Christian comedian Bob Smiley shares his messages of faith through laughter
Written by Kirsten Cornell | Photography by Brian Braun
CY-FAIR, TX (CFM) – When Bob Smiley was first deciding what he wanted to be when he grew up, he leaned toward elementary education. In high school, he witnessed a growing trend of children growing up without father figures in their lives which influenced his choice. “I thought that maybe God could use me as a positive male role model for kids,” Smiley recalls. “Plus, I figured the classes in college would be easy because I already knew most of the alphabet.”
When the opportunity came to participate in a stand-up competition at Smiley’s alma mater, Abilene Christian University (ACU), he participated in it for the prize money, but the results would forever change the course of his career.
The Road to Comedy
While studying education at ACU his junior year, Smiley caught wind of a comedic competition being held by the university. “First prize was $500, which was basically four month’s rent out in Abilene. I wasn’t planning to do standup, but the money was too good to pass up,” he recalls.
Smiley took the win in stride and headed to Dallas where he worked with a photographer friend in an attempt to build a nest egg before he began his teaching career, when he received a phone call from a college friend. “He was the road manager for Christian singer Clay Crosse and they were about to leave on a tour when Crosse mentioned it would be nice to have a comedian come and emcee the show,” he explains. The friend, who had seen Smiley’s performance, asked if he wanted to go along with them.
Smiley performed on the tour and soon the Christian rock band Newsboys contacted him to join them on their tour as well. Smiley realized that his passion for making people laugh and sharing the story of Christ was something he couldn’t walk away from. “My parents were big supporters. I actually worked up a speech for when I was going to tell them I was moving to Nashville to try and make it as a comedian,” he recalls. “I never got to make that speech because the second I told them I was pursuing my dreams, they were all for it.”
He and his girlfriend Wendy, now Mrs. Smiley, had been discussing marriage, and he knew that if he took this chance it would put their wedding on the back burner. “When I asked her what I should do, she said something amazing. ‘God opened this door for you to do Christian comedy. Even if it puts our wedding off a bit, you wouldn’t be the man I hope to marry if you don’t follow God’s path He’s making for you.’ Yeah, I found a great woman.”
Laughter Opens Doors
Much of Smiley’s comedy comes from everyday situations. Those in his audience will often find themselves nudging friends next to them and saying “That’s so true,” or “I do that!” He feels that real stories help patrons connect to him that much quicker. “God gave us laughter as a gift, and it’s powerful. In fact, I just read that laughter is 10 times more powerful than morphine,” he laughs. “I didn’t know how I felt about that. If I break my leg, I hope my doctor’s not standing over me going, ‘Knock, knock?’”
Smiley wants to give his audience the gift of laughter at each performance and hopes that people lower their walls and listen to him talk about his faith. “As long as I’m making them laugh, they seem to be open to me sharing about my Savior – their Savior. So if I can do both of these things in one night, I’m happy,” he says.
In a venue where many comedians turn to crude jokes and vulgar language in an effort to solicit humor, Smiley has maintained his original purpose of serving Christ through the ministry of comedy. “If you live clean, then when you sit down to write jokes it should be easy to keep things clean,” he explains. “Now, this does not mean that I’m perfect and sin-free, you can ask the guy that cut me off in traffic. However, I try to only let good and wholesome stuff into my life, so that’s what comes out.”
In addition to shows, Smiley and his family are active testaments of their faith. As an advocate of Compassion International, a sponsorship organization dedicated to the long-term development of children living in poverty around the world, Smiley explains their mission at his shows and encourages families to sponsor children. “I’m amazed at how Satan tries to use poverty to make children think God has given up on them,” says Smiley. “It’s up to us, as Christians, to make sure children know they are loved.”
Life as a Comedian
When the show is over Smiley, returns to his wife and three boys, Colter, Trent, and Zander, in the Cy-Fair area. Most of his boys’ friends are fans so they like the automatic cool points that come along with having a comedian for a dad. Smiley admits that the comedy doesn’t stop once he leaves the stage. “Before I talk at home I have someone introduce me. I expect a water bottle and a hand towel, then my family listens to me for an hour. None of that is true, but I am still funny, and we laugh a lot.”
Although traveling can be hectic, Smiley is grateful for the opportunities it has afforded him. His family has also been able to travel with him – meeting interesting people and seeing different parts of the world. “In addition to traveling to new places and meeting all kinds of people, I also get a ton of free hotel shampoo.”
When he is home, Smiley is a full-time dad, playing football with their neighbors and taking walks with his sons by the creek. “When I get home, I’m still taking out the trash and mowing the lawn. So the ‘in-demand comedian’ part doesn’t really affect me. I think it’s important to do something you love, and be content with the path God has for you.”
KIRSTEN CORNELL enjoys being an associate editor for Cy-Fair Magazine. She has seen Bob Smiley perform live and laughed until she cried.