LIMA — Even though humor played a big part in his childhood years, Bob Smiley did not plan on becoming a comedian.
“My family is very funny,” he said. “My dad was the school superintendent, and he’d eat lunch with me every day. Our table was the most popular because the other kids wanted to hear us rehash the day. We had our own little comedy show. I saw the power of comedy to draw people at an early age.”
Despite Smiley’s appreciation for comedy, the idea of being a stand-up comedian did not appeal to him. He got his degree in elementary education. However, while he was at college, he entered a stand-up comedy competition.
“First prize was $500,” he said. “I did it strictly for the money. I ended up winning. I’m not bragging — the guy before me had a sombrero that was his entire act.”
After graduating from college, he spent one year working as a photographer to pay off school loans. Around the time he started looking for a teaching position, Smiley got a call from Clay Crosse, a contemporary Christian musician. Crosse had seen his competition performance and asked Smiley to tour with him as an opening act.
While Smiley was on tour with Crosse, the Newsboys, a well-known Christian band, saw him perform and asked if he would tour with them next.
“That tour was the No. 1 Christian music tour that year,” said Smiley. “I went from some little farm kid to standing in front of 4,000 to 5,000 people.”
Despite the fact that he was getting requests to go on music tours and got many bookings from youth pastors who felt his clean, funny brand of humor resonated with their teens, Smiley still did not consider stand-up comedy his career.
“It was three years before I really thought of comedy as my career,” he said. “Basically, God opened the door and kicked me through it.”
In the beginning of his career, about 80 percent of his shows were in front of junior high and high school audiences. Over the years, that has changed.
“Basically, I do shows for anybody,” he said. “I just did a show at Dallas to 600 first graders. … I did another show in Houston to a group called ‘55 and Better,’ but honestly, nobody there even remembered being 55.”
Smiley, who has been doing stand-up comedy for more than 16 years, doesn’t find coming up with material difficult. Much of it comes from his everyday life.
“Comedy is everywhere,” he said. “With three loud, active boys, meeting and watching people, the media — I live in a target-rich environment.”
Fortunately for Smiley, his family is very supportive of his comedy career. His wife of 16 years, Wendy, is very open to Smiley using things from their lives in his shows, while his three sons, ages 7, 10, and 13, want him to talk about them in his shows.
“My kids will ask me if I’m going to use something that happened,” he said. “I always ask my kids, and they have never not said no. My wife is super supportive, too. I always run stuff by her, but she never says no.”
However, being a Christian comedian does have its challenges.
“When you call yourself a Christian comedian, there are two circles — what people find funny and what people consider Christian,” he said. “Finding that overlap — it’s very small. It’s a fine line finding what is clean, funny, but also Christian. I do get to talk about my faith during shows, but there are people that get mad either because there isn’t enough Christian or there’s too much.”
Smiley does about 90 shows a year and he also does some writing.
“I used to do way more writing, but I’ve scaled back,” he said. “I do have one I’m passionate about. About ten years ago, I created this character for Clubhouse Magazine called Average Boy. It got so much fan mail, it became a monthly column. I also wrote a comedy/devotional book for junior high age. Right before Christmas, it was re-released with about five new chapters and more girl focus this time.”
While making people laugh is important, Smiley said that he has two favorite things about comedy.
“The first is I watch guys getting ready to drive to work. All I had to do to get ready for work today was untangle my ear buds,” he said. “I also love to look out and see families laughing together. I love to see a junior high kid and his grandma sitting out in the audience laughing together. I like to see people leave upbeat and optimistic. ... A lot of comedians are dirty. People laugh, but they don’t leave feeling upbeat. I want people to leave feeling more upbeat than when they came in.”
What: Bob Smiley Comedy show
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 14
Where: Lima Baptist Temple, 982 Brower Road, Lima
Tickets: $15. Call 419-229-1561 or visit www.limabaptisttemple.org.