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  • Writer's pictureStand-Up Comedy Historian

An Interview with Nathan, a Stand-up Comedy Screenwriter

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

I was recently perusing Reddit when I came across a post from u/nfull00. In it, he included a Google Drive link with a copy of his screenplay called "A Priest Walks Into A Bar..." about a priest who loses his faith and becomes a stand-up comedian.

As a person who grew up in the Catholic Church, this plot appealed to me immediately, and I quickly set about reading the entire document. It reminded me a lot of the film Dogma, particularly the way the writer incorporates comedy with Catholicism.

After devouring the 93-page screenplay, I reached out to the author, and he was more than willing to explain why he wrote this screenplay, the reasoning behind the cannabis-laced communion scene, and what he plans to write next.

Here is my interview with Nathan, which has been edited and condensed for clarity purposes.

Stand-Up Comedy Historian: Hey, Nathan! Thanks for chatting with me about your screenplay.

Nathan: It's my pleasure!

SUCH: Fantastic! Let's dive in then.

First thing's first: Can you please provide my readers with your background and what you do for a living?

Nathan: I'm 23 years old and I live in Nebraska. I graduated with a degree in psychology about 7 months ago, and I have a full-time job.

SUCH: Congratulations on graduating! It's funny you had studied Psychology since I had you pegged as an English major like me haha.

What's your background with writing screenplays specifically? Is this one your first, or are you a prolific writer?

Nathan: I actually don't have much of a background. This is my first screenplay ever. From what I've seen, usually people write shorts first and then work their way up to features, but with this idea I just decided it needed to be a feature-length story.

The only other writing background I have is a creative writing class I took in high school and a screenplay workshop I was a part of in college. But I probably write story ideas into the notes app on my phone like everyday lol.

SUCH: That's awesome that you were able to take what you learned in those two classes and use those skills to pen your first screenplay (which is excellently written, by the way).

And I totally understand the impulse to write things down on your Notes app—mine is full of article ideas for my site!

So why did you choose to write about a priest losing his faith and becoming a stand-up comic? I have to say the two subjects do lend themselves to each other quite well. And it's not like comedy has never criticized religion before (think George Carlin, Bo Burnham, and Tim Minchin).

Nathan: Yeah, I've noticed that too. Growing up Catholic, I would always love those priests that would walk around and try to be funny during their homilies and that would keep my attention as a kid, and I'd think "Hey, that's the fun priest."

As for the idea, I initially had a story about a depressed stand-up comedian and a separate story about a priest who quits his job one day, but I couldn't figure out what the priest does after that. In college, I joined a screenwriting workshop that said to bring a few loglines to share, so I decided to combine the two ideas into one and have been working on it since then.

SUCH: The two topics really blend together well, and I had no idea you smashed them together in that's almost seamless in the script, so bravo!

Now to the story itself. The protagonist David really struggles with explaining why bad things happen to good people, especially innocent children. Was this based on your own growing issues with your childhood beliefs, or is he a completely fictional character?

Nathan: I think the overall story of losing the faith is something I have dealt with for sure. In high school, I was questioning what I believe, and one day I just admitted that I don't really know. As for specifically why bad things happen to good people, that is something I made up for the story, and I have been lucky not to have gone through the same situations as David.

SUCH: I had certainly faced similar struggles in my life and stopped going to church when I was 23. I'm not sure what I believe currently (not affiliated with any religion, although I am leaning toward Reform Judaism like my husband and kids).

Bo's song Rant in particular made me really question everything I had just passively accepted before, and I finally told my parents I am no longer Catholic last year (it was a lifelong struggle, and Christmas still had a hold on me haha).

Why do you think so many comedians are atheists or at least serious doubters? The only practicing Catholic comic I can think of off the top of my head is Jim Gaffigan, and even HE hates many of the worst aspects of the Church influencing politics and society (check out his Tweetstorm that included a choice "Fuck you, Karen" during the 2020 Republican National Convention).

