January 1

    Bill Maher

    Bill Maher

    On this date in 1956, William Maher was born in New York City to a Jewish mother and Catholic father. He was raised Catholic until age 13, when his father quit the church due to its anti-abortion stance. Maher, a comedian, political commentator and television host is known for the HBO talk show “Real Time with Bill Maher” (2003 to this writing in 2023) and the late-night show “Politically Incorrect (1993–2002), originally on Comedy Central and later on ABC.

    He was raised in River Vale, N.J., and attended Cornell University, graduating with majors in history and English. Maher started his stand-up comedy career in 1979. Maher has also written several best-sellers, including True Story (2005), Does Anybody Have a Problem with That? Politically Incorrect’s Greatest Hits (1997), When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden (2002), New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer (2006) and The New New Rules: A Funny Look at How Everybody But Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass (2011). He was number 38 on Comedy Central’s 2005 list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time. He received a Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 2010.

    Maher’s comedy often throws comedic punches at organized religion. “Religulous” (2008), one of the highest grossing documentaries of all time, features Maher interviewing believers from different faiths, which generates many laughs and concludes with a more serious warning on the danger of religion. He said on “Real Time” on Feb. 17, 2006: “New rule: If churches don’t have to pay taxes, they also can’t call the fire department when they catch fire. Sorry reverend, that’s one of those services that goes along with paying in. I’ll use the fire department I pay for. You can pray for rain.”

    He has been strongly criticized by the mainstream medical community for his often expressed skepticism about “Western” medicine and the efficacy and dangers of vaccines and for having show guests who promote “anti-vax” views. The consensus is that Maher, with no medical or science training, is spreading potentially fatal misinformation. Dr. David Gorski, a surgeon and graduate program faculty member at Wayne State University, says that “HBO, by airing Maher’s show, is complicit in spreading antivaccine quackery to a worldwide audience.” (Science-Based Medicine online, Nov. 4, 2019.)

    He said on “Real Time” in April 2008: “If you have a few hundred followers and you let some of them molest children, they call you a cult leader. If you have a billion, they call you pope.” He told Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” in 2004: “I hate religion. I think it’s a neurological disorder.” Maher lines from “Religulous,” in which he refers to himself as agnostic:

    • “Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking.”
    • “Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do.”
    • “Rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price.”
    • “If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you’d resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers.”
    • “If you believe that the world is going to come to an end — and perhaps any day now — does it not drain one’s motivation to improve life on Earth while we’re here?

    “When I hear from people that religion doesn’t hurt anything, I say, really? Well besides wars, the Crusades, the Inquisitions, 9-11, ethnic cleansing, the suppression of women, the suppression of homosexuals, fatwas, honor killings, suicide bombings, arranged marriages to minors, human sacrifice, burning witches, and systematic sex with children, I have a few little quibbles. And I forgot blowing up girl schools in Afghanistan.”

    —Maher, interview with Don Imus on Fox TV (Nov. 1, 2009)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Patton Oswalt

    Patton Oswalt

    On this date in 1969, Patton Oswalt was born in Portsmouth, Va. His father was a Marine Corps officer who named him after Gen. George S. Patton. Oswalt began to perform stand-up comedy in the late 1980s, before graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1991. He became widely known after he starred in an HBO comedy special in 1996. He began to headline at comedy clubs nationwide and also started his career as an actor.

    Much of his comedic material addresses popular culture and his daily life, but he has been known to mock religion and religious believers. For example, his “Sky Cake” routine characterizes religion as a trick played by smart weak guys on big dumb guys. He describes himself as an atheist.

    From 1998 to 2007, Oswalt was a regular on the CBS show “The King of Queens,” playing the role of Spence. He has appeared in many small roles in movies, as a guest star on television shows including “Dollhouse” and “Nurse Jackie,” and done voice work for movies, television and video games. Notably, he voiced the main character, the rat Remy, in the 2007 Pixar film “Ratatouille.” He also starred in the 2009 live-action film “Big Fan.”

    His supporting role in Jason Reitman’s black comedy “Young Adult” (2011) was nominated for several awards. Oswalt has also written for TV and film, as well as doing uncredited work on a variety of live-action comedy and animated film scripts.

    In 2011 Oswalt released the book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland and appeared in “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.” He originated the role of Billy Stanhope on “Two and a Half Men.” His memoir Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film was published by Simon & Schuster in 2015, when it was announced he would appear in the reboot of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” His comedy special “Talking for Clapping” was released on Netflix in 2016 and his special “Annihilation” followed in 2017 on Netflix.

    Oswalt married true-crime writer Michelle McNamara in 2005 and they had a daughter, Alice, in 2009. McNamara had a very sad, untimely end at age 46 in 2016. He married actress Meredith Salenger the following year.

    “My feelings on religion are starting to morph. I’m still very much an atheist, except that I don’t necessarily see religion as being a bad thing. … I’m almost saying certain people do better with religion, the way that certain rock stars do better if they’re shooting heroin.”

    —Oswalt, The Onion A.V. Club (Aug. 31, 2011)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; photo by Featureflash, Shutterstock.com

    W.C. Fields

    W.C. Fields

    On this date in 1880, comedian W.C. Fields (né William Claude Dukenfield) was born in Philadelphia. His father was a Cockney immigrant and his mother a native Philadelphian. Fields dropped out after four years of schooling to work with his father, who ran a horse-drawn vegetable cart. A rough home life drove Fields away by the age of 11. He lived on the streets, was occasionally beaten up and sometimes jailed.

    By 13 he had become skilled at juggling and playing pool. That year he moved to Atlantic City, where he was hired to juggle (perfecting the appearance of losing his juggling pieces) and, when business was slow, to pretend to drown for crowd amusement.

    At 19 he was dubbed “The Distinguished Comedian.” By 23 he had played at Buckingham Palace in London, appearing the same evening as Sarah Bernhardt. Fields was on the program with Charles Chaplin and Maurice Chevalier at the Folies-Bergeres. Fittingly, his first movie, at age 35, was “Pool Sharks” (1915).

    Fields appeared in 37 movies, including “David Copperfield” (despite his adage “Never work with animals or children”) and “My Little Chickadee” (1940). Known for his poses as a caustic curmudgeon and imbiber, Fields actually had two sons (one outside marriage who was raised by foster parents) and did not appear in public inebriated.

    In 1945, crippled by arthritis and weakened by cirrhosis of the liver, he moved out of his Bel Air home into Las Encinas Sanitarium, where he died on Christmas Day 1946 of a gastric hemorrhage at age 66. His son and estranged wife contested a clause in his will leaving part of his estate to establish a “W. C. Fields College for Orphan White Boys and Girls, where no religion of any sort is to be preached.” (Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields by Simon Louvish, 1997.)

    Actor Edgar Bergen, speaking at Fields’ memorial service in Forest Lawn, said: “Of the five hundred religions in the world he had his own, and he hoped his friends would understand his requests. It seems wrong not to pray for a man who gave such happiness to the world. But this is the way he wanted it.” (D. 1946)

    PHOTO: Fields as Micawber in the 1935 film “David Copperfield.”

    “[Fields] regarded all religions with the suspicion of a seasoned con man.”

    —"W.C. Fields: A Biography" by James Curtis (2004)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Terry Jones

    Terry Jones

    On this date in 1942, comedian, writer and director Terence Graham Parry Jones was born in Colwyn Bay, Wales. He graduated with a degree in modern history from St. Edmund Hall, Oxford. His first successful TV show, in which he paired up with Michael Palin, was “The Love Show” (1965). Jones became part of the classic comedy TV show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” (1969-74) with Palin, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle.

    Jones’ irreverent credits include writing and directing the films “Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail” (1975), “Life of Brian” (1979) and “The Meaning of Life” (1983). He has written several books and screenplays, including comic works and more serious writing on medieval history. His first book was Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary (1980), an alternative take on Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale.” Jones asserted that instead of a paragon of Christian virture, the knight can be interpreted as a typical mercenary and potentially cold-blooded killer.

    He married Alison Telfer in 1970. They had two children before divorcing in 2012. They had long had an open marriage. Jones had a daughter, Siri, in 2009 with Anna Söderström, 41 years his junior. They married in 2012.

    In 2015 he was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a form of dementia that impairs the ability to speak and communicate.  By September 2016 he was no longer able to give interviews. In 2017 Palin revealed that Jones was no longer able to speak. He died 11 days short of his 78th birthday at his London home. (D. 2020)

    There are Jews in the world, there are Buddhists,
    There are Hindus and Mormons and then
    There are those that follow Mohammed, but
    I’ve never been one of them.

    I’m a Roman Catholic,
    And have been since before I was born,
    And the one thing they say about Catholics is
    They’ll take you as soon as you’re warm.

    You don’t have to be a six footer,
    You don’t have to have a great brain,
    You don’t have to have any clothes on,
    You’re a Catholic the moment Dad came, because

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is great,
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is great,
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.

    Let the heathen spill theirs,
    On the dusty ground,
    God shall make them pay for
    Each sperm that can’t be found.

    Every sperm is wanted,
    Every sperm is good,
    Every sperm is needed,
    In your neighborhood.

    Hindu, Taoist, Mormon,
    Spill theirs just anywhere,
    But God loves those who treat their
    Semen with more care.

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is great,
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is good,
    Every sperm is needed,
    In your neighborhood.

    Every sperm is useful,
    Every sperm is fine,
    God needs everybody’s,
    Mine, and mine, and mine.

    Let the pagans spill theirs,
    O’er mountain, hill and plain.
    God shall strike them down for
    Each sperm that’s spilt in vain.

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is good,
    Every sperm is needed,
    In your neighborhood.

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is great,
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.

    "Every Sperm is Sacred," song and words by Michael Palin and Terry Jones (1983)

    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo by Helga Esteb, Shutterstock.com

    Suzy Eddie Izzard

    Suzy Eddie Izzard

    On this date in 1962, Suzy Edward “Eddie” John Izzard — comedian, actor, writer and activist — was born in Aden in what is now Yemen to Dorothy and Harold Izzard, a midwife/nurse and an accountant who worked for British Petroleum. The family moved back to Britain before Izzard’s first birthday. Dorothy Izzard died when Eddie was 6.

