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"It's a boundary issue more than a world-view issue," Jeff Allen says of the difference between Christian and secular comedians.

Jeff Allen grew up an atheist on Chicago’s South Side and often took the Lord’s name in vain during the years he spent working nightclubs as a comedian.

At 40, he became a born-again Christian, a switch that could have killed his career.

“It’s not an embraced lifestyle in Hollywood,” Allen, now 55, said by phone last week from his home in Nashville.

Allen chose to begin marketing himself as a Christian comedian. He’s since appeared at an inaugural gala for President George W. Bush and at the National Prayer Breakfast — twice! A majority of his gigs are in front of congregations.

He is scheduled to appear at 7 p.m. Monday at Crossroads Church, 3815 Dutch Mill Road, in Madison. Tickets are $15 and available at the door.

“We’re going to rock that room,” said Allen, who agreed to answer a few questions prior to his Madison appearance.

Q: What’s the difference between a Christian comedian and a secular comedian?

A: You know, I don’t think there’s any difference as far as the comedy goes. It’s a boundary issue more than a world-view issue. Obviously, there are certain words you can’t say in a church, but my topics are the same as they were when I did a lot of nightclubs — family, kids, my wife. You could plug Bill Cosby into a church and he’d be a hit.

Q: So why describe yourself as a Christian comedian?

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A: I want people to know I’m not ashamed of my faith, and I do share my personal testimony with church audiences. I may spend 20 to 30 minutes on that, but it’s separate from the comedy.

Q: How does a Christian audience differ from a nightclub audience?

A: The attention span in a nightclub is very short. For all the talk about how supposedly ignorant people who believe in God are, Christian audiences are used to someone talking to them every week for 45 minutes to an hour using metaphors. So you can take all the time you need to set up a joke. They’re fantastic.

Q: Do you riff on Jesus at all?

A: I don’t satirize the church, because in order to do good satire, you have to know whose toes you’re stepping on. I came out of a hedonistic background, so I don’t know where those toes are. The closest I come is that I say teenagers are God’s revenge on mankind. One day God is looking down over his creation and says to himself, “Hey, let’s see how they like it to create someone in their own image who denies their existence.”

Q: Has anyone at a church ever objected to a joke?

A: Early on, I did get some complaints from men who thought I was being too hard on my wife. They always wanted to know if she was aware that she was in my act. So I started saying, “No, the woman thinks I’m a bricklayer.” Of course she’s seen the show! She’s fine with it. All she ever asks is, “Did the check clear?”

Religion-related story ideas? Contact Doug Erickson at derickson@madison.com

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