Jim Gaffigan

Nathan: That's a good question. I haven't really thought about why, but I have noticed quite a few atheist comedians.

The only other person in comedy who is Catholic I know besides Gaffigan is Stephen Colbert. I would say the comedy world draws people who question mundane things or asks why things are the way they are and pokes fun at them.

And this is something I tried to touch on in the screenplay with the character Overman's "Ask Why?" motto. Not to generalize, but it seems that serious doubters/science-minded people ask more questions about why things are the way they are than those who are religious, who may take things at face value more often than not.

SUCH: How did I forget Stephen Colbert! Of course. And John Mulaney is Catholic, but I highly doubt he's going to church every week haha.

Here's a clip of John and Stephen discussing being altar boys when they were younger.

I also recall Dane Cook doing some funny jokes about the Catholic mass (Christ Chex lol).

I totally agree with you that more science-minded individuals tend to be against the blind faith that religion necessarily requires.

Speaking of Overman, is his character or Holloway's character based on real stand-up comedians? I kept thinking while reading your screenplay that Overman was a Lenny Bruce- or Carlin-type figure, and the WHY element really reminds me of their "question everything" mentality toward the world.

Lenny Bruce

George Carlin

Nathan: I didn't really base any of the characters on real-life comedians, per se, but I did draw from some of their stories.

I won't give anything away, but what happens to Overman near the end of the story is something I ripped straight from what happened to Lenny Bruce, and I even referenced it in one line.

The characters are more meant to be based on those in the Bible—with Overman being a mix of Jesus and Frederick Nietzsche's "The Overman" idea as someone who overcomes nihilism, and Holloway more being a Judas-type character.

The "Overman" concept

SUCH: Oh, wow! That's fascinating...I don't know enough philosophy to recognize that Nietzschean phrase, but I did pick up on the Lenny Bruce parallel.

So the Catholic Church is basically the antagonist in your screenplay. As a former Catholic myself, I recognized so many elements of my upbringing (luckily The Passion of the Christ came out when I was older, but my mother was utterly enthralled by that film, and I could definitely see her showing it to a Grade K class of kids). Why did this subject matter appeal to you?

Nathan: As I mentioned before, I was raised Catholic. The subject matter appealed to me because with writing I always heard "Write what you know." So I took two things I feel I knew pretty well (Catholicism and stand-up comedy) and combined them into a story.

SUCH: That makes perfect sense! When I saw you had posted it on the ex-Catholic subreddit, I immediately felt like your screenplay was written for me as a former Catholic who loves stand-up.

So one thing I really enjoyed in your writing was the subtle symbolism you used like 12 comics for the 12 apostles and Holloway being a Judas-like figure. Do you have any plans on how to portray that in the film so that it's not too overt and obvious to the viewer (more like an "aha" moment than an anvil-hitting-you-over-the-head one)?

Nathan: Thanks! As of now, I do have plans to make it more subtle in future drafts. This was my fourth overall draft of the screenplay, but it was the very first draft I introduced Overman and Holloway as these Jesus- and Judas-like figures, respectively, so I just wanted to get that idea out on the page.

SUCH: Ah, I see. Well they are both definitely compelling characters. I could understand why David was initially in awe of them!

The screenplay itself has some really upsetting scenes with children not getting proper medical attention, but instead their deluded parents focus on blind faith (the scene with them dancing made me want David to scream at them to wake the hell up! So infuriating).

The thought process of these believers reminded me SO much of people during the pandemic tempting fate and not masking up or getting vaccinated because they only trust in God's plan. Did you find that type of hypocrisy enabled by the Church to be frustrating as well?

Nathan: Yes, I did. Thankfully, I didn't really know anyone personally who was as blinded by their faith or anti-science as the characters in the story.

SUCH: That's great. My mother was sucked in by all that nonsense and now won't get vaccinated because she doesn't believe in science, only what Fox News tells her (do you see why we no longer speak? Haha).

