The most wonderful time of the year can often also be the most awkward time of the year when family members with differing religious views gather for the holidays.
Two Charleston comedians, Hunter Gardner and Andy Livengood, have capitalized on that awkwardness by turning their own family gatherings into two autobiographical one-man shows.
Gardner’s “Drinking with Jesus,” performed for the first time a few weeks ago, is composed of 16-17 character monologues that portray how alcohol can make people do crazy things — and that religion can make them do some even crazier things.
“The characters are big personalities from both the church world and the party world,” Gardner says. “The show ultimately asks, ‘How do we find a balance between our virtues and our vices when we’ve gone to the edge of each of those worlds?’”
Livengood’s “The Christmas Will Be Televised,” which is in its eighth year, opens on an annual Christmas party that’s been a family tradition for 30 years. Looking to get away from Bible readings and awkward conversations about when he’s going to attend Sunday school again, Livengood sneaks off to where the kids are hanging out watching TV and inserts himself into just about every Christmas special ever televised. High-energy and fast-paced, the show features the Grinch reimagined as a rap song, a lightning-quick version of “A Christmas Story” and “A Christmas Carol”/“Star Wars” mash-up.
“When you think of Christmas-themed shows, what comes to mind is a silly show geared to kids. I wanted to create a show for adults,” Livengood says. “I think the show has the right balance of childlike nostalgia and adult cynicism.”
In “Drinking with Jesus,” Gardner, a Clemson University graduate, tells his own story of growing up in a strict Christian environment, partying hard in college, returning to religion to try to “save” his best friends and finally settling on a balance of respect for religion but not maintaining the beliefs of his past.
“Youth group culture is kinda fun,” he says. “Frat parties are a lot like youth group parties but with a keg in the kitchen.”
The narrator of Gardner’s show is Jesus, albeit a Jesus who loves NASCAR and all things Southern. “It’s my divine duty to help people find the balance,” Gardner says with a thick drawl, channeling the spirit of Southern Jesus. “You can love the Bible but also love an ice cold Bud Light.”
Other characters include the church youth group cool guy, the one who smokes weed but still goes to every youth group event; the frat bro all-star; the cool youth pastor trying to be super hip and likeable; Devon, who loves the Dave Matthews Band, plays in the church praise band, but makes people wonder, “Does he really love Jesus?”; and a spy wearing a bulletproof vest and trying to determine if his fellow youth groupers are true believers not.
When he performed the show for the first time in Charleston, Gardner says the audience seemed to really identify with the characters. “That’s what people enjoy about the show,” he says. “It’s more universal, not just my story. These characters are relatable.”
Over the last seven years, Livengood, who grew up as a strict Southern Baptist, has found that his audience also identifies with his portrayal of the quintessential dry Christmas Eve. Since he was at least 6 years old, Livengood’s parents have thrown the same party with many of the same guests. Now that he’s used his parents’ guests as inspirations for characters in his show, no one asks him if he’s going to start attending Sunday school and church again. They even request he perform some of the sketches during the party.
“Initially I was worried about going to the party, but people loved it,” Livengood says about the first year “The Christmas Will Be Televised” ran. “My parents come every year. My mom wishes there wasn’t so much language, but they’re very supportive.”
And while the show certainly pokes fun at religion and Christmas, it’s not intended to be malicious. Livengood says, “Even a cynic like me needs a little more heart at this time of year.”
Want to go:
Who: Alchemy Comedy at Coffee Underground, 1 E. Coffee St.
Hunter Gardner performs “Drinking With Jesus,” Dec. 8, 9 p.m. Tickets are $8.
Andy Livengood performs “The Christmas Will Be Televised,” Dec. 9, 9 p.m. Tickets are $10.
Both shows run for one hour.
Info: Tickets are available at the door and at AlchemyComedy.com.