Losing his religion
John Ross toured the country as the Christian on The Coexist? Comedy Tour. Then he lost his faith.
Stand-up comedian John Ross settled into a chair at Peet’s Coffee & Tea and looked over at the next table, where punk-rock poster artist Paul Imagine was drawing on a sketchpad. When the two saw each other, they started laughing.
“Paul and I used to skate downtown,” Ross explained. “I was very concerned for his soul. I’d try to tell him about Jesus.”
“It didn’t work,” Imagine said with a grin, shaking his blonde mohawk.
“Well, I’m not Christian anymore,” Ross replied.
It’s a surprising admission from a man known as the Christian in the Coexist? Comedy Tour, a troupe of stand-up comedians who tell jokes about religion. Halfway through his two-year stint with Coexist, Ross began asking tour co-founder Keith Lowell Jensen, “So, hypothetically speaking, say your Christian wasn’t a Christian anymore?”
Although Ross is no longer with the tour, or with Christianity, he insists Coexist is not the reason he lost faith. “I had issues with my faith way before I even did comedy,” he said. “Even in the midst of being a Christian, I still struggled.”
Ross accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior at age 14. The child of two drug-addict parents, he found refuge from his chaotic home life at the church of a skater friend. “I went to church and thought, ‘These people are pretty stable. They have toilet paper where you’re supposed to have it. I need that stability.’ That’s when I started to gravitate towards religion.”
Ross embraced Christianity enthusiastically. He taught youth groups, toured the nation with Christian punk rockers Anguish Unsaid and even got religious tattoos. (The dove on his calf and the “Jesus” in Japanese kanji on his neck now act as sight gags onstage.)
“From the beginning I had questions,” Ross said, “but I would just write them off with ‘Our understanding is not God’s understanding.’ Until the last few years. It’s hard to keep doing that.”
A few years ago, Ross was preparing for a job interview. “I couldn’t tie my tie,” Ross recalled. “I flipped. Every issue came out. My dad never taught me to tie a tie. It was a revelation. I realized I’d swept every issue under the Jesus rug. God will take care of it. I’m healed. There’s no ramification of having drug-addict parents and a crazy life, because God took care of it.”
Ross began to explore his doubts onstage through stand-up comedy. “I was a religious studies major,” begins one of his jokes, “which means I minored in confusion and homosexual repression.”
“Coexist was a safe place to poke fun at my own religion,” he said. “There’s not really a place to do that in church. It’s always like you’re trying to destroy someone’s faith by asking a rational question. They think it’s loaded with an evil spirit.”
While touring, Ross met Christians who believed joining forces with other religions onstage would usher in the Antichrist. “We’re just five comics,” he said. “We’re not the four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
Having left Christianity, Ross is surprised by how little has changed. “I’m still just as compassionate towards people,” he explained. “I’m not going out and living in sin.” The only difference “is that I don’t feel guilty anymore,” he says. “There’s no war in my head.”
Ross still goes to church with his wife and children. He’s started some secular comedy projects, including the weekly Comedy on the Couch series at the Sacramento Comedy Spot. Spiritually, he’s still seeking truth.
“My prayer is, ‘Hey, God. Hey, universe. If you want to say something to me, say it in a way that I understand it. I’m open to it, but I’m kind of done figuring out what language you speak.’”
Ross stretched out his arms and raised his eyes to the ceiling. “What?” he asked the heavens. “What?”