    Throughout much of Izzard’s early stand-up career, she identified as a transvestite and performed in women’s clothing and makeup. In her 2008 show “Stripped,” she performed with a “blokey” look and told The New York Times (March 16, 2008) that she didn’t want to be in the “transvestite comedian” box anymore. To the Evening Standard (March 15, 2016): “I am a transgender guy. I came out 31 years ago. I’ve got boy genetics and girl genetics. … I identify somewhat boy-ish and somewhat girl-ish. I identify both but I fancy women.”

    She told ITV host Lorraine Kelly (Jan. 7, 2021): “If people have a [personal pronoun] problem, just call me Eddie. It is no big deal for me. I’m gender fluid and I do all my dramatic roles in boy mode…” The show aired the day after the American seditionists’ attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol. Izzard wore a blue “Make Humanity Great Again” cap to the interview. She announced in March 2023 that she would start using the name Suzy in addition to Eddie, saying that she is “going to be Suzy Eddie Izzard.”

    In 2000, Izzard received two Emmys, one for writing and one for performing, for her stand-up special “Dress to Kill.”  She was nominated for a Tony Award for her Broadway performance in “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.”

    Izzard frequently pokes fun at religion, ranging from the uninspired hymn-singing in the Church of England to the bible and creationists. Routines often feature such topics as God and Jesus hanging out in heaven and scientific information that ought to have been included in the bible. In her show “Circle,” Izzard said, “So in the Christian faith, God created Adam in his own image, yeah, so that was good, but 65 million years before that, he created the dinosaurs using the image of his cousin Ted.”

    Izzard says that she was agnostic for many years before embracing atheism. She told the audience in “Circle” that when “Jesus had to go down to Planet Earth and teach the word of the Lord to the dinosaurs. … ‘Rrrah, llllih, laaaal,’ says Jesus, trying to blend in.” On “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (June 14, 2017), she said: “I don’t believe in the guy upstairs, I believe in us.”

    In 2013 Izzard received the 6th Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism, presented at Harvard University by the Humanist Community at Harvard and the American Humanist Association.

    PHOTO: Izzard at a 2015 Labour Party rally in London; Giuseppe Sollazzo photo under CC 2.0.

    “I was warming the material up in New York, where one night, literally on stage, I realized I didn’t believe in God at all. … I just didn’t think there was anyone upstairs.”

    —Izzard, The Times of London (Feb. 8, 2009)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski and Bill Dunn

    Emo Philips

    Emo Philips

    On this date in 1956, comedian Emo Philips was born in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove. Philips is known for stand-up comedy and one-liners. His recorded comedy albums include “E=mo2 (1985) and “Live at the Hasty Pudding Theatre” (1987). Philips has also had many minor acting roles in movies and television shows.

    Philips has told many religious jokes; one of them (too long to reprint here) was voted the funniest religious joke of all time by Ship of Fools and voted one of the 75 funniest jokes of all time by GQ magazine.

    He retired in 2005 but emerged back on the comedy circuit around 2010 and experienced a considerable resurgence in popularity on national tours. He and “Weird Al” Yankovic toured together in 2018.

    Photo by RanZag under CC 2.0, cropped.

    “A Mormon told me that they don’t drink coffee. I said, ‘A cup of coffee every day gives you wonderful benefits.’ He said, ‘Like what?’ I said, ‘Well, it keeps you from being Mormon.’ “

    —Philips' joke, The Guardian (Sept. 28, 2005)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    Leslie Nielsen

    Leslie Nielsen

    On this date in 1926, actor Leslie Nielsen, the oldest of four sons, was born to Ingvard and Maybelle Nielsen and spent his early childhood in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Nielsen credited his father, a strict disciplinarian and an officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for giving him his first acting experiences: He frequently had to lie to his father in order to avoid being punished!

    When Nielsen and his brother Eric, who grew up to become deputy prime minister, were old enough to start school, the family moved to Edmonton, Alberta. After graduation, Nielsen joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he was an aerial gunner for one year overseas. After World War II, he worked at a Calgary radio station, then enrolled in The Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto.

    Falling in love with acting, Nielsen, 23, earned a scholarship to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. Quickly given parts on television shows, Nielsen continued in that medium for the next few years, playing dramatic roles. In the 1950s, Nielsen became interested in film, moved to Hollywood and made his big screen debut in “Forbidden Planet” (1956). He made more than 50 films over the next 20 years.

    In 1980 Nielsen was an instant hit as the humorless doctor in the comedy spoof “Airplane!” He went on to play the inept police officer, Det. Frank Drebin, in the TV series “Police Squad!” Continuing to hit his stride in comedy, he got his big breakthrough in 1988, reprising the role of Drebin for film in “Naked Gun: Files From the Police Squad.” His success continued with the sequels, “Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear” (1991) and “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult” (1994).

    Switching back to drama in 1996 but in a new genre, Nielsen played the lead in the stage production of “Clarence Darrow,” a one-man show that had originated with freethinker Henry Fonda. Nielsen’s long career boasted more than 200 films and television programs. Winner of numerous awards, Nielsen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2001, was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame and received UCLA’s Jack Benny Award for his comedic roles.

    Married and divorced three times, Nielsen resided in Arizona with his fourth wife and longtime friend, Barbaree Earl, until his death at age 84. He had two children. D. 2010.

    “There’s an old saying that God exists in your search for him. I just want you to understand that I ain’t looking.”

    Esquire magazine interview, April 2008

    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Simon Pegg

    Simon Pegg

    On this date in 1970, actor, screenwriter, comedian and author Simon John Pegg (né Beckingham) was born to parents Gillian Rosemary (née Smith), a civil servant, and John Henry Beckingham, a jazz musician, in Brockworth, England. Following his parents’ divorce when he was seven, Pegg adopted his stepfather’s surname.

    Showing a penchant for comedy at a young age, Pegg was the drummer of a band called “God’s Third Leg” when he was 16. Pegg studied English literature and performance studies at Stratford-upon-Avon College, later graduating from Bristol University in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in theater, film and television.

    Moving to London, Pegg pursued a career in standup comedy, which soon led to television opportunities. He emerged into the spotlight after co-writing and co-starring in the sitcom “Spaced” (1999-2001), for which he won a British Comedy Award. For the show, Pegg worked with writer and director Edgar Wright and co-star Nick Frost, who also happened to be his best friend and flatmate. Following the success of the show, Pegg continued to work with them, creating his most lauded films in the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy — “Shaun of the Dead” (2004), “Hot Fuzz” (2007) and “The World’s End” (2013).

    Pegg’s other major roles include parts in “Doctor Who” (2005), “Mission: Impossible III” (2006), “Run Fatboy Run” (2007), “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” (2008), “Star Trek” (2009), “Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol” (2011), “Paul” (2011) and “Star Trek into Darkness” (2013). Pegg has also done voice parts for “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” (2009), “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (2010) and “The Adventures of Tintin” (2011).

    Pegg married Maureen McCann in 2005 and they have one child.

    As an atheist, I’d skip the prayer and go straight to the colonel, who is arguably the god of affordable, bucket housed fried chicken bits.”

    —Pegg, from his Twitter account (Nov. 18, 2010)
    Compiled by Noah Bunnell; photo by S_Bukley, Shutterstock.com

    Tig Notaro

    Tig Notaro

    On this date in 1971, entertainer Mathilde O’Callaghan “Tig” Notaro was born in Jackson, Miss., to Mathilde (O’Callaghan) and Pat Notaro. Her brother Renaud, a year older, started calling her Tig when she was 2. Raised until kindergarten in Pass Christian, Miss., she moved with her family to Spring, Texas, a Houston suburb.

    Notaro: “My mother was very free-thinking and I picked up a lot of her sensibilities.” (Mother Jones, June 13, 2016) She hated school and failed three grades before dropping out of high school in ninth grade (getting her GED at age 19).

    In the mid-’90s in Denver, she started Tignation Promotions to book and manage bands. That led her to Los Angeles, where she tried stand-up for the first time, while working at restaurants and coffee shops and babysitting to make ends meet. She was featured in 2004 on “Comedy Central Presents.”

    She released her debut stand-up album “Good One” in 2011. Her 2012 album “Live” (pronounced “liv”) was a show recorded four days after she was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts and had been hospitalized with a debilitating intestinal disease called Clostridioides difficile. (During some shows, she briefly bares her chest to show the results of her double mastectomy.) The Grammy-nominated album focuses on her medical struggles, a relationship breakup and the death of her mother during a four-month period.

    Those struggles also brought out some strong feelings about religious faith. Her memoir “I’m Just a Person” (2016) has a chapter titled “God Never Gives You More Than You Can Handle” that demolishes that claim:

    “Losing my ability to eat food — and more than twenty pounds — as well as losing my mother; losing my breasts; having stitched and scabbed incisions across my chest that made it almost impossible to be hugged or to move; being unable to lift my arms until I was able to rebuild excised muscle tissue; being terrified of dying, and if I lived, of never working again; and going through a breakup while having constant stabbing pains in my gut was, ultimately, more than I could handle.”

    But she eventually did recover. Her first stand-up special, “Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted,” was released by HBO in 2015 and later as her third album. She co-wrote, produced and starred in a semi-autobiographical TV pilot called “One Mississippi” in 2015. It received a six-episode series order from Amazon.

    A 2015 Netflix movie called “Tig” chronicled her attempts to become pregnant with her fiancée Stephanie Allynne, an actress and comedian. They married that year and welcomed twin sons in 2016, conceived using Allynne’s eggs via a surrogate.

    Netflix released Notaro’s second one-hour special, “Happy To Be Here,” in 2018. During the pandemic, she started two podcasts — one called “Don’t Ask Tig,” on which guests answered listener questions, and “Tig and Cheryl: True Story,” co-hosted by actress Cheryl Hines.

    Notaro launched her “Hello Again” tour in January 2022. 

    PHOTO: Notaro at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con International; Gage Skidmore photo under CC 3.0.

    “My biggest problem with people who talk about God and prayers is how confident they are about how it all works out until it doesn’t work out. This kind of willful blindness astounds me. If something is a miracle when it works, then when it doesn’t work that should not just be ignored; it should be questioned.”

    —From Notaro's memoir "I'm Just a Person" (2016)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Eric Idle

    Eric Idle

    On this date in 1943, Eric Idle was born in County Durham, England: “By odd coincidence, I was born on my birthday,” he quips in his memoir, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (2018). His father died in World War II and his mother sent him away to school when he was 5. When he was 7, she placed him in the Royal School Wolverhampton, previously known as the Royal Orphanage. He was there until he “managed to escape” at age 19: “It was a physically abusive, bullying, harsh environment for a kid.”

    Accepted by Cambridge University, he discovered comedy. He was president of Footlights Revue and graduated in 1965. He worked in several television comedies, including “The Frost Report.” He wrote “All You Need Is Cash” (aka “The Rutles”), a mockumentary about a fictional band created for an earlier TV sketch. He teamed up with Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman and John Cleese for the enduring TV classic, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” (1969-74).

    The cast produced several irreverent movies, with Idle a driving force, including “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975), which spoofed religion and the Crusades. “Monty Python’s The Life of Brian” (1979) depicts what happens after Brian (played by Chapman) is born on Christmas in a stable next to Jesus’ and spends his life getting mistaken for a messiah. In his memoir, Idle recounts how difficult it was to get studio backing for “The Life of Brian.” His friend George Harrison saved the day by mortgaging his mansion to pay for the entire $4.5 million budget: “It’s still the most anyone has ever paid for a cinema ticket,” he quipped. The film memorably ends with the victims of crucifixion singing Idle’s song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Idle writes, “The song was supposed to be ironic, but it ended up being iconic.”

    “The Meaning of Life” (1983) contains Idle’s other signature “Galaxy Song,” reminding humans of their insignificance and drawing on Idle’s interest in science. Idle has appeared in many other comedies, including “Nuns on the Run” (1990) and frequently tours the country with his revues. He also wrote the Tony Award-winning musical “Spamalot” (2005). He recruited his surviving fellow Pythons to a memorable reunion in 2014. One of the final shows, which was streamed live globally, included a skit in which his scientist friend Brian Cox nitpicks at some of the dated lyrics in the “Galaxy Song,” ending when Stephen Hawking appears to run over Cox with his wheelchair.

    In his memoir he terms himself an “old agnostic” and writes, “Dust to dust is about right. We dissipate into the carbon atoms we came from; technically, reincarnation is sort of correct, we get reassembled into other things.” He has suggested he’d like his tombstone to say: “I’d like a second opinion.” Idle married actor Lyn Ashley in 1969. They have a son, Carey. After divorcing in 1975, he married former model Tania Kosevich in 1981. They have a daughter, Lily.

    PHOTO: Idle in 2014; Eduardo Unda-Sanzana photo under CC 2.0.

    The Lord God Made Them All

    All things dull and ugly
    All creatures short and squat
    All things rude and nasty
    The Lord God made the lot.

    Each little snake that poisons
    Each little wasp that stings
    He made their brutish venom
    He made their horrid wings.

    All things sick and cancerous
    All evil great and small,
    All things foul and dangerous
    The Lord God made them all.

    Each nasty little hornet
    Each beastly little squid
    Who made the spiky urchin?
    Who made the sharks? He did!

    All things scabbed and ulcerous
    All pox both great and small
    Putrid, foul and gangrenous
    The Lord God made them all.

    Oh, Lord, Please Don’t Burn Us

    “O Lord, please don’t burn us.
    Don’t grill or toast your flock.
    Don’t put us on the barbecue
    Or simmer us in stock.
    Don’t braise or bake or boil us
    Or stir-fry us in a wok

    Oh, please don’t lightly poach us
    Or baste us with hot fat.
    Don’t fricassee or roast us
    Or boil us in a vat,
    And please don’t stick thy servants, Lord,
    In a Rotissomat”

    —Composed by Eric Idle, sung by the Monty Python team; composed by Eric Idle and John Du Prez, written by Graham Chapman and John Cleese

    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    David Cross

    David Cross

    On this date in 1964, comedian David Cross was born to politically liberal, Jewish parents in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Emerson College in Boston. Cross has been doing standup comedy for more than 20 years. He has also written for comedy shows, acted and made many television appearances. Cross wrote for the Emmy Award-winning “The Ben Stiller Show” (1992). He starred in the late 1990s HBO series, “Mr. Show with Bob and David,” with comedy partner Bob Odenkirk.

    Cross’ acting roles include playing Rob in the movie, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” the salesman in “The Cable Guy” and a radio caller in “The Truth about Cats and Dogs.” His comedy videos include “David Cross: Let America Laugh” (2003). Cross played a teacher at a Rock Star Academy for the Sugarcube video by the progressive band Yo la Tengo. “Rock Against Bush,” Volume I, includes footage of Cross’ standup comedy routines.

    “I was born Jewish, but I am an atheist. I don’t believe in God.”

    —David Cross, appearance on ABC's "Politically Incorrect" (March 9, 1998), cited by Celebrity Atheists website
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo by s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

    Richard Jeni

    Richard Jeni

    On this date in 1957, comedian and actor Richard John Colangelo (stage name Richard Jeni) was born into a Catholic family in a rough neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. A shy kid with a talent for language, he won a national essay competition as a youth and earned an honors political science degree from Hunter College in New York City. In his 20s he worked in public relations and as a taxi driver before hitting the national scene with the Showtime special “Richard Jeni: Boy From New York City” (1990).

    Two years later, his next special, “Crazy from the Heat,” garnered the highest ratings in Showtime’s history. Other stand-up comedy television specials included “Platypus Man” (1992), “A Good Catholic Boy” (1997) and “A Big Steaming Pile of Me” (2005). He made appearances on “The Daily Show,” “Comedy Central Presents,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Married With Children,” “Hollywood Squares” and was a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show.” Jeni debuted in the popular 1994 Jim Carrey film “The Mask,” followed by roles in “National Lampoon’s Dad’s Week Off” (1997) and “Burn Hollywood Burn” (1997).

    He frequently mocked religion in his stand-up career. “Religious war? You’re basically killing each other to see who’s got the better imaginary friend” (CNN, “A few words from Richard Jeni,” March 12, 2007). He told the audience in “A Big Steaming Pile of Me”: “You gotta respect people who have strong religious beliefs, don’t we? ‘Cause if you don’t, they’ll kill you.” Jeni won several CableACE Awards for his stand-up specials, and George Carlin presented him the American Award for “Best Male Stand-up” on ABC. Comedy Central ranked Jeni #57 on its top 100 list of greatest stand-ups of all time.

    Having suffered from severe clinical depression, Jeni committed suicide at age 49 in 2007.

    “When one guy sees an invisible man he’s a nut case. Ten people see him it’s a cult. Ten million people see him it’s a respected religion.”

    Richard Jeni, personal website

    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    George Carlin

    George Carlin

    On this date in 1937, George Dennis Patrick Carlin was born in Manhattan, N.Y., to an Irish Catholic family. The salty stand-up comedian received two Grammys, for “FM & AM” (1972) and “Jammin’ ” (1993). He was arrested for disorderly conduct in Milwaukee in 1972 for performing “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Radio or Television.” A case about his right to perform this show on the radio went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Carlin was the first host of “Saturday Night Live” (1975), and appeared in 11 HBO specials since 1977.

    Typical quips: “When evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve.” “If churches want to play the game of politics, let them pay admission like everyone else.” “I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.” Carlin inspired the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, honoring public figures who “tell it like it is” about religion. He was a 2001 recipient

    He married Brenda Hosbrook in 1961 and they had a daughter, Kelly Marie, in 1963. Brenda died in 1997. He married Sally Wade in 1998. 

    Carlin died of heart failure at age 71 in 2008. His ashes were scattered at New York City nightclubs where he performed and over a New Hampshire lake where he had attended summer camp as a teen. His autobiography Last Words was published in 2009. The George Carlin Letters: The Permanent Courtship of Sally Wade was published by his widow in 2011. (D. 2008)

    PHOTO: Carlin in 2008 at one of his last shows; photo by Bonnie Murphy under CC. 2.0.

    “When it comes to bullshit, big-time major-league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims: Religion.”
    —Carlin, "You Are All Diseased" (1999 album)

    Adam Carolla

    Adam Carolla

    On this day in 1964, Adam Carolla was born in Los Angeles. He briefly attended community college before deciding to pursue various professions, including working as a contractor, carpenter and boxing trainer. After working with the improv group The Groundings, Carolla decided to become a full-time comedian. He co-hosted “The Man Show” (1999–2004) and “Crank Yankers” (2002–07) with Jimmy Kimmel, whom Carolla met when teaching Kimmel to box. He also co-hosted the radio show “Loveline” (1999–2005).

    In 2009 he started hosting “The Adam Carolla Show,” a free daily podcast on the ACE Broadcasting Network. A talk show, it was the most downloaded podcast in 2011. Carolla is also a published author. His comedic works include In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks (2011) and Rich Man, Poor Man (2012). He married Lynette Paradise in 2002. They have two children.

    “I’m an atheist,” Carolla told Penn Jillette on Penn Radio in 2006. He told Jillette that he had never been religious and that the very idea of religion seemed bizarre to him. “Obviously, you could take any Christian and just have them born into fundamentalist Hasidism, and they would be walking around with the beard and the whole getup. If you weren’t indoctrinated into that early on, then it makes no sense.”

    “If you were not born into [religious] culture, it seems like the most outlandish thing in the world.”

    —Adam Carolla, Penn Radio interview (March 9, 2006)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor; photo by Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com

    Ricky Gervais

    Ricky Gervais

    On this date in 1961, Ricky Dene Gervais, was born. He makes TV shows and books and movies, but mostly he makes people laugh, and he makes them think, freely. (He’s an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and decided as a child that he was an atheist.) He grew up 40 miles west of London, England, in Reading, to working-class parents. He graduated from University College-London with a degree in philosophy and then worked in radio.

    What eventually brought him fame were his television series “The Office,” which debuted in 2001, and “Extras,” in 2005. He co-wrote and co-directed both with Stephen Merchant, his friend and frequent collaborator. Gervais also played the lead roles of David Brent in “The Office” and Andy Millman in “Extras.” “The Office” was remade for audiences in France, Germany, Quebec and the U.S., where “Extras” premiered on HBO in 2005.

    He played leading roles in the movies “Ghost Town,” “The Invention of Lying” and “Night at the Museum.” He’s had soldout standup comedy tours, wrote the best-selling “Flanimals” book series and starred with Merchant and Karl Pilkington in his podcast of “The Ricky Gervais Show.” He has been with his partner Jane Fallon since 1982.

