FaithfulNews   SUBMIT

Historically, satirizing the church has not gone well. Either the comedy is predictable, the audience doesn’t appreciate it or the writers show their bias and destroy all credibility. This is why it’s so impressive that the creative minds behind MEGA, “an improvised podcast from the fictitious staff of Twin Hills Community Church,” have gotten the camel through the needle’s eye.
Every week, Hallie, Gray and Russ (played by Holly LaurentGreg Hess and Ross Kimball) take us inside the insane world of being on a megachurch staff.  And in the process of pointing out the comically absurd culture, they’re creating space for us to laugh at ourselves and comment on the best and worst our mega-creation.

Can you give us a bit of history about the three artists that make up the Mega cast as well as the genesis of this podcast?

I’m a preacher’s kid. I grew up in that world. I speak the language and the way I make sense of my past is by saying by saying I’m bilingual and I can speak evangelical and English. [My husband] Greg’s like “You gotta do something with that, in a loving way.”

It took me forever to create the show bible. I pitched it, Campfire Media picked and then they were like go away and create a show bible and come back. It took me forever but this show bible. I was creating all the ministries and naming them things like “Climax” and I was going through a bunch of megachurch websites and seeing what all their different ministries were called. But then all of that work that I was doing went out the window because we just realized we wanted to let… the way it happens is we asked one of our friends who is in comedy to be on the show, we’re set up we sit around our table in our apartment and when our friend shows up and we’re like OK. What do you want your name to be? It just has to be a variation on your own name and then what’s your ministry and so they bring it and then we name it right then and there and all of that happens in about thirty seconds. Then we’re like “what ministry do you want to work for?” And we’re like “OK, that’s great.” And then we’re like, “Cool. What can we call the ministry?” And we all just collaborate, name it, hit record and go. And it’s all improvised.

Just as an example of this, Matt Walsh from Veep and Upright Citizens’ Brigade played Matthew Luke Welsh who has a complex backstory but he is the manager of the food pantry and here what’s the name of the food pantry? You get your own punch line.</strong:

Loaves and wishes. I think he came up with that actually.

Take us back inside that show bible. What has to exist before you start recording?

In the end, it was really just basically the name of the church, the name of the head pastor who we’ve decided we can never see. We try to always get him on and he can never come on because he’s too important. And I do love the way in which those three characters have this reverence for Steve

I’m never quite sure when I’m listening to the show if the show is a really good group of improvisers who have found a perfect stream of comedy or if you’re trying to say something bigger with this. 

I think I’m starting to. I think in the beginning, it was using this language that I speak and combining it with my love for comedy to let it be this colorful backdrop for us to improvise and have some really fun specific satire.

From day one with this — like, from the jump — I felt something in me really healing from a lifetime of certain things I was raised with. I remember as a kid sitting in a church — the churches I grew up in weren’t megachurches. They were much more like fundamental Baptist stuff and even some Pentecostal stuff in there — and it was a lot of, like, pounding the pulpit with this fear-based fire and brimstone. I was so filled with fear and it was so unhelpful to me as a human being. I even remember really feeling turned against myself as a female. I remember hearing preachers talk about the sins of alcohol or drugs or women and I remember hearing, like, “Huh. Just women.” I think obviously they were talking about sexual impurity or whatever but as a little girl I heard that like and felt like I was wrong for existing.

I’m curious your able to do satire, especially satire aimed at the Christian world in a way that’s nobody had really done before you with such success. What do you think it is about others that have missed the satirical mark?

I think sometimes with comedy when you are going to hard at the joke, you miss the opportunity to disarm your audience and actually be able to get to their ears and hearts.

I think my favorite kind of comedy is when there’s actually a conversation going on between the performer and the audience where there’s a respect coming from the person onstage playing to the top of their intelligence because they believe the audience is sophisticated. I don’t like going for low-hanging stuff. I think there’s more opportunity in satire because when you can make someone laugh, it’s such an incredible opportunity. When we’re laughing, we all set down our weapons and our guards and then we can listen to each other.

And so I feel like comedians have a real responsibility inside of that to take that responsibility seriously in terms of how are we’re using our platform. I always tell my improv students that the world is nuts right now. Everyone is putting their face in their hands and that’s really all you can do, except we do have a stage. we actually do have a voice, so how dare we not use it?

I think for me the only way to create any commentary about that world that I know so well is to actually be the people who are deeply devoted to that world. I can speak the things I’m wrestling in my mind through the voice and perspective of my character. If I respect her point of view and keep it intact then I think that can be a more subtle satire that isn’t punching down on anyone hopefully. That’s true satire, I guess. That’s my favorite form of play.

The audience for the podcast could be sort of complex. There are those both inside and outside the church who will view it quite differently, then there are those inside the church who could take either great offense or great joy at the show. 

We are so tickled that we are getting such positive responses from both the Christian world and a lot of ex-Evangelicals too. They both say, like, “this is very healing for me to laugh about some of this stuff that I’ve had a lot of anger about or pain or whatever.” We’re hearing positive stuff.

What’s funny is the most bizarre feedback we get is from people who have absolutely no background in the church whatsoever. Some of them have been like, “Wow, this is so creepy. How do you know all this weird stuff?”

I think the people with no church background are the most vexed by it but honestly, it warms my heart to no end that so far, people on both sides seem to be enjoying it and finding things that they like in it.

Can I ask Hallie a question? I’m curious what’s in store for this advent season?

Well, you know, the girl who’s playing Mary in our Christmas Eve services is actually pregnant. I don’t know if that’s a method acting thing or what but we got a woman who is actually pregnant. It’s actually hard to get this actress up on the donkey. We have a donkey and it’s going to be kind of funny because after Jesus is born we have to keep her behind the manger because that’s going to be a problem: Mary is still pregnant. But you know but those are the type of challenges that we love as a creative team. Steve is delivering the message of course and it’s so powerful. I don’t want to give anything away because we’re having 28 different opportunities for people to see the service. We’re doing the Christmas Eve services 28 times over the course of ten days if you are in Indiana or you can stream it online.

Listen to new episodes of MEGA every Sunday (of course) wherever you download podcasts.