Jen Fulwiler is taking her Maternal Instinct comedy tour to stages across the United States. Her comedy is observational, she says, and includes some stabs at being Catholic. OSV News/Tigerman Management

Atheist turned Catholic turned comedian

By  Gina Christian, OSV News
  • October 4, 2023

The “hard work” of making others laugh is a labour of love and faith for standup comic Jen Fulwiler, a former atheist and Catholic convert delivering a “fresh take on modern life as a woman” to audiences throughout the nation with her 2023 “Maternal Instinct” comedy tour.

“I am talking about mom stuff and all that, but I think it is from a little bit different perspective,” the bestselling author, wife and mother of six told OSV News. “I never thought I would have kids with my background and (now) I have all these kids. I’m Catholic, but I didn’t expect to be Catholic. I was raised atheist and I converted to this religion, so it’s not what you might expect. ... It’s a little bit of a different spin on it.”

Such bends in the road are nothing new for Fulwiler, who began her media career blogging for the Catholic press, eventually penning her conversion story and landing a daily talk radio show on Sirius XM. Her innate gift for her humour led her to take a prayer-inspired risk — heading to a standup comedy open mic night.

Soon, she had launched a new career, self-producing her first tour — the shows for which were almost entirely sold out — by booking theatres through Google searches and her personal credit card. Fulwiler’s standup special, The Naughty Corner, is available on Amazon and her podcast, The Jen Fulwiler Show, debuted in the Comedy Top 10 on Apple podcasts.

Her comic influences include Jim Gaffigan, Nate Bargatze and Taylor Tomlinson — as well as local performers in Austin, Texas, where Fulwiler resides, including Holly M. Johnston, who tours with Fulwiler.

While her comedy can be described as observational — the kind that recasts everyday life in humourous terms — Fulwiler said she tries “not to think of genres” when developing her material.

“I just look at it as ‘I need to be funny.’ Period, end of sentence,” she said. “So whatever comes to mind that’s funny, I’ll say it, regardless of what genre I seem to be in.”

But making audiences laugh requires “an enormous amount of work,” she admits. Since “the only way to know that you’re going to get the laugh is to test it ... in front of audiences,” Fulwiler heads to comedy clubs in her hometown as often as possible.

However, with family life a top priority, she has to “get creative” in producing “an excellent quality of work without being able to do five shows a night in downtown Austin.”

She hosts her own focus groups of friends and neighbours, who assemble in her garage to review her latest material.

“I’ll have them sit in my garage and I just actually read through my set,” she said. “It’s not really a performance; I just read it and I actually give them notebooks and paper ... and then we discuss it afterwards. And it is actually extraordinarily helpful to have kind of a roundtable discussion about it.”

Such diligence is crucial, since comedy is “such an ego check,” said Fulwiler. “Everybody knows the score. If you say a joke and the crowd doesn’t laugh, everyone knows that you just failed on stage and now the whole room is uncomfortable.”

At the same time, “comedy is kind of the last bastion where you can say things that might be unpopular with certain groups of people,” Fulwiler said. “And if it’s done in a spirit of goodwill and the person is genuinely joking about an issue, I find that crowds tend to roll with it, even if they don’t share that person’s political perspective or social perspective.”

God Himself has a sense of humour, said Fulwiler, citing the Bible’s second chapter of the Book of Ezekiel as one example.

“I often think that when God says to the prophet Ezekiel that dealing with (the ancient Israelites) is going to be like living among scorpions (Ez 2:6), it’s a really funny passage,” Fulwiler said. “It’s just complaining about these people, a rant against those He’ll be prophesying to. That is some quality trash talk right there.”

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