's faith?
Obviously I love comedy, so I definitely think that people can really be reached through it. When you bring people into a place where they're comfortable and they're enjoying themselves, they're more open to hearing a message.
With "Raymond," there were so many wonderful themes about relationships and love and forgiveness and faith in the show that were just beautifully woven in. Maybe you didn't even know you were hearing it, but I think it's the one thing that attracted people. It was consistent about this [being] our family: These are our issues, and this is how we forgive each other, and this is how we go through. It was all done with humor, and I think it's what made us hugely popular.
Was there ever a time where you wanted to bring your faith more explicitly onto the show?
I didn't really need to, because they had set it up that the family is Catholic, and it was in the fiber of who they were. They went to church. There would be lines referring to, "We're going down to the church charity sale," or that the kids were in a Catholic school. And we often went to the priest to talk about our marital problems, so it was pretty much woven into the fabric of the characters.
There was one episode which dealt specifically with Ray not going to church and the rest of the family going. There was a point where Ray asked Deborah why she goes. And the writer sat down with me and said, "What would you say to this? As Deborah, what would your answer be?" And I said, "Well, I guess I would say I go to church to realize that there's something bigger than me, and to thank God for my family and my kids and my husband, and to pray for the strength to get through another day with my kids and my husband."
So in that way, again, I was able to directly say something about faith. Not the deepest thing, obviously. We weren't discussing the transubstantiation or anything but making that a part of the fiber of a family, which you don't see on any other show.
Why do you think it is something that's virtually absent from TV?
You write from what you know. If you are not a Christian and that's not part of your everyday life, then you wouldn't know how to bring it into the show comfortably.
The thing about "Raymond," though, almost everybody on the show--whether they were Jewish or Christian or some other religion--practices their faith, goes to temple, goes to church, is a part of some spiritual community. So the idea that the Barones would practice their faith was not an unusual concept for the writers of our show.