Comedian Jeff Allen’s work can be considered “Christian” in the sense that it is clean, deals with matters of faith and contains a healthy dose of his own testimony.
But unlike other comedians who perform for Christian audiences, Allen’s career wasn’t born in the church and it wasn’t built on jokes about people singing hymns off-key or the variety of fare served at church potlucks.
His career began at a comedy club in Chicago in 1978, and his path included everything from drug dealing and alcoholism to rage, a near divorce, personal bankruptcy and his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis. All the while, he would have to go out on stage each night and make people laugh with an act that he admits was largely fueled by anger.
A meeting with a Christian businessman looking to open a comedy club fueled a transformation that saw Allen give his life to Christ and clean up his act, both figuratively and literally.
Today, the Nashville, Tenn., resident is walking confidently with the Lord.
He is in high demand as a comedian, performing more than 100 shows a year for church groups and corporate outings. He also is an occasional contributor to “The Glenn Beck Program” on The Blaze TV. Allen has been featured in comedy specials on Comedy Central, Showtime and VH1. He is a two-time featured performer at the National Prayer Breakfast, and performed during President George W. Bush’s inauguration ceremony. Allen also has appeared in the Warner Brothers comedy film “Thou Shalt Laugh” and the film “Apostles of Comedy.”
He will be the featured entertainment for the Sportsman’s Challenge Wild Game Feed, which will be held Tuesday, Jan. 29, at Southeast Christian Church’s Blankenbaker Campus.
The Wild Game Feed is a way to help men—church members and those who don’t belong to a church—get connected to Southeast using the love of hunting and fishing as common ground.
This year’s event will be catered by Louisville barbecue restaurant Mark’s Feed Store. The meal will feature barbecue and side dishes, as well as venison sausage appetizers.
Tickets for the event are $16 each and can be purchased at www.southeastchris tian.org. It is the second time Allen has appeared at the Wild Game Feed.
“I had a blast being at an event where they were serving deer and everyone was wearing camouflage,” Allen said. “It also meant a lot to me to see so many men there with their sons.”
Allen, now 56, grew up on Chicago’s South Side, the grandson of a pastor. His great uncle also was a pastor. But when he was 14, Allen said, his father turned him against Christianity.
“My father told me that there was no God and that I should stay away from Christians because they were bad people,” Allen recalled. “My guess is that something happened to him at church although I’ve never known for sure.”
His father’s words led him to years of questioning, doubt and confusion, which in turn spawned a rash of bad decisions. Those decisions, coupled with a bad temper, led to years of grief and struggles with alcohol addiction.
“I was a drunk and an atheist,” Allen said. “I was married at age 30 and in AA at age 31. I actually went for the first time at age 25 and walked away from it.”
It was in those Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that Allen found himself reaching out to God in desperation.
“I was beat up enough that I was willing to do whatever they told me to do,” Allen said. “They told me that I needed to pray, so I did. I really didn’t even know what I was praying to, but I was so desperate that I just did it.”
That was in 1987, but Allen said it was nearly a decade later before he finally started to see truths about God revealed. In the meantime, the struggles continued. The grind of long stints on the road and financial struggles put a strain on his marriage, and at one point, his wife, Tami, sought a divorce and even began seeing another man.
“We were literally on the way to the court to file the papers and she had a change of heart,” Allen said.
He recalled the way he had treated her through so many fights, when his anger got the best of him, and he said he didn’t fault her for wanting out of the marriage.
“Looking back on it, I hurt her so bad, so many times. It really hit home for me one night when my son said to me: ‘Daddy, you always win,’” Allen recalled. “I said ‘What do you mean?’ and he said ‘When you and mommy fight, you always win because she cries.’ That was a real eye opener for me.”
A true change of heart for Allen began after he struck up a relationship with Phil Glasgow, a Christian businessman who was interested in opening a comedy club. To understand the business, he wanted to learn how to be a comedian, so he sought pointers from Allen. Glasgow appealed to Allen because both were avid golfers, and Glasgow often got the pair on prestigious golf courses.
“My desire was to play golf. Phil’s was to learn comedy,” Allen said. “But God had his own plan.”
As the friendship evolved and Glasgow learned of Allen’s struggles, Glasgow encouraged his friend to seek a relationship with Jesus Christ.
“I just wanted to know if God existed,” Allen said. “I had a prayer life, but it was usually out of desperation, and usually with a lot of bad words in it, because that’s just what was in my heart. Phil wanted me to go deeper. He said that if I wanted to enjoy (God’s) creation, I had to have a relationship with the Creator. I said ‘That sounds kind of New Agey. Where did you get that?’ And he said, ‘The Bible.’”
Allen said that as his friendship with Glasgow grew, God continued to work on his heart. It remains an ongoing process that has had its trials along the way, such as when Tami was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I remember being on the driving range one day and thinking about it and just getting so mad at God,” Allen said. “I started to think ‘Why did you let this happen?’ but over time I’ve learned to trust God and his plan for us.”
Today, Allen’s career is on solid footing, his marriage is stronger than it ever has been and he continues to put God first in everything he does.
“I love what I do, and sharing my story with others is my ministry,” Allen said. “I’m having the time of my life right now.”