So I have to ask about the communion scene. At my childhood church, we always had small communion wafers that tasted like cardboard and were barely edible.

I've had other communion that DID taste slightly better, but the idea of actual fluffy bread might have made me stay in the Church (nah!).

Is this something that churches do have—bread instead of wafers—or is a suspension of disbelief needed and this isn't a common tradition at all?

It reminded me more of challah bread at synagogues, personally (but changing it to a Rabbi walking into a bar wouldn't have the same punch lol).

If it's a battle of bread, Judaism wins hands-down with challah

Nathan: Yeah, mine were the same cardboard circles growing up! I don't think I've actually been to a church that uses bread.

The way they do it in the screenplay was mostly for the story, and I've since looked up how the bread is made for communion. It only requires water and wheat flour, so in the story it's still able to be those (delicious) cardboard wafers and not actual bread.

SUCH: Got it! Yeah, you might want to add a line that it's unusual for the church staff to make their own communion to tip off the viewer that you know this isn't a standard practice.

Glad to hear I'm not the only one who remembers those awful wafers! Haha

I also realized when thinking about your screenplay that there is NO love interest or romance element included. Was that on purpose?

I have no problems with that decision, but I just wanted to point out how it's kind of odd that the priest never seems to be interested in women or sex (only drinking and drugs are vices). Is he supposed to be gay/asexual?

Nathan: Yes, that was mostly on purpose.

I wanted it to seem like a sort of breakup story with David’s “marriage” to the church deteriorating throughout the first half, so having a romance didn’t really fit within this story. And also, the drinking that David does is mostly to cope with the meaningless existence he then experiences. 

I have written a few notes about what David will do after the events in the screenplay in case I ever decide to write a sequel, and one of those is meeting a female comedian while he tours and forming a relationship with her, so I would say while it’s not set in stone, David is probably heterosexual. 

SUCH: Ah, thanks for clarifying! I actually really appreciate you not shoehorning in a love interest that does nothing to advance the plot.

Did you ever see the film Dogma?

Carlin plays Cardinal Glick in it and unveils Buddy Christ to the public in this scene, which reminds me of the Pastor unveiling the new Nativity scene in your screenplay. I also love how the signs behind him change from "Catholicism WOW" to "Catholicism NO" from certain angles (not sure if that was intentional or not).

Nathan: No, I haven't. That's hilarious, and I've seen the Buddy Christ image before but never knew it was from that. Now I got to put it on my to-watch list!

SUCH: Oh, definitely! It's a Kevin Smith classic, and Chris Rock even appears as the thirteenth apostle named Rufus. It's also one of Alan Rickman's best performances, in my opinion. I'm certain you'll enjoy it!

Are you concerned at all about the Church's reaction to your writing, or is your opinion that there's no such thing as bad publicity? Going back to Dogma, the film was protested heavily by the Catholic Church since they deemed it to be blasphemous.

Fun fact: Kevin Smith even joined one of the protests against his own film! Haha

Nathan: I would say right now I'm more worried about what people close to me think of it, since my family is still Catholic and some friends are too and I haven't shared it with them yet.

If it gets made into a film, I could only hope it'll get that much attention that the Catholic church notices it (lol). But yeah, I don't think there's a thing like bad publicity. My intention was not to make fun of the Catholic church too much, but just poke fun at those people that completely ignore science or completely rely on things like tradition.

SUCH: Yeah, that definitely comes across in your writing. I get hiding your views from those you love, but I can tell you from experience that it's best to be honest. You can't hide stuff forever, and you'll be miserable trying to (ask me how I know lol).

Jerrod's mantra about living honestly

So do you have plans in the future to write more? Any projects in the works?

Nathan: I do! I have a few other screenplay ideas in the works at the moment. One is about a cinephile who dissociates into movies in the last cinema in the world before the screen stops working one day, and he's forced to start his own story.