    He’s received two Golden Globes for “The Office” (one for acting, one for the show itself), as well as numerous British Academy Television Awards and British Comedy Awards. He won a 2007 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role in “Extras.” In a conversation with Richard Dawkins, he explained how he became an atheist, recounting an afternoon at home when he was about 8. His mother was ironing and he was drawing Jesus on the cross as part of his bible studies homework.

    His brother, Bob, 11 years older than Ricky, asked him why he believed in God, a question which mortified their mother. Gervais remembered thinking, “Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a god and my faith was strong, it didn’t matter what people thought. Oh … hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour I was an atheist.” 

    Gervais hosted the Golden Globes award ceremony for a record fifth time in 2020. In 2011 he irreverently ended the show by saying, “Thank God I’m an atheist.”

    “It’s always better to tell the truth. The truth doesn’t hurt, and saying that, my mother only ever lied to me about one thing.  She said there was a God. But that’s because when you’re a working-class mum, Jesus is like an unpaid babysitter. She thought if I was God-fearing, then I’d be good.”

    —"Inside the Actors Studio," Bravo TV (Jan. 12, 2009)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn; photo by Tinseltown / Shutterstock.com

    Mel Brooks

    Mel Brooks

    On this date in 1926, comedic genius Mel Brooks (né Melvin James Kaminsky) was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Kate (Brookman) and Max Kaminsky, whose Jewish lineage stemmed from Poland and Ukraine. His father died of kidney disease at age 34 when Brooks was 2, and he grew up in tenement housing.

    He was drafted in 1944 into the U.S. Army after enrolling at Brooklyn College for a year. He served as a combat engineer defusing land mines in France and Germany, was promoted to corporal and participated in the Battle of the Bulge.

    Unenthused about a clerk’s job his mother had lined up for him at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he started working in Borscht Belt resorts and nightclubs in the Catskills as a drummer, pianist and stand-up comic. His friend Sid Caesar hired him as a TV comedy writer, and in 1950 he worked on Caesar’s variety series “Your Show of Shows” with Carl Reiner, Neil Simon and others.

    After he moved to Hollywood in 1960, he and Reiner created the “2000 Year Old Man” character, which went on to be featured on five successful comedy albums and numerous TV sketches. Brooks played a man claiming he’d witnessed Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, had 42,000 children “and not one comes to visit me.”

    With Buck Henry he created the TV spy spoof “Get Smart” that aired from 1965-70. His first feature film, “The Producers” (1967), won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar and was a Broadway smash. That Brooks could make “Springtime for Hitler” palatable in the mainstream and arguably hilarious, says a lot about his talents.

    “People like rabbis would write to me and say, ‘This is execrable.’ And I’d say, ‘You can’t bring folks like Hitler down by getting on a soapbox – they’re better at it than we are. But if you can humiliate them, ridicule them, and have people laugh at them – you’ve won.’ I knew ‘Springtime for Hitler’ was perfect, I knew it was right.” (Men’s Journal, June 2013)

    He went on in the last third of the 20th century to join the elite as an actor, director and producer on screen and stage. “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein” in 1974 were followed by “Silent Movie,” “High Anxiety,” “History of the World, Part I,” “Spaceballs” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.”

    A musical adaptation of “The Producers” ran on Broadway from 2001-07 and was remade into a musical film in 2005. A successful Broadway run started in 2007 for “Young Frankenstein,” which Brooks has called his best film. He continued to work into his 90s and published a memoir in 2021 titled “All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business.”

    He married Florence Baum, a professional dancer with Broadway credits, in 1953. They had three children: Stephanie (b. 1956), Nicholas (b. 1957) and Edward (b. 1959). The marriage ended in 1962 and he married actress Anne Bancroft in 1964. They had a son, Maximilian (b. 1972), and were together until her death in 2005. In a 2021 interview, he called himself “very, very lucky” to be married to Bancroft. “And I, if I believed in God, I would thank God every night for giving me Anne Bancroft.” (NPR “Fresh Air,” Dec. 7, 2021)

    He was asked in the interview if religion was “something you want at this point in your life, or are you remaining as secular as you’ve always been?” He replied: “Being afraid I’m going to die has not made me more religious. I’m still — I’m tribal. I love being a Jew, and I love Jewish humor, and I loved the — I don’t know, the je ne sais quoi that the Jews — they have a wonderful attitude. You know, I guess it’s called survival.” 

    PHOTO: Brooks at the premiere of the “Mel Brooks: Make A Noise” PBS documentary in 2013 in Beverly Hills, Calif.; s_bukley/Shutterstock.com

    “If you’re not indoctrinated into some kind of religion when you’re very young, then it can play very little. I’m rather secular. I’m basically Jewish. But I think I’m Jewish not because of the Jewish religion at all. I think it’s the relationship with the people and the pride I have.”

    —Brooks on what role religion plays in life, Men's Journal (June 2013)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Jane Lynch

    Jane Lynch

    On this date in 1960, actress and comedian Jane Marie Lynch was born in Dolton, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. She is known for playing Sue Sylvester in the hit TV show “Glee” and for recurring roles in “Two and a Half Men” and “The L Word.” Lynch earned her undergraduate degree in theater from Illinois State University and her MFA from Cornell University. She then performed for several theaters, including the Steppenwolf Company for 15 years and doing stand-up for Second City in Chicago.

    Lynch began appearing in movies in 1988 and has since appeared in over 100 films, TV shows and shorts. She has hosted “Saturday Night Live” and the Emmys and won many awards for her work, including Emmys, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

    Lynch is known for her social activism. She is vegan, an avid supporter of PETA and helps facilitate the adoption of animals from animal shelters. She advocated for state-church separation in a humorous song performed with Jordan Peele and produced by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Lynch, an out lesbian, is a strong advocate for LGBT rights.

    She made a video for the It Gets Better campaign and performed in a play titled “8,” which focused on marriage equality and California’s Proposition 8. She is active in several organizations that promote equality for people of all sexual orientations. She was married to Lara Embry, a Ph.D. clinical psychologist, from 2010-14.

    “Yes. They say you die just a little bit when you sneeze. And I’m kind of an atheist, but yet I will say that just in case.”

    —Lynch in response to a TMZ reporter asking her “Is it still necessary to say God bless you when someone sneezes?” (May 28, 2013)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano; photo by S_Bukley, Shutterstock.com

    Phyllis Diller

    Phyllis Diller

    On this date in 1917, actress and comedian Phyllis Diller, née Phyllis Ada Driver, was born in Lima, Ohio. She studied piano at Chicago’s Columbia College and transferred to Bluffton College, a Mennonite school, but never graduated. She met Sherwood Diller at Bluffton and they married in 1939.

    She began her entertainment career doing radio shows in California in 1952. She started doing stand-up at the Purple Onion, a well-known club in San Francisco, in 1955. In her well-known comedy routine she caricatured a housewife, made self-deprecating jokes and performed with wild hair and a cigarette holder.

    She appeared in many movies and TV shows with Bob Hope, and even accompanied him to Vietnam to entertain the military during the Vietnam War. She famously acted in the movie “Boy, Did I get a Wrong Number” (1966) and the television show “The Pruitts of Southampton” from the 1960s. Diller appeared in many movies, television shows and stand-up routines.

    In 2000 she was honored with the Lucy Award, given in honor of Lucille Ball to women who have enhanced the perception of women through television. She wrote five books, including her autobiography, Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse, published in 2005.

    Kindness was her religion, she once said. In his 2021 book “A Carnival of Snackery,” David Sedaris recalled visiting Diller at home in 2010 when the topic turned to religion: ” ‘A bunch of garbage,’ Phyllis called it.” “So you’re an atheist?” Sedaris asked. “Hell yes,” she replied. On another visit two years later, the subject was prayer. “Isn’t that the worst,” Diller said. “I hate it even more when they want you to hold their [expletive] hand. Blech!”

    Diller married and divorced twice and had six children: Peter, Sally, Suzanne, Stephanie, Perry, and a son who died shortly after being born. She died at home in Los Angeles at age 95 and her ashes were scattered at sea. D. 2012.

    “Religion is such a medieval idea. Don’t get me started. I have thought about every facet of religion and I can’t buy any of it.”

    —Diller in A&U/America's AIDS magazine (November 2001)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano; photo by s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

    Robin Williams

    Robin Williams

    On this date in 1951, actor and comedian Robin McLaurin Williams was born in Chicago to model Laurie McLaurin and auto executive Robert Williams. He grew up in Bloomfield, Mich., and Marin County, Calif. He studied political science at Claremont McKenna College (then Claremont Men’s College), but left to study theater at a community college before receiving a full scholarship to the Juilliard School in 1973.

    Scoring a guest role on the sitcom “Happy Days” in 1978, Williams gained instant recognition as the eccentric alien Mork. Following the success of “Mork and Mindy,” which aired for four seasons, Williams was catapulted into a long and illustrious career, beginning with major movie roles in “Popeye” (1980) and “The World According to Garp” (1982). His stand-up television specials included “Off the Wall” (1978), “An Evening with Robin Williams” (1982), “Robin Williams: Live at the Met” (1986) and “Robin Williams: Live on Broadway” (2002).

    He portrayed Oliver Sacks in the 1990 film drama “Awakenings,” based on Sack’s moving memoir about briefly reviving catatonic patients. Williams captured Sacks’ mannerisms so perfectly that Sacks notes some people have actually accused him of imitating Robin Williams. Other films included “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987), “Dead Poets Society” (1989), “The Birdcage” (1996), “The Fisher King” (1991), “Hook” (1991), “Aladdin” (1992), “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), “Jumanji” (1995), “Good Will Hunting” (1997), “Flubber” (1997), “Insomnia” (2002), “Night at the Museum” (2006), “Happy Feet” (2006), “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” (2009) and “The Butler” (2013). Williams starred in the off-Broadway production of “Waiting for Godot” (1988) and in the Broadway show “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” (2011).

    Beyond bringing entertainment to millions, Williams aimed to bring provocative ideas into the public consciousness. His “War of Self-Destruction” tour in 2009 was rife with irreverent stabs at American politics, the Iraq War, religion and the papacy. “The Vatican and homosexuality: oil, water. The pope is always ‘homosexuality is an abomination.’ Timeout. … You’re dressed like Freddie Mercury’s stunt double. Your purse is on fire and you’re surrounded by hundreds of boys and you’ve had kind of a problem in the after school area.” (“Robin Williams: Live on Broadway.”) He was raised an Episcopalian, or as he quipped, “Catholic Lite — same rituals, half the guilt.” Williams took a critical stance on religious fundamentalism: “Fundamentalists take it to be ‘the Word,’ not translatable, not metaphorical, ‘the Word.’ In the beginning, Genesis, ‘Let there be Light.’ Could that be a metaphor for the big bang? ‘No! God just went click.’ “

    After battling depression and drug addiction for many years, Williams took his own life by hanging in 2014. An autopsy revealed he had diffuse Lewy body dementia, which had been diagnosed as Parkinson’s. He was survived by his wife Susan Schneider (2011-14) and children, Zak, from his first marriage with Valerie Velardi (1978-88) and Cody and Zelda, from his second marriage to Marsha Garces (1989-2008). D. 2014. 

    “And the next day the miracle occurred — crucifixion, resurrection, and he rose again from the dead and if he sees his shadow, another 2,000 years of guilt.”

    —“Robin Williams: Live on Broadway” (2002)
    Compiled by Noah Bunnell; photo by Everett Collection, Shutterstock.com

    Bo Burnham

    Bo Burnham

    On this date in 1990, Robert “Bo” Burnham was born in Hamilton, Mass. Burnham started attending New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2008 and has a brother, Pete. His career as a comedian and musician began when he posted comedic videos to his YouTube channel, boburnham, beginning in 2006. In 2008, when Burnham was 18, he became the youngest person to perform a stand-up special for Comedy Central. Burnham is known for his comedy routine “Words Words Words,” which he began performing in 2010, and which earned him the 2010 Fosters Comedy Award Panel Prize.

    His first CD, “Bo Burnham,” was released in 2009 by Comedy Central Records. He wrote and directed the popular and critically acclaimed 2018 film “Eighth Grade,” which won a long list of industry awards.

    “I’m a heretic,” Burnham says during his song “Rant,” part of his “Words Words Words” routine. During the song, he critiques Christianity for its support of slavery and opposition to gay marriage, and raps about Christians who lack understanding of the bible and twist bible passages to support their own viewpoints.

    Photo by Jennifer Elias of Burnham performing in Pittsburgh. CC 2.0

    “Jesus wasn’t the messiah. Get back, I’m a heretic and I’m on fire.”

    —"Rant," "Bo Burnham: Words Words Words" (2010)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Daniel Sloss

    Daniel Sloss

    On this date in 1990, comedian Daniel Sloss was born in London, the eldest of four children of Ph.D. chemist Lesley — an international consultant on carbon emissions and climate change — and Martyn Sloss. His father works in I.T. The family moved to Scotland, where its roots are, when he was 4 and underwent the tragic loss of his sister Josie to cerebral palsy when she was 7.

    Sloss got his comedic start at age 16 writing jokes for satirist Frankie Boyle. His desire to pursue comedy won out over studying history at the University of Dundee. He debuted onstage in 2008 at the Edinburgh Fringe — the world’s largest arts festival — and in 2009 became the youngest comic to perform a solo season at London’s Soho Theatre.

    Numerous TV and solo stand-up shows followed, including his U.S. debut on “Conan” in 2013. As of this writing, Sloss has performed in over 50 countries and his streamed shows have been seen in 190 nations. The COVID pandemic shut down his 11th solo show “Daniel Sloss: HUBRIS,” which premiered in New York and was rescheduled to 2021-22.

    Sloss and fiancée Kara Mitchell announced their engagement in August 2021 but said the wedding wouldn’t take place until 2023 in hopes that the pandemic would be over and friends from everywhere could attend. “I want them to experience a traditional Scottish wedding with kilts and a ceilidh. I don’t want ­restrictions,” Sloss said.

    His book “Everyone You Hate Is Going to Die: And Other Comforting Thoughts on Family, Friends, Sex, Love, and More Things That Ruin Your Life” was published in October 2021.

    Some Sloss humor: “I think one of the hardest things about being a parent is Christmas morning, when you’ve spent all this time, money and effort making this day so magical. And then you look down at your child with those beautiful blue eyes that you hope resemble yours. And they spend the whole day thanking Santa. You know that disappointment that parents feel in that moment — that’s exactly how doctors feel whenever you thank God.” (Melbourne International Comedy Festival, March 2016)

    Sloss says his riffs on religion aren’t meant to offend but sometimes they do. “I did an atheist joke in Indianapolis. I was kind of warned against it. They said, ‘Maybe don’t do that joke here.’ I said, ‘Nah, it’ll be fine.’ It was not fine.” One man showed Sloss his gun and about 40 people in the crowd of 100 walked out. (Canton Repository, Feb. 12, 2015)

    “I’m an atheist, but was raised in a partially religious family. So I’ve always been allowed to make fun of religion, knowing full well that no one would ever take it personally. They’re just jokes. But when you fight faith with logic, people tend to get angry because they don’t have the logic to back up their faith and they feel personally attacked by it.”

    —Interview, Bristol24/7 magazine (Nov. 8, 2016)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn; photo by Troy Edige

    Tim Minchin

    Tim Minchin

    On this date in 1975, Timothy David Minchin was born in Northampton, England, to Australian parents. On his website he describes himself as a “comedian, actor, composer, songwriter, pianist, musical director and huge rock ‘n’ roll megastar.” He grew up in Perth, Australia, where he attended the University of Western Australia and received a bachelor of arts in English and theater in 1995. He went on to obtain an advanced degree in contemporary music at the Conservatorium of Western Australia in 1998.

    In 2002 he began his career as a musical comedian in Melbourne in shows where he sang original songs while accompanying himself on piano and incorporating more traditional stand-up elements. Minchin came to prominence at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2005 and went on to win the Perrier Newcomer Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that same year. Living in London, he toured the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and North America. He has also written the book and lyrics for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda,” which premiered in Stratford-upon-Avon in December 2010.

    Minchin is outspoken in his opposition to religion and to nonscientific claims made by New Age groups and others. His comedy and songs cover a wide range of topics, from love and sex to political controversies and language use, but a primary focus is on religion. Many contain strong language but some are safe for radio play, including “Peace Anthem for Palestine,” which Minchin says sums up his views on religious conflict: “We don’t eat pigs, you don’t eat pigs, it seems it’s been that way forever. So if you don’t eat pigs and we don’t eat pigs, why not not eat pigs together?”

    He does express fondness for the music of his upbringing in the Anglican Church and the secular and family aspects of Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere in his 2009 single “White Wine in the Sun.” But its hard-hitting lyrics created a firestorm in Australia when the song was released as part of a charitable seasonal album in 2010. Themes of his work include his contempt for unscientific thinking (“If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife)” and for the beauty of scientific thinking in the comedy routine “Tony the Fish.”

    Minchin returned to touring in 2019 after a seven-year break. The  BACK tour visited Australia and New Zealand in March and April, with performances scheduled in October and November in Europe.

    Photo: Minchin at the 2012 Reason Rally; FFRF photo by Andrew L. Seidel

    “And yes I have all of the usual objections
    To the miseducation of children who, in tax-exempt institutions,
    Are taught to externalize blame
    And to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right and wrong
    But I quite like the songs. ”

    Tim Minchin, “White Wine in the Sun,” (2009)

    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    Joy Behar

    Joy Behar

    On this date in 1942, Joy Behar (née Josephina Victoria Occhiuto) was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Behar earned a bachelor’s in sociology from Queens College (1964) and a master’s in English education from the State University of New York at Stony Brook (1966). She taught high school English in the late 1960s and early 1970s before becoming a stand-up comedian and radio talk show host. She appeared in “Manhattan Murder Mystery” with Woody Allen in 1993.

    Behar is perhaps best known as an original cast member of the daytime show “The View.” It debuted in 1997 has been nominated for Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Talk Show almost every year since, winning in 2009. Joy Shtick — Or What Is the Existential Vacuum and Does It Come with Attachments? (1999) features her humorous essays. Her children’s book, Sheetzucacapoopoo: My Kind of Dog, was published in 2006. She was a frequent guest host on CNN’s “Larry King Live” from 2007-09.

    In 2009 she launched her own evening talk show, “The Joy Behar Show,” on CNN’s HLN network. Behar has one daughter, Eve, from her marriage (1965-81) to Joe Behar. She has been with partner Steve Janowitz since 1982.

    Raised Catholic, she now identifies as agnostic. She jokingly said she lost her faith when she “went to the Commie school Queens College.” She told an ABC News’ “Focus on Faith” interviewer in 2011, “I’m sustained by my family, my life, my brain. But I don’t believe there’s an afterlife.” In the same interview, she said, “I never gave [my daughter] any religion, because I felt that I was brainwashed.”

    “I’m pathetically pragmatic. … I don’t believe that there’s a higher power that created human beings.”

    —Behar interview with Fr. Edward Beck, ABC News "Focus on Faith" (March 17, 2011)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch; photo by stocklight / Shutterstock.com

    Julia Sweeney

    Julia Sweeney

    On this date in 1961, comedian and author Julia Anne Sweeney was born in Spokane, Wash., into a devout Catholic family. For much of her childhood she wanted to be a nun. After majoring in economic studies at the University of Washington, she instead became an accountant for Columbia Pictures and United Artists. Having a knack for comedy and mimicry, she signed up for a class with the improvisational comedy troupe “The Groundlings,” where she was discovered by “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels. She was on that show from 1990-94 and introduced the popular character “Androgynous Pat.”

    In 1994 she made the movie “It’s Pat.” After both she and her brother Michael were diagnosed with cancer, she wrote and starred in the play “God Said, Ha!” The film version won the Golden Space Needle Award for best director and the recording was nominated for a Grammy. She has made frequent TV guest appearances, served as a creative consultant on “Sex and the City” and has appeared in many movies, including “Clockstoppers” (2002), “Beethoven’s 4th” (2001), “Beethoven’s 3rd” (2000), “Stuart Little” (1999), “Pulp Fiction” (1994), “Coneheads” (1993) and “Honey, I Blew Up the Kids” (1992).

    Her monologue about adopting her daughter Mulan from China, “In the Family Way,” debuted in 2003. (Sweeney is married to scientist Michael Blum.) In 2004 she debuted her new monologue “Letting Go of God,” about her journey from Catholic schoolgirl to atheist. Since then she’s been busy writing and performing.

    She serves on the advisory boards of the Secular Coalition for America and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science as well as on FFRF’s honorary board.  In 2006 she was the recipient of FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award that celebrates “plain speaking” on the shortcomings of religion by public figures.

    “It took me years, but letting go of religion has been the most profound wake up of my life. I feel I now look at the world not as a child, but as an adult. I see what’s bad and it’s really bad. But I also see what is beautiful, what is wonderful. And I feel so deeply appreciative that I am alive. How dare the religious use the term ‘born again.’ That truly describes freethinkers who’ve thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”
     
    —Quote submitted by Julia Sweeney
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo by Brent Nicastro

    Lenny Bruce (Quote)

    Lenny Bruce (Quote)

    “[I]f anyone in this audience believes that God made his body, and your body is dirty, the fault lies with the manufacturer.”

    —Comedian Lenny Bruce (1925-1966), San Francisco Jazz Workshop, Oct. 4, 1961

    Bob Odenkirk

    On this date in 1962, actor and comedy genius Robert John Odenkirk was born in Berwyn, Ill., to Barbara (Baier) and Walter Odenkirk, the second of their seven children. His father worked in the printing business. Of German-Irish descent, Bob was raised Catholic in Naperville.

    “My mom would have liked me to be a priest. A Roman Catholic priest, and a pope if I could get that far,” Odenkirk later said. “My father had no sense of who I was or that I did anything or would ever do anything or that I was a human being [laughs].” (Vice, May 30, 2017) Bob and his brother Bill kept the family entertained with their zany imitations. (Bill became a writer for “The Simpsons,” “Futurama” and other shows.) His father’s alcoholism eventually led to a divorce.

    Asked how his Catholic upbringing affected him, Odenkirk said: “I have normal biceps, but my conscience muscle is a fucking hammer that can crush me or anyone around me at any time. I can experience guilt, shame and a critical, even damning, point of view of myself and everyone around me.” (Rolling Stone, April 5, 2017)

    After short stints at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and Marquette University in Milwaukee, he transferred to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, honing his broadcast, sketch writing and performance skills at a college radio station.

    He worked as a writer for “Saturday Night Live in 1987-91. During a summer hiatus with The Second City improv troupe in Chicago, he created the character “Matt Foley, motivational speaker” for castmate Chris Farley, which Farley later reprised with great success on “SNL.” Farley was “crack funny,” according to Odenkirk. “Somebody explained to me how freebase felt, and that’s what it was like to watch him. It was pure, unarguable, unquestionable. It wasn’t about cleverness. There was a lot of pain in Chris, but it was an expression of joy and humanity, and it was powerful. The best thing I ever got to be around in comedy.” (Ibid., Rolling Stone)

    Relocating to Los Angeles, he joined the cast of “The Ben Stiller Show,” wrote for “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” had a recurring role on “The Larry Sanders Show” and landed minor movie roles. “Mr. Show,” which he created with David Cross, ran on HBO for four seasons.

    In 2009 he joined the cast of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” in the role of unscrupulous attorney Saul Goodman. It aired for five seasons until 2013. He started garnering more substantial film and TV roles and reunited with Cross in “W/ Bob & David” on Netflix. “Better Call Saul,” a “Breaking Bad” spinoff, debuted on AMC with Odenkirk in the title role in 2015. Its 63 episodes ended in 2022, the year he got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

    Odenkirk starred as Tommy Wiseau’s character Johnny in a 2023 remake of “The Room,” which has cult status for its low production values and wooden performances. No release date was yet set in late 2023.

    Odenkirk married film producer Naomi Yomtov, 12 years his junior, in 1997. They have a son, Nathan (b. 1998), and a daughter, Erin (b. 2000). Yomtov is Jewish, and the children were bar and bat mitzvah’d and educated in the Reform Judaism tradition, which Odenkirk admires. “It’s a connection to the ancient principles and beliefs that hold a lot of truth to us now and a belief in God that is complicated and complex and ever changing and growing in the way that a person over a lifetime who’s paying attention will also grow,” Odenkirk said. (Jewish Journal, Nov. 15, 2013)

    Asked once if there was one day he would change from his past if he could, Odenkirk replied in the affirmative: “I can’t tell you what it is. I’m never going to fucking tell you. If it tells you anything about me, it should tell you that I was raised Catholic. Shame and guilt are big parts of [my] psyche, and they’re bigger than any dream of the future. You’re always wishing you could change the past.” (Ibid., Vice)

    PHOTO: Odenkirk at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con International; photo by Gage Skidmore under CC 3.0

    “Monty Python became my religion when I was 10. It led me out of the depths of darkness.”

    —The Guardian (April 15, 2017)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Johnny Carson

    Johnny Carson

    On this date in 1925, television host and comedian John William “Johnny” Carson was born to Ruth and Homer Carson in Corning, Iowa. He spent his childhood in Iowa and Nebraska and by age 14 was performing magic tricks locally as “The Great Carsoni.” After a stint in the U.S. Navy, he attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, earning a bachelor’s in radio and speech along with a minor in physics. Carson started his broadcasting career as a host for WOW’s radio and television programs in Omaha.

    Moving to Los Angeles in 1951, he grew a fan base with “Carson’s Cellar” on KNXT-TV and worked for Red Skelton as a writer. He also hosted several game and variety shows, including “To Tell the Truth, “Who Do You Trust?” and short-lived “The Johnny Carson Show.” In 1962 he replaced Jack Paar on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” and proceeded to become one of the highest paid and most beloved entertainers in history. He hosted “Tonight” until May 22, 1992, and received six Emmy Awards, a Peabody and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    Carson was a major financial supporter over the years of the James Randi Educational Foundation and regularly featured skeptic James Randi, who exposed several televangelists on the show.  Randi treasures a letter from Carson in which he quoted the philosopher Francis Bacon’s admonition that “a credulous man is a deceiver.” Quiet and reclusive in his private life, he preferred to avoid public events and interviews but occasionally engaged in them. “In my living room I would argue for liberalization of abortion laws, divorce laws, and there are times when I would like to express a view on the air. I would love to have taken on Billy Graham. But I’m on TV five nights a week; I have nothing to gain by it and everything to lose.” (Life magazine, Jan. 23, 1970.)

    In 1981 he created the John W. Carson Foundation to support children’s charities, education and health services. Upon his death he left the foundation $156 million. He also donated millions to the University of Nebraska and to causes in his hometown of Norfolk. He married four times and had three sons from his first marriage. Richard, his middle son, died tragically in a car accident in 1991. He died at age 79 of complications from emphysema in 2005. As per his wishes, he was cremated and no public memorial service was held. (D. 2005)

    “[I]t appears that religion was a more casual affair in the Carson household than it was in the Welks’, and Johnny apparently never made church-going part of his adult lifestyle nor considered religion to be an important part of his life.”

    —Historian John Miller, "From the Great Plains to L.A.: the Intersecting Paths of Lawrence Welk and Johnny Carson" (Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2003)
    Public domain photo by CBS/Gabor Rona

    Seth MacFarlane

    Seth MacFarlane

    On this date in 1973, comedian, actor and producer Seth MacFarlane was born in Kent, Conn. MacFarlane is best known for creating the popular animated sitcom “Family Guy” and for voicing several of the show’s main and recurring characters. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design, where he earned his undergraduate degree and studied film and animation. He has written and recorded original songs, five albums of American Standards and has garnered five Grammy nominations. He directed, acted in, co-wrote the screenplay for and based his novel of the same name on his film “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (2014), which made a large profit during its opening weekend.

    “Family Guy” debuted in 1999 and has won four Primetime Emmys. It features the character Brian Griffin, an anthropomorphic dog who was an out-and-out atheist. Brian was so beloved by fans that after he was killed off in one episode, a  petition to bring him back garnered more than 128,000 signatures. He was eventually “resurrected” through use of a time machine. MacFarlane hosted the 2013 Oscars, which contained a lot of the irreverent humor he is known for that is also present in his TV shows.

    MacFarlane has a second long-running, successful adult animated series in “American Dad!” that has been in production since 2005. In 2016 Fox picked up his sci-fi comedy-drama series called “The Orville.” MacFarlane co-produced with Ann Druyan “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey,” hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. “Cosmos” was a follow-up to “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” an award-winning 1980 science series co-written and presented by Carl Sagan. He has also written and recorded numerous songs and based his 2014 novel A Million Ways to Die in the West on the film.

    MacFarlane is vocal in his support for atheism, gay rights and other progressive social and political movements. His frequent mocking of religion has received backlash from some religious and socially conservative groups. Bill Maher, in a CNN interview June 1, 2012, asked him what he thought about atheism gaining credibility. MacFarlane jokingly responded, “I think it’s about fucking time.” His atheism did not falter after he missed his airplane flight on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001; the plane he missed hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. MacFarlane has said coincidences happen that do not need to be attributed to a deity.

    “I do not believe in God. I’m an atheist. I consider myself a critical thinker, and it fascinates me that in the 21st century most people still believe in, as George Carlin puts it, ‘the invisible man living in the sky.’ ”

    —MacFarlane, Steppin’ Out magazine (Oct. 18, 2007)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano; photo by CarlaVanWagoner, Shutterstock.com

    MC Paul Barman

    On this date in 1974, Paul Nathaniel Barman (stage name MC Paul Barman) was born in Ridgewood, N.J. He graduated from Brown University in 1997 with a B.A. degree. Barman is a hip-hop artist who often raps about humorous and academic subjects. He began rapping in 1996 and released his first single, “Postgraduate Work,” in 1998. His albums as of this writing are “It’s Very Stimulating” (an EP, 2000), “Paullelujah!” (2002), “Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud” (2009) and “Echo Chamber” (2018).

    Barman is culturally Jewish but does not believe in God. LA Weekly in 2012 ranked him at number 14 on the “Top 20 Whitest Musicians of All Time” list.

    THE ONION: Is there a God?
    PAUL BARMAN: Obviously not.
    O: Why obviously not?
    PB: Isn’t believing in God like wearing chain mail?
    O: In that it protects you from being lanced?
    PB: [Laughs.] In that you just don’t do it anymore.

    Paul Barman, The Onion A.V. Club (Sept. 6, 2000)

    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Kathy Griffin

    Kathy Griffin

    On this date in 1960, comedian Kathleen Mary Griffin was born in Oak Park, Ill. When Griffin was 18, she chose not to attend college and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in show business, where she launched her career in stand-up and improv comedy. She gained celebrity with her television show “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,” a raunchy reality show that earned two Emmy Awards. Her autobiography, Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin (2010), was a New York Times best-seller and several of her comedy albums have received Grammy nominations. She has also had roles in many movies and television shows.

    Griffin is an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, AIDS awareness and various other social and political causes. She frequently criticizes organized religion, and although she grew up Catholic to Irish immigrant parents, she has broken away from the church. In a June 2007 interview with OutSmart magazine, she described herself as a “militant atheist.”

    Christian groups and others heavily criticized her for her Emmy acceptance speech in 2007, where she said, “A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. He didn’t help me a bit. If it was up to him, Cesar Millan would be up here with that damn dog. So all I can say is suck it, Jesus, this award is my God now.” She tried to explain it away by saying she was only criticizing award winners for giving credit to a higher power for their own achievements. She has had several other incidents since in which she has been criticized for statements that many people saw as offensive.

    Griffin’s “Laugh Your Head Off” worldwide comedy tour drew crowds in 2017-18. She was the first female comedian to have a comedy album debut at number one on the Billboard Top Comedy Album chart. She was married to Matt Moline from 2001-06.

    “I can criticize your religion all I want, and you can criticize mine. I don’t like this whole climate of, ‘You can’t ever say anything bad about the group I’m in, cause every group is untouchable.’ We can all criticize each other and engage in debate all we want.”

    —Griffin on an episode of the syndicated radio show “Loveline” (Sept. 30, 2002)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    Rodney Dangerfield

    Rodney Dangerfield

    On this date in 1921, Rodney Dangerfield (né Jacob Rodney Cohen) was born in Babylon, Long Island, N.Y., to Jewish parents. His father was largely absent from the home. Dangerfield began performing comedy when he was 17, paving the way for his stand-up routines in the Borscht Belt in upstate New York at age 19, when he changed his legal name to Jack Roy. (His father had performed vaudeville as Phil Roy.) He married singer Joyce Indig in 1949 and they had two children. Wanting a different life than what their level of show business provided, they settled in Englewood, N.J., to raise their two children. He worked at various jobs, including selling paint and aluminum siding.

    They divorced in 1962, remarried a year later and divorced again. At age 42 he started rehabilitating his comedy act, taking the Dangerfield stage name, with his big break in 1967 as a last-minute replacement on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He appeared on the Sullivan show seven times and over  70 times on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson as he honed his act with its deprecating one-liners, in particular his catchphrase “I get no respect.”

    He stopped touring in 1969 to operate the comedy club Dangerfield’s, while raising his children after his ex-wife died. He later headlined shows in Las Vegas and landed roles in the films “Caddyshack” (1980), “Easy Money” (1983), “Back To School” (1986), “Natural Born Killers” (1994) and others. He won a 1981 Grammy Award for his album “No Respect” and received comedy achievement and creative awards in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1993 he married Joan Child, a flower importer. His 2004 autobiography was titled It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs.

    He called himself an atheist during a May 2004 interview with Howard Stern, adding that he was a “logical” atheist. He died several months later at age 82 at the UCLA Medical Center of complications after heart surgery and spending several weeks in a coma. His headstone reads “Rodney Dangerfield … There goes the neighborhood.” (D. 2004)

    PHOTO: Dangerfield performing in 1972.

    “We’re apes — do apes go anyplace [when they die]?”

    —Dangerfield, Howard Stern radio show (May 25, 2004)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor and Bonnie Gutsch

    Billy Connolly

    Billy Connolly

    On this date in 1942, Billy Connolly was born in Glasgow, Scotland. His early years were difficult; his mother abandoned him and his sister Florence when Connolly was 4 and their father was away with the army. In the 2001 biography Billy, written by Connolly’s second wife, Pamela Stephenson, Connolly described being sexually abused by his father between the ages of 10 and 15. Connolly was raised Catholic and blames the Catholic Church’s prohibition of divorce, at least in part, for his sexual abuse. After high school graduation he worked as a welder in a shipyard.

    In the mid-1960s he started performing as a folk singer in the duo “The Humblebums.” After the breakup of the duo, Connolly began to perform solo and transitioned from a singer who told long comedic stories to a comedian who sometimes sang funny songs. Connolly’s comedy became very popular throughout Britain in the mid-1970s. In 1969 he had married Iris Pressagh and they had two children. Connolly’s involvement with show business and his problems with drugs and alcohol ended the marriage in 1985. He married Stephenson in 1989 after they had three daughters together.

    In 1990, after featuring in an HBO standup special with Whoopi Goldberg, his popularity in America grew. He was cast in the sitcom “Head of the Class” in the 1990-91 season and moved with his family to Los Angeles. Connolly has since been featured as a character actor in many television and movie productions, as well as continuing his career as a comedian. Much of his comedy is idiosyncratic and irreverent. He uses profanity freely and jokes about many of the more difficult, abusive experiences of his childhood. He also takes many potshots at religion, especially Catholicism. 

    “I don’t like religion. I think religion is a con.” 

    —Connolly to The SunBreak online magazine in Seattle (March 18, 2010)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; photo by Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

    Bill Nye

    Bill Nye

    On this date in 1955, William Sanford “Bill” Nye was born in Washington, D.C., where he was also raised. Nye, “America’s stand-up scientist,” says on his website that his parents fostered his interest in science. His father was a prisoner of war during World War II and his mother was a Navy codebreaker who excelled in math and science. In 1977 Nye earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University, where one of his professors was Carl Sagan. He then moved to Seattle to work as an engineer at Boeing. 

    Nye invented a special sundial used during the Mars Exploration Rover mission and engineered a hydraulic device for Boeing still used on the 747. During this time, Nye cultivated his comedy style, working nights as a stand-up comic and eventually quitting Boeing to work as a comedy writer and performer. He founded the educational television series “Bill Nye the Science Guy” (1993-98). The show won 18 Emmys in its five-year run.

    Nye has written two best-selling books on science: Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation in 2014 and Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World in 2015. Nye has appeared on “Dancing With the Stars,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Inside Amy Schumer” and in a documentary about his life and science advocacy titled “Bill Nye: Science Guy,” which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2017 in Austin, TX. In 2017 he debuted the Netflix series “Bill Nye Saves the World.”

    Nye was married in 2006 by Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren to classical musician Blair Tindall but the union was annulled after less than a year. Nye in 2017 revealed his family’s history of ataxia, a neurological condition affecting coordination, saying he chose not to have children to avoid passing on the genetic condition.

    PHOTO: Nye speaking at Politicon in 2016 in Pasadena, Calif. Gage Skidmore photo. CC 3.0.

    “[I]t’s fine if you as an adult want to run around pretending or claiming that you don’t believe in evolution, but if we educate a generation of people who don’t believe in science, that’s a recipe for disaster. … The main idea in all of biology is evolution. To not teach it to our young people is wrong.”

    —"Science Guy Bill Nye Explains Why Evolution Belongs in Science Education," Popular Mechanics (Feb. 4, 2011)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Hermione Gingold

    Hermione Gingold

    On this date in 1897, Hermione Ferdinanda Gingold, once dubbed “the funniest woman in the world,” was born in London. Her first name came from the queen of Sicily in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.” Her career started with childhood appearances on the stage with a young Noel Coward. (Her mother, not impressed with Coward after inviting him to tea, warned Gingold, “You are never to ask that boy to tea again — he’ll come to a bad end.”) Gingold’s first stage role as a child was in the company of legendary stage actress Ellen Terry.

    Gingold performed Shakespeare at London’s Old Vic and made her name in comedic revues for the BBC and on Broadway. She often wrote her own material. A critic once observed, “She can turn a melting smile into a baring of fangs more outrageously than anyone I know except Groucho Marx.” She perfected a withering stare and deadpan delivery and had a voice that was once described as “powdered glass in deep syrup.”

    She is best known for the unforgettable duet with Maurice Chevalier in “Gigi” (captured in only two takes) and for portraying Eulalie Shinn, the mayor’s wife, in the film version of “The Music Man.” Gingold originated the role of Madame Armfelt in “A Little Night Music” by Stephen Sondheim. Director Hal Prince told her his only concern in casting her was whether she could pull off acting like a 74-year-old woman. “But Mr. Prince,” she told him, “I am 74.”

    The ageless Gingold became the belle of Broadway at age 81 in “Side by Side with Sondheim.” In Walt Disney’s animated film, “Gay Pureee,” she and Judy Garland provided the voices of the female cats (lyrics by Yip Harburg).  She was the postmistress of one-liners, recounted her friend Anne Clements Eyre in the prologue of Gingold’s autobiography. When a young man introduced himself to Gingold by saying he was in public relations, she quipped, “Oh I prefer to keep my relations private.” Eyre asked Gingold to be a godmother: “It’s only Anne,” Gingold wrote, “who would choose a godmother who isn’t religious, hates children, and lives three thousand miles away.” She mentioned several times in her autobiography that she didn’t believe in God.

    She was married to the publisher Michael Joseph from 1918-26 and had two sons with him. The younger, Stephen, pioneered theater in the round in Britain. She was married to Eric Maschwitz from 1926-45. She died at age 89 in New York City in 1987.

    Photo: Gingold in the 1950s. CC 3.0

    “Although we weren’t brought up to be any particular religion, we were taught to say our prayers. I remember one that ended, ‘Thy glorious kingdom, which is for ever and ever. Amen.’ These words made me scream, “I don’t want to be anywhere for ever and ever. It’s too much.” 

    —Gingold in her posthumous autobiography "How to Grow Old Disgracefully" (1988)

    Kate Smurthwaite

    Kate Smurthwaite

    On this date in 1975, comedian Kate Smurthwaite was born in London. After growing up in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, she studied mathematics at Lincoln College, Oxford, from 1994-97 and then worked in London and Japan as a convertible bond researcher for UBS Warburg, an investment bank. She started performing comedy professionally in 2004 and describes herself on her website as “a left-wing, feminist, atheist stand-up comedian and political activist.” (To wit: “Isn’t it weird when atheists call their child Christian? Surely it should be Godfrey?”)

    She’s a regular contributor to mainstream print publications and to BBC and Sky News television and radio shows, both as a writer and commentator. In 2014 her science show “The Evolution Will Be Televised” was nominated for an award by the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, a group that fosters business models that don’t have to rely entirely on donations from nonprofits and government funding. She has also taught stand-up at the City Academy in London.

    BBC Radio 4’s “Four Thought” series in 2012 included a 15-minute program written and performed by Smurthwaite about sexist humor and sexism in comedy. She later responded to former BBC director of television Danny Cohen’s suggestion to have at least one woman on panel shows by calling it a highly progressive idea — if he’d had it in the 1950s: “This is 2016. There’s absolutely no reason why panel shows can’t have 50 percent women on all the time. There are loads of great female comedians. … Plus, when you have just one woman on, she becomes the representative of all womankind rather than just a guest, free to muck about.”

    As a popular guest on BBC One’s religious debate show “The Big Questions” (sometimes representing the National Secular Society), Smurthwaite feistily stood up for nonbelievers. A 2010 clip that went viral under the name “Atheist Bitchslap” got 3.8 million views on YouTube. The question was “Does heaven exist?” Responding to a man who said every aborted child is in heaven, she said, “So we would be doing them a favor by aborting them then?” She went on to say, “Faith is believing in things without evidence, and I don’t do that because I’m not an idiot.”

    Jon Cartwright photo

    “A powerful well-supported movement of atheist feminists — of us Godless women — has the potential to free fifty-two percent of the world’s population from compulsory continuous motherhood and restrictions on everything from clothing to education, work to sex — as well as the financial and time resources that organised religion demands.”

    —The Daily Telegraph (Jan. 7, 2016)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Bill Hicks

    Bill Hicks

    On this date in 1961, stand-up comedian and social critic William Melvin Hicks was born in Valdosta, Ga., to parents Jim and Mary Hicks (née Reese). Hicks’ family lived in Florida, Alabama and New Jersey before settling in Houston when he was 7. The neighborhood was mostly Southern Baptist. At age 12 he began performing as a comedy duo with his friend Dwight Slade. By 13 he had already begun stand-up gigs, the first of which was at a church camp talent show.

    After high school he moved to Los Angeles, playing gigs and making a number of television appearances. In 1982 he founded the Absolute Creative Entertainment Production Company, which later became Sacred Cow. He moved to New York City, performing 300 times a year over the next five years. Hicks inspired a devoted following in the UK and Ireland, winning the Critics’ Award at the Edinburgh Festival. In 1992 he moved back to L.A. and was voted “Hot Stand-up Comic” by Rolling Stone magazine in 1993, though his material was controversial.

    His 12th and final appearance with late-night host David Letterman in 1993 was cut from the broadcast due to his jokes about religion and anti-abortionists. Though Hicks grew up Southern Baptist, he was always a freethinker. When his father would say that he believed the bible was the literal word of God, Hicks replied, “You know, some people believe that they’re Napoleon. That’s fine. Beliefs are neat. Cherish them, but don’t share them like they’re the truth.” (American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story by Cynthia True, 2002.)

    He died from pancreatic cancer in February 1994 at age 32 at his parents’ home in Little Rock, Ark. Rolling Stone ranked him No. 13 on its 2017 list of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time.

    “The whole image is that eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God’s infinite love. That’s the message we’re brought up with, isn’t it? Believe or die! Thank you, forgiving Lord, for all those options.”

    —From Hicks’ posthumously released album “Rant in E-Minor” (1997)
    Compiled by Noah Bunnell

    Anthony Jeselnik

    Anthony Jeselnik

    On this date in 1978, comedian Anthony Jeselnik was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. He set out to write the Great American Novel, earning a bachelor’s degree in English from Tulane University, but laughter intervened. Moving to Los Angeles, Jeselnik pursued stand-up, but it was not until two years into his career that he discovered his niche after delivering a joke with a dark twist.

    Jeselnik began writing almost exclusively material of that ilk, adopting a deliberately offensive stage presence. Jeselnik was named one of Variety’s “10 Comics to Watch” in 2008. When his Comedy Central special premiered in 2009, Jeselnik was named one of the network’s breakout comedians of the year. That same year he worked as a writer for “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” showcasing his stand-up there as well.

    In 2010 he released his debut comedy album “Shakespeare.” Soon after he began writing for Comedy Central and roasted Donald Trump, Roseanne Barr and Charlie Sheen. In 2013 he created and hosted a show on Comedy Central, “The Jeselnik Offensive,” which aired for two seasons. His first hour-long special, “Caligula,” received critical acclaim.

    Jeselnik has also had two comedy specials air on Netflix: “Thoughts and Prayers” (2015) and “Fire in the Maternity Ward” (2019). In 2018 he returned to Comedy Central with a deal that included a weekly podcast, “The Jeselnik & Rosenthal Vanity Project” featuring Gregg Rosenthal and Erica Tamposi of the NFL Network.

    “I was raised Catholic. I rejected it later on. I’m an outspoken atheist now. People say, ‘Oh, it’s a negative thing to be an atheist.’ I don’t agree. I think it’s more optimistic to think that there is no God, no afterlife. I’m the only one in my family who feels this way.”

    —Jeselnik, Parade magazine interview (July 2, 2013)
    Compiled by Noah Bunnell; photo by CarlaVanWagoner, Shutterstock.com

    Paula Poundstone

    Paula Poundstone

    On this day in 1959, Paula Poundstone was born in Huntsville, Ala. She dropped out of high school at 17 and began her career as a stand-up comedian when she was 19. She entered the public eye after appearing on shows such as “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night with David Letterman” and “Saturday Night Live.” She was awarded the 1989 American Comedy Award for Best Female Stand-up and became the first woman to be awarded the Cable ACE Award for best comedy special for her first HBO performance, “Cats, Cops, and Stuff” (1990).

    She gained a second Cable ACE Award for her talk show, “The Paula Poundstone Show” (1993). Poundstone wrote a monthly column for Mother Jones (1993-98), published the book There’s Nothing In This Book That I Meant To Say (2006) and has been a panelist for quiz program “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” on NPR. 

    “There is no God. At least, I’m practically certain there isn’t. I don’t believe there’s a heaven or a hell either,” Poundstone, a self-described atheist, wrote in an article for the May/June 1994 issue of Mother Jones.

    In 2016 she voiced the character “Forgetter Paula” in Disney/Pixar’s Academy Award-winning animated feature film “Inside Out.” Later that year, her first double-live CD, “North By Northwest,” debuted at No. 1 on two Amazon lists. Her second book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, was published in 2017.

    Poundstone  has fostered eight children and adopted two daughters and a son. She told EDGE online (Aug. 21, 2013) that she’s asexual: “I don’t like sex. Therefore, I don’t have sex. It frees up time, but that’s not by design, it’s just a bonus.”

    In 2018 she was a recipient of an FFRF Emperor Has No Clothes Award and spoke at the national convention in San Francisco.

    “I’m an atheist. The good news about atheists is that we have no mandate to convert anyone. So you’ll never find me on your doorstep on a Saturday morning with a big smile, saying, ‘Just stopped by to tell you there is no word. I brought along this little blank book I was hoping you could take a look at.’ ”

    —Poundstone, "There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say" (2006)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor; photo courtesy of Paula Poundstone

    Danny McBride

    Danny McBride

    On this date in 1976, actor-writer-filmmaker Daniel Richard McBride was born in Statesboro, Ga., to Kathleen (Chaby) and Richard McBride. His father worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and McBride grew up in Fredericksburg, Va., before attending the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem to learn the business of moviemaking.

    Hollywood eventually beckoned, where his acting and writing chops soon blossomed, often in collaboration with fellow UNC film school alums Jody Hill, David Green and Ben Best. He also worked as a night manager at a Holiday Inn in Burbank. “The Foot Fist Way,” their 2006 martial arts comedy, financed on credit cards for $80,000, earned plaudits at Sundance.

    His next movies were “Hot Rod” (2007), “Pineapple Express” (2008), “Tropic Thunder” (2008) and “Up in the Air” (2009). Four seasons on HBO-TV’s “Eastbound & Down” (2009-10, 2012-13) playing a washed-up major league pitcher reduced to physical education teacher brought him wide exposure as the star, executive producer, co-creator and co-writer of all 29 episodes.

    His character Kenny Powers longs to return to the big leagues: “There have been many great leaders throughout history,” Kenny declaims. “Jesus was dead, but then came back as an all-powerful god-zombie.” (Rolling Stone, March 1, 2012) He was also a jack-of-all-trades on HBO’s dark comedy “Vice Principals” in 2016-17 for two seasons and 18 episodes.

    “The Righteous Gemstones,” another dark comedy McBride created for HBO, premiered in 2019 and was renewed in 2022 for a third season. It follows the Gemstone family of megachurch pastors and televangelists, including McBride and John Goodman as the patriarch. Deviant behavior, murder and financial corruption abound, set amid opulent lifestyles.

    “We’re not trying to comment on the bible,” McBride said. “We’re commenting on these hypocrites who are basically fronting this operation and basing all their values on these morals and these ideals but then not adhering to any of them themselves.” (Armchair Expert With Dax Shepard and Monica Padman podcast, Aug. 19, 2019)

    Goodman, asked about his own religious background, said, “I would go to church with my mom and my sister, and she was Southern Baptist, so there was a lot of hollering going on. But we’d go to Vacation Bible School. A little later on, I started going Wednesday nights. And then I didn’t. (Vox, Aug. 16, 2019)

    McBride’s religious animus stems from how their Baptist church tried to shame his mother after his father left the family. They divorced when he was in sixth grade. She’d had a puppet ministry for children and taught Sunday school for years. “We expected the church would help us out. Instead, it was people wanting dirt on my mom and talking about the divorce. She stopped going and was like, ‘I’ll still take you and your sister.’ For a few months, she would drop us off. Then finally, it was like, ‘What are we doing? Fuck church!’ ” (Rolling Stone, Jan. 17, 2018)

    McBride married Gia Marina Ruiz in 2010 after an eight-year relationship. Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong comedy fame is her uncle. They have a son Declan (b. 2011) and a daughter Ava (b. 2015) and as of this writing live in Charleston, S.C., where McBride’s film studio Rough House Pictures is based. They were honored in 2020 for their $45,000 donation to the Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital.

    PHOTO: McBride at “The Righteous Gemstones” Hollywood premiere in 2019; Paul Smith/Featureflash Photo Agency

    “My family’s religious. As I got older, the church didn’t appeal to me and I went my own way.”

    —Interview, Vox (Aug. 16, 2019)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation