Comedian Jeff Allen talks of faith, tough past

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Published: Saturday, December 11, 2010, 3:10 AM

Terry Deboer | The Grand Rapids Press

WYOMING — Jeff Allen was not fond of Christmases with his family during his suburban Chicago youth.

“We celebrated the material side of it,” he recalled during a phone interview from his Nashville, Tenn.-area home.

“My parents would overspend, and then in January the fights would start.

“For me it was never about Christ, goodwill, or peace on earth.”

Allen, now 54, grew up following the atheist leanings of his father as he fashioned a comedy career. But an increasing emptiness — that included struggles with alcohol dependency — spurred a spiritual search that eventually led him to embrace the Christian faith.

And he’s still doing comedy.

“What’s different now is I have peace with myself. I’ve had the big questions answered,” he said.

Allen’s problems with booze were already evident in his late teens.

He braved his first try at a comedy club “open mike” night when he was 21.

“I was awful, left the stage in a flurry of tears, and went home and punched holes in my walls. I was pretty hammered,” he said.

He kept at it, eventually becoming a regular in Chicago- area clubs in the late ’70s. But it was tough getting out-of-town work on a comedy circuit, and alcohol and drugs were dragging him down, threatening to break his marriage and family.

“At (age) 31, I went to AA (Alcoholic Anonymous),” he said of his first step to sobriety.

“They said ‘pray,’ and I said, ‘To what?’” he recounted, noting AA’s acknowledgment of a “higher power.”

“I guess I went from atheist to agnostic fairly quickly with all that God talk.”

But it wasn’t until nine years later that he became a Christian, first investigating Eastern mysticism, philosophy and various self-help gurus. In the meantime, he was still working the clubs, even in Las Vegas. His contemporaries on comedy club stages included Rosanne Barr and Jerry Seinfeld.

Allen said he does comedy from the inside out, that is, whatever he is going through in life, he works it out in his comedy. During that uncertain period, he wasn’t always funny.

Some club bosses would call Allen’s management to complain and suggested letting him drink again.

Finally the comedian came to Christ.

“That was the last stone I turned over,” he said.

Now, he performs in churches, at conferences and corporate events. Several years ago, he performed Van Andel Arena with the Bill Gaither Homecoming tour.

Allen also has several comedy DVDs and appeared on the “Apostles of Comedy” tour in 2008.

Sticking with his story-telling style, Allen is now working on a one-man play about marriage and family.

“It weaves some of the serious stuff in with the humor,” he said of the script-in-progress, which he is sampling in his current shows.

He doesn’t necessarily prescribe his faith journey for anyone else. He simply shares his story.

“The truth is that if God had sat me down when I was 31 and told me I would experience the most gut-wrenching things in my life sober but in the end I’d be introduced to Jesus Christ … I wouldn’t have signed on,” he reasoned.

“I think that’s why he doesn’t reveal those exact plans to us. Everyone has their own time frame.”

For additional information on booking Bestselling Author and comedian Jeff Allen for your next event call 615 283 0039