Itís been quite a journey for John Pate.
In a career that spans 22 years, he has gone
from a profession as an accomplished writer and entertainer with
more than 100 national television appearances, to joining the staff
of the California Baptist University in Riverside, Calif., as a
speech and debate team coach.
Pateís early life in Alabama gave no
indication that he would go on to perform as a stand-up comedian at
every major venue from coast to coast; New York and Atlantic City to
Los Angeles and Las Vegas, performing with the likes of Robin
Williams, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and numerous appearances with
the legendary Red Skelton.
"I was born and raised in Alabama, in
the small community of Sand Rock that didnít even have a post
office," he said in an interview. "It was just a small
community on the top of Lookout Mountain. Kind of like Waltonís
Mountain, where everybody knew everybody. My family were all
Christians, and we were raised with those same principles and
"When I first started thinking about
becoming an entertainer, I kinda wanted to find the place where a
Christian could make some impact, and yet was needed the most. I
chose comedy and television writing, simply because I felt that was
where the hardest inroad would be, and I felt that that was where
God said to go."
Surprisingly, making such a transition was
not difficult for John.
"That was the way I had been
raised," he says. "I didnít really know any other
lifestyle except for a Christian one, so I continued to work from
A Clean Comedian
What about the foul language and
"blue" material of many comedians? Didnít that make
being a Christian comic very hard?
"As far as the difficulty of being a
Christian comic, I never really experienced it. You can be funny and
still be clean. That may have puzzled some of the other acts, as to
why God allowed me to be moderately successful and remain clean, but
it was no mystery to me."
John says that the late Red Skelton has been
a huge influence on his life and performances.
"How I got involved with performing with
Red Skelton was also one of those perfect timing things that only
God could arrange," he said. "I collected some of his art,
and once when I was performing in Las Vegas, I visited an art
gallery, and the owner was putting together a large Red Skelton art
show. I mentioned that I was a huge Red Skelton fan, and that if
there was anyone in the business that I ever wanted to meet, it
would be Mr. Skelton. I told them that I had patterned my act after
what I always saw Red do, and they asked me to be on the show as his
opening act. After the show Red and his wife talked to me for quite
some time, and from that point, anytime there was a Red Skelton
show, I was invited to be a part of it, and Red would always sit and
pay close attention to my act, and he would always give me huge
insights into what to do."
About two years ago, John received a letter
from Red Skelton in which he said, "John, of all the new
comedians, I think you are the best. Things you say and the gentle
way you deliver the funny lines are meaningful and at times
touching. When I first saw you perform I watched the audience, and
they seemed to feel as I did. You were having a personal
conversation with us."
"Most young comedians are quite ignorant
(that) they must win over the crowd in 15 minutes. Some make a vain
attempt but fall short, but they must hear a laugh, so they use the
shortcut for thinking and resort to sex jokes and four-letter words.
They successfully become not comedians but exhibits, and soon are
"I have never been a frequenter of
Comedy Clubs. I have tried to watch these young clowns with their
misfit cap and bells, so at best, my judgment is simple. I am not a
critic, but most comedians are as appealing as an unwashed dishrag.
"As far as Robin Williams and any of the
other acts I have worked with over the years, I just wait on any
opportunity that God provides for me to speak with them," he
said. "Usually, when we would talk at the comedy clubs, any and
all comics would open up to me with any moral or religious
questions, and I would use those times to share with them. Today,
Robin would probably not even remember my name, I havenít seen him
for over five or six years, but he would always remember my face,
and the things we talked about at the clubs. So yes, if he saw me,
we would easily strike up a conversation, but, no, I donít usually
pal around with a lot of the guys with whom I have worked, and yet,
it would be very easy to sit down and share a pizza with Jay Leno
and have a talk."
Did he ever find it a problem performing in
"There was never any problem performing
in the Las Vegas casinos, because they knew what they were
getting," said Pate. "I didnít have to change my act for
them. They just recognized that funny is funny and, at the same
time, the audience would walk away realizing that they had just
laughed at 20 minutes of very clean material."
He added, "I hope to achieve exactly
what God has for me to do. As the doors open, I walk through them.
As they close, I have to learn to wait."
Into the Classroom
John explained how his career radically
shifted and how he came to join the staff of the California
"I came to the university to fill a need
there as a Speech & Debate team coach," he said. "It
was a very easy transition because I always have a built-in
audience. (And besides, they always HAVE to laugh at the teacherís
jokes.) The wonderful thing about traveling around to different
speech competitions, is the same feeling that I have as a comic.
"The students are winning the
competitions with clean performance materials. They are regularly
defeating opponents who have dirty material. I want to continue
showing them that it can be done, just the way I always did it with
comedy and writing. They are always amazed at first, and then they
become more confident with it, and can boldly share their faith now
without any reservations."
Into the BERRY PATCH
His new book, BERRY PATCH WORKS, is the
culmination of hours spent in bookstores, perusing the shelves for
performance materials for his students. He says he chose to make his
task a bit easier for the young artists, by providing a variety of
material from which to choose, all in one collection. His pages
offer riveting characters and plots that are already being praised
in print and reviewed as a new breed of performance material, taking
it to the next level.
"The reason I wrote BERRY PATCH WORKS is
that I wanted them (the young artists) to have materials that would
speak to an audience in a certain way, and at the same time deliver
a message in many cases," he said. "Some of them are just
for fun, but some of them speak to very deep questions of our time.
I have performed several pieces from the book at different venues
and the response has always been tremendous. I even have people come
up to me in tears after the performances and ask where they can get
"The reviews have been consistently
good. I hope that will continue."
John knows how to use comedy and drama to
convey the message of Christ.
"My views about Christians using comedy
and drama are simple," he said. "Know the goal. Know the
audience. And, know the expectations. If you are in it to make a
name for yourself, you are in it for the wrong reasons. I, by no
means, am a household name, but I also am very happy for all the
things that God has presented to me to do. I enjoy seeing people
being moved and changed by God using drama and comedy. At the same
time, I donít believe that it should be misused. I have never
believed that church was a place to go to have all of your senses
stimulated or to be entertained, but to have a drama honor God and
blend in with a message is very powerful. So it can be done, but it
must be done right, and with the right timing."
He concluded with a heartfelt appeal to the
"My message to the church would be to
get more involved to help change the perceptions that exist
today," he said. "We want to enjoy clean shows and
material. There is a school of thought that things are getting
worse, as the industry pushes the edge more and more. It is our job
to try to show that there are other alternatives to this. It will
get worse if we let it. But, it is not an easy job. Nobody ever said
it would be. But, the job will never be done by people sitting on
their hands shaking their heads."
EDITORíS NOTE: For more information on how
to get a copy of BERRY PATCH WORKS, write to John Pate, 631 W.
Bagnall Street, Glendora, CA 91740, call (626) 335-8405 or (909)
343-4514, or fax (909) 351-1808. To help Hollywood find alternatives
to foul language, explicit sex, graphic nudity, extreme violence,
immorality, false ideas, and evil beliefs, donate your time, effort
and money to MOVIEGUIDEģ at 2510-G, Las Posas Road, #502,
Camarillo, CA 93010.
Dan Wooding is an award-winning British journalist
now living in Southern California with his wife, Norma. He is the
founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints
in Strategic Times). Wooding is also the author of some 38 books,
(the latest of which is a second printing of BLIND FAITH with Anne
Wooding, his 92-year-old mother who was a pioneer missionary to the
blind in Nigeria, ASSIST Books and WinePress Publishing). He is also
a syndicated columnist and for ten years was a commentator on the
UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC.