Connections: Christopher James
Wit on Water
Christopher James is in his seventh year as a comedian, magician and master of ceremonies for a dozen shows a week on the Showboat Branson Belle, a dinner cruise ship operating on Table Rock Lake in southwest Missouri. In the offseason, he performs routines on global cruise ships and elsewhere, bringing his annual number of shows to around 500. With his spontaneous and clean humor, every show is different, as James reacts one-on-one with people from the audience. James, who has a psychology degree from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, is the author of From Branson With L.O.L. He recently spoke with Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy.
evangel: How important is it to react to individuals in the crowd?
JAMES: Sometimes when I do my stand-up show I never actually get to the act. I just start talking to someone and it’s completely improv. I’ve done comedy clubs where I do three shows a night and every one is different.
evangel: In your Branson show you find humor in a range of topics, including aging, religion, marriage and geography.
JAMES: We try to have a little something for everyone. That comes from years of me doing elementary shows during the day, corporate luncheons in the afternoon and comedy clubs at night. I learned a little bit about each audience and have jokes for all types. On the Showboat, we try to blend all of them because the audiences are so mixed.
evangel: Are there topics that aren’t funny?
JAMES: Anything can be funny; it’s a matter of how you handle it. Some of the people we bring on stage think by saying something crude or insulting that they are being witty. I just ignore it and move on. My language is cleaner. There’s nothing I say that’s really personal about someone that would be hurtful.
evangel: Yet there is much self-deprecating humor.
JAMES: I’m usually the butt of the joke, acting like I’m an expert who doesn’t get the joke. I try to give the air of impressing the audience, but in the next sentence I’ll act like I’m out of my element.
evangel: And you like to use malapropisms, such as, “I’ve lived in all 54 states; I never was very good at geometry.”
JAMES: It helps people relate to me more. It makes me seem more down to earth.
evangel: How did performing help you recover from a paralyzing injury to your left side?
JAMES: I was discharged from the Navy because of an accident while teaching a children’s martial arts class. For physical therapy rehabilitation I did card manipulation. I keep that in the show each day, although I try not to make magic the focus. Any magic I use on stage uses everyday props. I still have steel plates in my left arm.
evangel: In your book, you say that laughter is so beneficial that you actually are able to perform when ill.
JAMES: Sometimes I don’t have a choice about performing because I am the whole show. When I go on stage and feel miserable I can forget about it for a while. At the end of the show I tell the audience they are my favorite part of the show, that everybody can come together in Branson and have fun. We can laugh despite our differences and forget our troubles.
evangel: How does working in a Christian environment impact you?
JAMES: It’s great working in an atmosphere of clean humor and wholesome entertainment, and I think our audiences really appreciate that. Plus, because of the Christian commitment of the owners and managers, the company feels more like a family than a corporation. You get the feeling that you are valued as an individual as well as an entertainer and cast member, and it makes a difference in how we all pull together to create the best possible experiences for our guests.
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