Comedian uses Mormonism to her advantage

By | July 20, 2009 at 12:58 pm | 11 comments | News | Tags: , , ,

Elna Baker

To the naked eye, Mormonism and comedy seem to have as much of a natural relationship as peanut butter and pickles, but with a quick wit and a sharp sense of self, Elna Baker makes it work. For the 27 year old practicing Mormon comedian, life is a good: consistent stand-up gigs are flying in at all angles, and October will see the release of her memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. Here’s what she had to say to Punchline Magazine:

How did you get started in comedy? What inspired and drove you to it?
I was drawn to the comedic stylings of Fozzy Bear and did my first stand-up routine in a pre-school talent show. I could only remember one joke though: Why did the chicken cross the road? I told it five times in a row, each time believing it was new. It was very Kaufman-esq. After college I finally admitted to myself that being in comedy was my dream. So I spent three months holed up in the Museum of TV & Radio listening to every comedian I could find.

Of everything I listened to, it was Woody Allen’s early stand-up that most intimidated me. Why bother trying? You’ll never be this good. Instead of giving up I committed to doing one-hundred live performances. After the 100th show, if I listened to the same Woody Allen set and still felt like quitting, then I was allowed to. That was five years ago. I’m on my eighty-fifth show. I had no idea it would take so long.

Other than providing you with material, in what ways does your Mormon faith influence your comedy? Is there a natural kinship between the two that non-Mormons might not be aware of?
While many of my jokes are unrelated to my religion, Mormonism played a huge role in the shaping of my voice. Any religion that puts a person at odds with his or her own impulses is good for creating neurosis. The stricter the rules, the more challenging it is to have a mind of your own. There’s also a lot of comedy that comes out of expectations. When you’re taught that your life should turn out one way, and instead you end up a 27 year old virgin living in New York and telling jokes at bar with three drunk people, it’s either tragic or hilarious.

What would you say is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in both the comedic and religious worlds?
It’s hard to be true to yourself. I’m not Mormon enough to please most Mormons. I’m not non-Mormon enough to please most people in the comedy world. I don’t know which side I’ll end up on yet, but I’m trying to figure it out on my own time. Either that or straddling two worlds is such great fodder that I’m really just in it for the jokes.

Check out elnabaker.com for more info. And check out a video of Elna below performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City.

About the Author

Emma Kat Richardson

Emma Kat Richardson is a Detroit native who received her BA in professional writing and women and gender studies from Elizabethtown College in 2008. Her journalism and feature writing has been published in Alternative Press, Bitch, Punchline Magazine, Bookslut, and Real Detroit Weekly.

  • Maya

    Being a practicing Mormon, young college freshman so I’m also in the singles scene… I couldn’t help but laugh. So true! The singles dances and even the ones in highschool were such painful experiences there has to be a way to let it vent and what better way than by laughter? Also I didn’t get the “bundle of sticks” talk, but I did get the “soiled glove” talk. We’d be a really sad bunch to not realize just how hlarious aspects are.

    I mean she just explained her experience and in a way a lot of other members experience … So how could she be in the wrong?

  • Rich

    So many here say she’s making fun of the Church. Funny thing is, I never heard her say one thing attacking Church doctrines. I did hear her talking about funny things that happen in the church, and anyone who has spent any time in a singles ward and has been to many of these activities knows how wearing they can become. I found this hysterically funny. She was able to find humor in the culture of the church, which is very, very very different from the doctrines of the church. Unfortunately too many people think culture and revelation are interchangeable. They are two completely different animals. One comes from God, the other is what people do in the belief they are doing God’s will. And often the culture is contradicted by revelation.

    I loved this bit, and I’m loving the book.

  • Rita

    That was so fun to watch! You are very talented, Elna. Don’t give up, the world needs more people like you. I am LDS as well and related to many of your experiences with the single’s scene. I hope to see more of you in the future.

  • Steve Lowther

    In supporting what Jim Beasley has said here, I think it is wisdom to be quick to smile (or laugh out loud) and slow to condemn. Is Elna hurting the cause or somehow subverting missionary efforts? I don’t think she is at all. If anything I believe she is contributing to missionary efforts rather than detracting as well as giving pause to the critics of Mormonism.

  • Jim Beasley

    Maria, I am not sure why you say it is “cheap”. To me it is priceless. Is it because she said the V-word? Or is it because it was a funny situation involving the V-word?

    We are perceived by many as an uptight prudish cult and we really are trying to be more accepted by mainstream religion. We have high standards, and there is nothing wrong with that. We don’t believe in sex before marriage, and Elna is doing a wonderful job of upholding that standard in her routine. We tell ourselves we are a peculiar people all the time. Can’t we laugh out loud about being peculiar? Does it hurt your feelings if others join in the laughter?

    Elna says she is upholding her “no sex before marriage” principle. Bishops are constantly counseling newly (and not so newly) married couples about the problems with their sex lives do to inhibitions which are a by-product of how we teach that very sacred principle. Healthy sexual attitudes are rare among the Mormons, at least in my opinion. Laughing about it helps us relax. We need to laugh more, and in this case with Elna’s routine I do not think she is making the principle any less sacred to us.

  • Jim Beasley

    As is said “The Church is perfect but the people are not.” I saw no ridicule at all here, only a very healthy laughing at ourselves. It is so sad that too many Mormons have such thin skins and can’t separate Mormon culture from the gospel. We can learn something from the Jews here. So many famous Jewish comedians who have targeted themselves and their people for laughs. A self-deprecating sense of humor is a virtue too many Mormons lack.

  • Ben

    Maria, you are also not helping. Do you wonder why people think we’re up tight prudes?

  • Maria S.

    This is “cheap” humor. Cheap humor degrades the person as well as the church. I would suggest you find a different line of work or you will find out that after you die, you become the joke. You ruin people by focusing on this kind of humor.

  • Very Happy (Formerly Single) Mormon

    Oh Jim, Jim, Jim.

    “Let’s ridicule the Church?” I would ALMOST believe you are trying to be funny, but alas, I know better. I guess you should go back to wearing your duck costume…

    If we can’t make fun of just about everything in the Mormon Singles scene, then we are a very sad bunch.

    Elna, thanks for making me cry. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long long time.

    That is a priceless story.

  • Ben

    Jim, you’re not helping.

  • Jim LaForce

    Well Elna it looks and sounds like you’ve got the “lets ridicule the Church” portion of your act down pretty good. I spent 2 minutes listening to you that I won’t ever be able to get back. Shame, life is too short to waste like that.

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