Atheist Comedians: Ricky Gervais

Expressing pride in a lack of belief in God through humor hit the national stage last week and reflects the growing and humorous vehicles by which atheists are proudly expressing themselves.

Comedian Ricky Gervais, host of the 2011 Golden Globe Awards, closed the show by saying, “Thank you to God, for making me an atheist.”

His controversial remarks made earlier in the award ceremony telecast have garnered the attention of the Hollywood press for drawing the ire of sensitive celebrities. But Gervais’ closing remark may have been his most poignant. The joke represents the growing popularity and pride in atheism throughout the entertainment industry—and perhaps the country as a whole.

The controversy over the remark and the fact that some felt offended seems to puzzle Gervais.

“I don’t get offended when people thank God,” Gervais later said on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight. “I have the right to not believe in God.”

In a holiday blog last December Gervais reflected on his atheistic values: “The gifts of truth, science, nature … the real beauty of this world.”

The widespread popularity of atheistic beliefs has translated into the increasing ranks of vocal atheist comedians. Whether comedians intend to offend or not, denying the inherent humor of religious dogma, and the fundamentalist who preach its gospel, is to neglect millennia of rich material.

“I’m an atheist, but I love religion,” said Patton Oswald, a comedian who bases many jokes around his atheism. How could a comedian not love religion? It provides great material!

Comedians such as Oswald, David Cross, Lewis Black, Sarah Silverman, and Eddie Izzard have lampooned religious dogma and those espousing its hilarity, even if it is a bit dark at times. These comedians are only a small fraction of the long list of atheists in comedy. Here’s just a short list of some of the funniest jokes at the expense of the holy:

British comedian Jimmy Carr: If we’re all God’s children, what’s so special about Jesus?

The Simpsons’ Superintendent Gary Chalmers: Prayer has no place in the public schools, just like facts have no place in organized religion.

American actress Cloris Leachman: I’ve been so relieved and so grateful to not have a god to believe in.

American comedian Lewis Black: I would love to have the faith to think that it took place in seven days (god creating the world), but I have thoughts….These people are watching the Flintstones as if it’s a documentary.

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Bill Daehler is the communications intern for the American Humanist Association. He is a senior majoring in political science and journalism at the University of Kansas.