Pope hosts over 100 comedians

It follows on from his landmark visit to the Venice Biennale and his meeting last year with artists and directors in the Vatican

A global gathering of comedians was taking place Friday in an unlikely venue: the Vatican.

Pope Francis hosted the equivalent of a “conclave of comedians” by inviting Whoopi Goldberg, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Rock, Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien and others to Rome. Over 200 people were in the audience, with more than 100 comedians from 15 countries.

The 87-year-old pontiff is known for his sense of humor. He likes to crack jokes with people he meets, often telling them with a smile: “please pray for me… not against me!” He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of having a sense of humor, saying it is something that he prays for each day.

“A sense of humor lifts you up, it shows your life is short and to take things in the spirit of a redeemer,” Francis once said in an interview. “It is a human attribute, but it is the closest to God’s grace.”

Francis’ meeting on Friday with “artists from the world of humor” is part of his latest attempt to engage with contemporary culture, with the Vatican explaining in a statement that the meeting underlines how the “art of comedy can contribute to a more empathetic and supportive world.”

It follows on from his landmark visit to the Venice Biennale and his meeting last year with artists and directors in the Vatican. The meeting also comes with the pope facing question marks over his outreach to LGBTQ+ Catholics after reportedly using a homophobic slur at private meetings.

Others from the US contingent include Tig Notaro, Jim Gaffigan with several Catholics among them: both Gaffigan and Colbert identify as Catholics while Fallon and O’Brien were both raised in the Catholic Church. Also due to attend is Julia Louis-Dreyfus who told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that she had “no idea” what to expect.

Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit priest sometimes dubbed “The Colbert Report’s Chaplain,” was also due to attend the meeting and Colbert talked about the upcoming papal audience on his show.

“Pope Francis is going to meet me at the Vatican!” he joked. “Am I excited? Is the pope Catholic?”

Colbert then gave a jokey warning to Chris Rock, referring to the incident when Rock was hit by actor Will Smith during the Oscars.

“Chris, please for safety’s sake I would just keep Mary Magdalene’s name out of your mouth. Because the pope wears a big ring!”

He also made reference to the controversy over the pope’s reported use of an anti-gay slur asking: “Why Pope Frankie, why?”

Meanwhile, Whoopi Goldberg, the star of “Sister Act,” has already met the pope during an audience in the Vatican last year.

At that meeting, Goldberg said she offered Francis a cameo in “Sister Act 3,” the film series about a singer who joins a convent.

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