Count on religion—as well as politics, astrology, ghosts and even fortune-telling—to get a proper skewering when the Evolution of Comedy Tour starts in the Old Pueblo on Sunday, April 15.
What makes this comedy show different from many others is that the rationalist comedy trio of Ian Harris, Jason Resler and Maurice Northup aim to make the audience think as well as laugh.
The show is subtitled "Intelligently Designed Humor," and the comedians will be kicking off the U.S. tour at Laffs Comedy Caffe.
The show is about "stuff you are not supposed to talk about," Harris said. "I want people to think about stuff."
The tour is intended to appeal to skeptics, and even atheists, who see a lack of critical thinking in popular culture, said tour member Maurice Northup, who started his comedy career in 1993.
Harris, an atheist himself and a 19-year comedy veteran, estimates that 20 percent of Americans are atheists, and he said they need entertainment, too.
"You don't have to agree with our points. We are not out to attack people's beliefs, but to support a way of looking at the world," he said.
Harris said the tour has often received support from the very people it is raking over the coals. He recalls doing a no-alcohol show at a casino in one of the most conservative and religious parts of California. Audience members came up to him after the show and told him they had never been to a comedy show where they laughed so hard while questioning their own beliefs.
However, others were truly offended.
"People offered to pray for us," Harris said. "We offended quite a few people, but I really made them think about my point."
It can be tough to gauge what kind of audience a show will attract and how it will receive the material, Harris said. "There is a fine line between being likable and abrasive."
Tour members expect the Tucson audience to find the show likable: Tucson has the right size, the right kind of crowd and the right culture for the comedians to hit it off, Harris said.
Tucson "doesn't have the jaded feel like in L.A.," he said. "People there are over-sedated with entertainment."
In addition, Tucson is a liberal oasis in a conservative state, so it is home to the kind of open-minded people who make a good comedy-club audience, he said.
Harris said he's always been a skeptic by nature, although he grew up in a very spiritual household. He said his parents support his career, but his mother sometimes feels hurt when she sees parts of his act.
"My mom really wants me to believe that she is a sidekick, but I don't, and it hurts her feelings," Harris said.
Northup, who grew up in a Catholic household, said his family is also very supportive, "although they don't agree with what I say."
As a comedian, Harris has ranged from doing impressions to finding the humor in his own family life.
"Comedy is something I wanted to do since I was a kid growing up watching Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy," he said. "From the day I was allowed in the comedy club at age 21, I went onstage."
Tucson was an easy choice for a kickoff spot for the latest Evolution of Comedy tour, Harris said—because Laffs is his favorite comedy club in the United States, he claimed.