A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Vatican—Pope Hosts Over 100 Comedians

Did you hear the one about the Pope and the comedians?

At a unique celebration of humor on June 14, Pope Francis hosted an audience unique in the annals of the Holy See—over 100 jokesters, late-night hosts and other assorted comedians of all shapes, sizes and styles, representing 15 nations—gathered together in Clementine Hall in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the papal residence.

The not-so-tough room included such luminaries of laughter as Whoopi Goldberg, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Rock, Stephen Colbert, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Conan O’Brien.

The Pope appeared to be enjoying himself as he addressed the audience, spreading his arms and gesturing back with a playful grin as the audience mugged back at him and laughed.

“In the midst of so much gloomy news, immersed as we are in many social and even personal emergencies, you have the power to spread peace and smiles,” Francis told them.

“You unite people, because laughter is contagious,” he continued, asking jokingly, “Please pray for me: for, not against!”

Aiming to establish a link between the Catholic Church and comic artists, the Pope observed that at the time of Creation, God was “the first spectator in history,” taking delight in the works he had made.

“Remember this,” he added. “When you manage to bring intelligent smiles to the lips of even a single spectator, you also make God smile.”

Francis also said it was OK to “laugh at God” in the same way “we play and joke with the people we love.”

After his short address, the pontiff met briefly with each of his guests. Comic Stephen Colbert, himself a devout Catholic, was plainly delighted. He said he reminded the Pope that he had voiced the audio for the Pope’s memoir, Life: My Story Through History, imitating the broken Italian in which he communicated to the Holy Father. “And he said like this—give me your hand [grabbing the interviewer’s hand and pumping it]—he goes like this: ‘AHHH!!’ It was wonderful, he’ll never forget me!” he joked.

“It was great. It was really fast and really loving and made me happy,” beamed Whoopi Goldberg. Late-night host Conan O’Brien commented, “To be in that room and to be with all my fellow comedians, some of whom I’ve been good friends with for many years, in that environment, was quite strange. All of us were thinking, how did this happen? Why are we here, and when are they going to throw us out?”

Photo credits: Pope Francis, in his visit to Colombia by JuantenaphotoCC BY-SA 4.0.

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