(OSV News) -- The "hard work" of making others laugh is a labor 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 humor 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 theaters 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. Among them are Holly M. Johnston, who tours with Fulwiler and "a lot of lesser known female comedians that are just doing incredible work," she said.
While her comedy can be described as observational -- the kind that recasts everyday life in humorous 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 neighbors, 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."
In one case, the strategy flagged a joke that "the women thought was very funny but the men didn't get," she said.
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 humor, 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."
Along with Scripture, Fulwiler nourishes her soul with icons -- in fact, a distant cousin is an iconographer whose "Holy Family" is her "most prized possession" and the "crown jewel" of her house.
"Because I do tend to get so up in my head with reading and writing, it's refreshing for my spirituality to just pray in front of an icon," she said. "It just uses a whole different part of my brain to connect with God through a visual gaze, rather than through Bible study, traditional exegesis and stuff like that."
If she herself were depicted in an icon, she would "definitely be surrounded by mess," said Fulwiler. "I'm very disorganized, and I'd probably have five things in one hand.
"Actually, it would be the saint with the halo, and I'm the one they're ministering to," she laughed. "I'd be the wretched, poor person whom the saint is bestowing their wisdom upon."