The other is about a forensic psychologist who must determine the sanity of a cult leader before a trial, but soon begins to doubt her own sanity when she falls under the spell of the man's followers. Also, I plan to hopefully write the screenplay for "A priest walks into a bar..." into a novel one day.

SUCH: Those sound like wonderful ideas for films! I have had a few thoughts on screenplay concepts myself (one about George Carlin and Richard Pryor in the '60s and '70s, and another about a hospice nurse that I want Bo to write) [Ed. note: You can read all of my movie ideas here.].

Since I'm the Stand-Up Comedy Historian, I have to ask this: Who are your favorite comics and why?

Also, are you a fan of Bo Burnham at all? He has two major songs about religion: Rant, which I've already mentioned and is about the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church specifically, and From God's Perspective, which is a song about what God thinks about humanity—it's not positive. Both remind me of David's breakdown in the church when he gets excommunicated.

Tim Minchin explores these subjects as well in songs like Thank You God  and Ten-Foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins.

Nathan: My top favorite is John Mulaney—just because of his relatability and the way he tells stories is hilarious.

Second would be Tom Segura—also a great storyteller.

And then it goes Nate Bargetze, Mark Normand, Brian Regan, and Sam Morrill.

I've been lucky to have seen all of these guys live in person when they tour, which was a great experience.

I basically just look up what comedians are touring in my state every once in a while to see if any are near me and if I know them. I just like the atmosphere of a live show—I always see comedy specials and I think I wish I could be the people in the crowd. I think stand-up is one of the only mediums where you just have a random person on a stage commenting on the absurdity of everyday life, and you get to poke fun at situations you may not otherwise get the chance to talk about. 

Yes, I'm a Bo Burnham fan. I've seen Inside probably three or four times. I think I've seen From God's Perspective, but not the others so I'll have to check them out for sure!

SUCH: So cool that you like Bo and Mulaney! My site used to be completely devoted to Bo and his works, but I had changed it a few months ago so that I could write more freely about comedy in general. You can read all about Bo's music catalog here in case you've missed anything like one of my favorites that was never released, Oh My God.

What are your thoughts on Inside? Do you have any favorite songs/bits? Also, what's your favorite song/special by Bo? You can name more than one.

And in terms of Mulaney, which is your favorite special by him, and did you see Baby J yet? What did you think of it if you've watched it? I saw John live in 2021 when his tour was called From Scratch. He's one of my favorites too!

Nathan: I really liked John Mulaney when I saw his most recent tour that was the Baby J special, but I prefer the ones I saw at smaller venues like actual comedy clubs because it was a better experience being closer to the comedians.  

I loved Inside, and I like the songs Welcome to the Internet, 1985, and Comedy the best. 

I would say my favorite John Mulaney special is either The Top Part or the Comeback Kid. I saw Baby J live when he toured last year in Nebraska in April, and then watched the special recently too to see how it compared. I loved it, and I thought it was a different and more honest perspective than his other specials since he talked about his drug use and rehab. 

SUCH: Absolutely! Baby J is fantastic (and will likely win an Emmy in my estimation), but my favorite of his specials is probably New In Town. I also adore the Horse Loose in a Hospital routine, and I remember being THRILLED when John tweeted a horse pic after Trump lost.

I'm glad you enjoyed Inside so much! It's definitely my favorite special (can you tell from my website posts? Haha).

Great choices for songs too! 1985 is only really on the album, although he does briefly reference it in the Outtakes.

Do you have any social media you'd like to plug?

Nathan: Yes, I have a Reddit account, username nfull00, where you can follow for updates on my writing and other things.

I have other social media but would like to remain mostly anonymous for this, so that's the only one I'm comfortable giving out right now! Thanks.

SUCH: That's completely understandable.

Thanks again for discussing your fantastic screenplay with me, and good luck with your writing!

Nathan: No problem!


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