Mormon comedians find success staying clean in an industry that isn't

Published: Thursday, Aug. 25 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Ryan Hamilton's aim is for his audience to walk away from his show feeling uplifted, which fits the voice he wants. (Provided by Ryan Hamilton) Ryan Hamilton's aim is for his audience to walk away from his show feeling uplifted, which fits the voice he wants. (Provided by Ryan Hamilton)

Jenna Kim Jones doesn't know how to write a dirty joke.

"When I hear one I think, 'I would never in a hundred million years have thought of that,' " Jones said.

Jones' faith is the cause of her inability to make an audience blush.

Her first standup performance was at a ward activity.

Jones' family moved to Provo when she was 8 and lived there for 10 years until she moved to New York to attend New York University.

She still does ward activities, including one recently at the Union Square 3rd Ward, the congregation she currently attends, in the Manhattan Stake.

"That's the beauty of clean comedy," Jones said. "I'm not embarrassed to share it."

Jenna Jones' jokes reflect her life and values. (Provided by Jenna Jones) Jenna Jones' jokes reflect her life and values. (Provided by Jenna Jones)

She works for "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," a satirical news show on Comedy Central, making her the only Mormon on staff. Though her co-workers see her as peculiar, they respect her and her morals. Jones also does standup, and many comedians and fans see her as "clean." She has found what many other comedians have realized — you can be clean and funny.

Jones was hired on at "The Daily Show" after graduating from NYU and interning at other programs like "The Late Show With David Letterman."

She's a script production assistant, which means she keeps everyone up to date and distributes the script. During taping, she is also in charge of recording all the words in the show that need censoring so they can be bleeped, but she never actually writes the expletives.

 (Brandon Flint) (Brandon Flint)

Though her co-workers poke fun at her for not swearing, they are protective of her.

"I've found all of my co-workers see what I believe in makes me happy," Jones said. "They want to protect and shield me."

Once, someone sent an email containing an inappropriate link. One of the show's producers called her ahead of time and warned her not to open it.

Jen Flanz, a co-executive producer on "The Daily Show," interviewed Jones for her job. She saw her as a "ray of sunshine and a breath of fresh air.

"I think people are fascinated by the fact that she is so committed to her religion and her morals," Flanz said. "Working with her makes you certainly think twice about how much people swear around here."

Flanz said Jones' strong faith and morals are not common in their industry. She doesn't see a lot of "clean" comedians, even though there is a strong market for it. Some of her favorite comedians, like Brian Regan and Jerry Seinfield, are clean.

"I think there (aren't) many clean comedians and there is a market for it," Flanz said. "I think it's much harder to work clean as a comedian."

But for Jones, it just comes naturally. Her critics, however, believe her comedy is shallow because it isn't raw enough. They condescendingly refer to her as "adorable."

"Some comedians think you have to be dirty to get to the meat of what you're talking about. You have to be honest, and with that comes the dirt," Jones said. "I couldn't disagree more. Because it's not … edgy doesn't mean it isn't real."

Other comedians who share the same values are capitalizing on clean comedy.

Every week when Ryan Hamilton, an Idaho-native LDS comedian, ends his shows, a fan will approach him and thank him for his show.

"I've been going to a lot of your shows, and thank you for being clean," an adoring fan once said to him in a whisper after a show as though it were a secret.

He also receives emails pushing him to produce more clean comedy from his many fans.

This quiet encouragement from fans fuels Hamilton's passion to perform more, which has led him to years of success, including multiple appearances on late-night shows and stints on "Last Comic Standing," a reality show competition among comedians.

Hamilton's aim is for his audience to walk away from his show feeling uplifted, which fits the voice he wants in his routines.

"I want them to leave my show feeling OK about the world," he said.

Hamilton said comedy has to be natural, meaning it needs to derive from one's outlook on life.

"I don't curse in my everyday life and that's natural," Hamilton said.

Hamilton also believes the "clean comedy" market is untapped, despite the high demand.

Will Rubio, an L.A.-based comedian and Utah native, also keeps his acts clean. He said dirty humor has its place, but people laugh because it's shocking. To be truly funny requires quick wit and good delivery.

"If you're going to standup comedy clubs, most of those guys don't keep it clean," Rubio said.

He also said that a clean comedian is able to find work because "if you're funny, then you're funny," and humor that isn't crass is more widely accepted.

"People appreciate the fact that it's witty," Rubio said.

Jones gets satisfaction from writing comedy with her own voice. Her jokes reflect her life and values. Her jokes are about dating, family and everyday experiences.

After performing a number of standup routines in New York, her show became known as a "clean show." Some comedians were annoyed by the label and chose not to perform with her. Other comedians see her show as an opportunity to create clean acts that are more suitable for TV, which is the aim of most comedians.

"They're limiting themselves, quite honestly," Jones said. "It's good to have clean jokes because there are some gigs where people don't want to hear about your sex life or something offensive."

By nature, Jones is rarely associated with comedians with colorful acts.

"I'm not friends with a lot of those comedians anyway because they think I'm weird," Jones said jokingly.

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