EWTN Vatican
Pope Francis gets laughs at meeting with big-name comedians

Pope Francis got a chuckle from an audience of comedians on Friday morning after he suggested throwing away his prepared remarks for simply making people laugh with a silly gesture.

Following the advice of St. Thomas Aquinas, who said, “Those who lack playfulness are sinful,” the pope joked that instead of reading his prepared speech, “I’ll do this, and we will all laugh,” as he held his thumb to his head and wiggled his fingers.

Pope Francis opens his remarks to a group of comedians and humorists by making a silly hand gesture during a gathering at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on June 14, 2024. Credit: Screenshot of closed-circuit television feed
Pope Francis opens his remarks to a group of comedians and humorists by making a silly hand gesture during a gathering at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on June 14, 2024. Credit: Screenshot of closed-circuit television feed

Pope Francis took the stage in front of over 100 comics, stand-up comedians, and humorists, including Americans Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brien, on June 14 in the largest — and possibly only — gathering of comics in the Vatican since Pope Pius V eliminated the role of the papal jester in the 1500s.

U.S. comedians Jim Gaffigan, Chris Rock, Tig Notaro, Mike Birbiglia, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kathleen Madigan, and Whoopi Goldberg also took part, as well as American humorist writer David Sedaris and British TV writer and comedian Stephen Merchant.

Improvising, the pontiff said he had been told that morning that there is an Italian saying that “smiling brings good health.” The phrase in Italian, “il sorriso fa buon sangue,” is a variation of an Italian proverb: “Il vino fa buon sangue”; in English, “wine brings good health.”

The June 14 meeting, organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education and Dicastery for Communication, included 107 comics and humorists from 15 countries.

Pope Francis had high praise for their ability to bring people together through humor.

“In the midst of so much gloomy news, immersed as we are in many social and even personal emergencies, you have the power to spread peace and smiles,” he said.

He called the ability to make people smile amid their problems a “miracle,” praising their ability to “denounce abuses of power” and inappropriate behavior, and to give voice to forgotten situations.

Humor, he added, “does not offend, humiliate, or put people down according to their flaws.”

Late-night talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon greets Pope Francis at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on June 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Late-night talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon greets Pope Francis at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on June 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

Stephen Colbert told EWTN News after shaking hands with the pope that the connection between faith and humor is “in the back of my mind all the time.”

“I mean, not in the front of my mind, in the front of my mind is what the joke is. But at a certain point in the back of the mind you have to say, ‘Do I want to tell that joke? And does that go with everything else that you are besides a comedian?’”

“Especially doing political satire, you’re kind of dancing around with a knife in your hand a lot and you want to be careful who and what you cut,” the host of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” added. “So it was lovely to hear the pope acknowledge that there’s a value in that for people’s hearts, and it made me think a little bit harder about how I want to use it.”

Colbert also said he occasionally watches Mass on EWTN.

Jim Gaffigan came to the Vatican with his wife, Jeannie, and 11- and 12-year-old sons, Patrick and Michael, who asked the pope to bless their rosaries.

“I’m going to brag about meeting the pope. That’s so cool,” Michael told CNA.

“And now you have to become a priest!” Gaffigan said to Patrick after he had received a pat on the cheek and candy from Pope Francis.

Patrick, Jeannie, and Michael Gaffigan, the family of comedian Jim Gaffigan, smile for the camera on June 14, 2024, after meeting with Pope Francis. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Patrick, Jeannie, and Michael Gaffigan, the family of comedian Jim Gaffigan, smile for the camera on June 14, 2024, after meeting with Pope Francis. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

“I know that [Pope Francis] has always liked comedy,” Gaffigan said in comments to CNA. “If I was like Stephen Colbert, educated about Catholicism, I’d be able to reference St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Thomas More and all that stuff, but I can’t. I’m just a dumb guy that went to church and tried to listen. But I pay attention more now.”

The comedian, who performed stand-up at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015, joked after the papal meeting Friday that assembling a group of comedians is “like the ultimate ‘Hail Mary’” for the world’s ills. “[The pope’s] like, ‘What if we just call in all the clowns? What if we just get the court jesters …’” he told CNA. 

In his remarks, Pope Francis referenced a prayer, mistakenly attributed to St. Thomas More, to “give me a sense of humor, Lord,” saying he has prayed it every day for more than 40 years.

The full version of the prayer, which can be found in Chester Cathedral, was read aloud by Italian comedian and television host Luciana Littizzetto at the end of the audience.

The last stanza of the anonymously-authored poem says: “Give me a sense of humor, Lord, give me the grace to see a joke; to get some happiness from life, and pass it on to other folk.”

This article was originally published on Catholic News Agency.


Author Name

Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.

Trending
The Historical Origins of Veronica's Veil: Inside the Cloth Relic of Jesus' Holy Face Wiped on Calvary
The Popes and the Power and Significance of the Saint Benedict Medal
Pope Francis' Curious Promise: A Television-Free Vow to Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The Three Secrets of Fatima Explained
Archbishop Gänswein on Baltic appointment: Ready for ‘the front’