With sharp wit, serious insight into Catholicism and an ability to shed her own armor, Judy McDonald builds trust with each person in her audience, whether she’s at a local parish or in the center of a 40,000-seat arena. She has a dual message: that God has a sense of humor and that Jesus loves you, and not in a preschool-sing-song way, but in a determined carry-you-out-of-the-fire way.
Billed as a Catholic comedian, McDonald sees herself as a minister and an evangelist who is called to her work by way of The Comedy Store and a few late-night talks with God.
Her first audition came on stage as a University of San Diego freshman in 1994, when the opening act for the Associated Students Showcase failed to appear and a faculty member urged her to “just go on and talk for 15 minutes,” McDonald remembers. “I said okay because I was too young and dumb to be scared.”
After her impromptu set and a standing ovation, she walked away with $50 and the key to her future. It took her into a world of stark contrasts. After seating her parents and a former teacher, Sister Madeline Fitzgerald, in the audience for her first show at The Comedy Store in Hollywood, for instance, McDonald walked into the green room, where a fellow comedian lifted his head from doing a line of cocaine and offered her some. “No thanks, got my Pepsi,” was her quick response.
In a business defined by living on the edge, McDonald kept herself centered and her comedy clean. Mitzi Shore, owner of The Comedy Store, gave McDonald carte blanche to appear any time she wanted in two of the club’s venues.
Still, ministry called and after graduation from the university, she spent her days as a resident minister for USD and surf coach for University High School, then as a junior high youth minister for The Gathering in La Jolla, Calif. When funding for that position ended, she launched into one of her late-night talks with God as she considered pursuing comedy on a full-time basis.
“I really felt like I had to give up comedy or my Catholic faith,” says McDonald, who increasingly saw the two as incompatible. “But in his very loud God voice with the white beard and everything, God said to me, ‘Dummy, I made you this way for a reason. You are going to be able to touch people that others can’t. You don’t have to give up on either.’”
That marked McDonald’s transformation into life as a Catholic comedian, spreading the Gospel through her stories about life. She set up camp at her parents’ home in Vista, Calif., and began traveling across the country and overseas to youth conferences, parishes, universities, military bases and more.
“Humor levels the playing field,” says McDonald about her ability to reach all ages. “After about an hour, there is a certain trust that they have with me because my comedy is very personal; and then I give them the one-two punch about our faith and about Jesus.”
McDonald shares philosophies she herself has learned to embrace, especially in recent years while she has dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder as she resolves a long-standing childhood trauma. Daisy, her service dog, is her constant and steady companion, even on stage. McDonald raised the $10,000 she needed for Daisy in just two weeks through a heartfelt letter and crowdfunding on her website, fansite and Facebook page. This lesson in recognizing her own vulnerabilities and accepting help is the closing message of her current show.
“God worked through other people’s hearts so I could receive some of his love,” she says. “He hasn’t shown me the answer for how to get out (of this trauma), but he’s shown me how to hold on and get to the next day with Daisy.”
Visit Judy McDonald’s YouTube channel for videos of her stand-up. Here’s an example:
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