Pranksters, Standups, and Fitness Gurus: New Perspectives on Parody

Third event in our series “Reverent Irreverence: Parody, Religion, and Contemporary Politics.”



Knight Hall’s Emerson Auditorium

Washington University in St. Louis

Assistant Professor Fannie Bialek will moderate this panel discussion featuring new scholarship in the realm of parody, religion, and politics.

Jesus and Jest: Comedy and Christianity in the 1960s
Joshua Wright, Hope College

During the long 1960s, both progressive Christians and organized religion’s irreverent outsiders displayed a preoccupation with fusing religion, comic play, and moral critique. This presentation considers two key representatives of this trend, the liberal Protestant theologian Harvey Cox and the countercultural provocateur Paul Krassner. Cox hoped that imagining Jesus as a revolutionary jester could reintroduce an anti-establishment “carnival spirit” into mid-century Christianity. Meanwhile, Krassner used anticlerical satire and performative parody to lampoon religious authoritarianism and sexual repression. The activities, and interactions, of these two figures serve as a useful historical backdrop for understanding the subsequent–and frequently controversial–relationship between humor and religion in American culture. 

How Standup Made Islam Secular
Samah Choudhury, Ithaca College

The demands for “representation” and its visual presence in supposedly secular culture industries like standup comedy have resulted in a common language for comics like Hasan Minhaj to identify as Muslim comedians over strictly being referred to as a South Asian or “brown” minority. At the same time, it was Minhaj who found himself at the center of one of these year’s biggest pop culture tempests when he come under fire for fabricating and exaggerating experiences of discrimination and oppression he has faced as an American Muslim today. Yet continued apprehension surrounding the Terrifying Muslim Man result in those that most resemble him also the recipients of the opportunity to confront him. Thus, the humor – and by extension, the Muslim – that men like Minhaj articulate on stage often replicate a subjugating, racialized, and masculine vision of Islam that the secular Muslim must, in turn, disavow. The range of representative motion that Minhaj embodies in his performances is not available in the same capacity for Muslim women comedians or even Black Muslim comedians. While Minhaj may have taken on the mantle of “Muslim representation” through enthusiastic conceit, we must account for the ways that he represents also the only feasible Muslim subject under secular taxonomies.

In on the Joke: Selling Parody and Religion at SoulCycle
Cody Musselman, Washington University in St. Louis

SoulCycle, a popular fitness brand, has been the subject of fascination and ridicule since it first launched in 2005. Combining spiritual messaging with stationary cycling, SoulCycle centered its upscale brand around devotion to fitness gurus, which has inspired parodies by Saturday Night Live, comedians like Amy Schumer, and more. SoulCycle’s corporate response to their critics has been to get in on the joke, poking fun at themselves and the spiritual-fitness fusion they offer. This paper considers parody as a symptom of modern religiosity and examines what happens when the parody of the thing becomes the thing itself.

This event is third in our series “Reverent Irreverence: Parody, Religion, and Contemporary Politics.”

As the counterculture of the 1960s churned, Harvard theologian Harvey Cox wrote of the dawning of a new religious sensibility reliant on “conscious play and comic equivocation.” Amid “dead gods” and “museum churches,” Cox suggested that laughter was religion’s last hope. Parody was the potential vehicle of its rebirth.  Our program series on “Reverent Irreverence” digs into those paradoxical conjunctions and ironic possibilities.  How does religious parody, satire, or humor become serious, solemn, or sincere? How does a camp aesthetic intersect with the arts of dissent and protest among environmentalist, feminist, and LGBTQ+ communities?  What makes such parodies so dangerous, blasphemous, or obscene—so politically charged amid the nation’s endless culture wars? Are the comic effects of such performances, however serious, ultimately a jest for liberal secularism? Please join us for a series of events this spring to explore the profound play among parody, religion, and contemporary American politics.  

This event is free and open to all, no tickets required. General admission seating—first come, first served. Doors will open at 4:00 p.m. We hope you will join us for a reception immediately following the conversation.

Visitor parking in the Danforth University Center (DUC) underground garage or the Millbrook parking facility is free after 5:00 p.m. in all yellow spaces (parking in red spaces will be ticketed). Parking passes or vouchers are not required. You will pull a ticket upon entry to the garage, which you will need for a no-fee exit of the garage when you depart. More information and campus maps are available at:

Please contact our office at or (314) 935-9345 if you have any questions or would like to share accessibility needs.

We are unable to offer a livestream of this event, but will archive a recording on our website for future viewing.