Catholic comedy goes on a holy roll


The three questions Father Guido Sarducci is most frequently asked about the pope:

3) Did he have the white socks before he had the white shoes?

2) Did he wear white shoes before Pat Boone?

1) Why did he do that milk ad, with the milk on his lip?

Pope humor. With Pope John Paul II in New York today and Baltimore tomorrow, it's everywhere.

Morning deejays are playing pope songs on the radio, offering pope merchandise for sale, even broadcasting ads for tomorrow's papal Mass at Oriole Park at Camden Yards that seem more geared to race car drivers than men and women raised on the Baltimore Catechism. Late-night talk show hosts are working the pontiff into their monologues.

Even "Saturday Night Live's" Father Guido Sarducci, longtime reporter and gossip columnist for the Vatican Inquirer and L'Obssevatore Romano, was offering his slant on the papal proceedings yesterday during an interview on 98 Rock's morning show with Byrd, Mark & Lopez.

When a caller to the 98 Rock studio asked if there were any special competition connected with being chosen pope, Father Guido had this revealing piece of trivia: "They do arm wrestling. That's why this guy won. He was young when he was made pope. All the other guys, they were like 80."

The pope must be used to this stuff by now. He might even feel insulted if David Letterman didn't give him a Top Ten List like the one offered last week.

Top 10 Things on the Pope's 'To Do' List:

10. Get "The Club" put on the Popemobile.

9. Confirm Red Hot Chili Peppers as opening act in Central Park.

8. Call ahead to make sure the Ramada has magic fingers.

7. Get big hat blocked.

6. Think of diplomatic way to advise President Clinton to "Cool it with the broads, Bubba."

5. Pitch idea of cameo appearance as Murphy Brown's secretary.

4. Perform exorcism on Richard Simmons.

3. Forgive Letterman for hosting the Academy Awards.

2. Scotchgard the robes.

1. Pray for CBS.

You might wonder what's so funny about a guy in a big hat who's the spiritual leader of some 60 million American Catholics? You'd understand if you'd grown up Catholic and enjoyed few things more than having a good laugh at the expense of the nuns and priests who ruled your life with such an iron hand.

Plus, for some irreverent Catholics, it's like belonging to a private club, or understanding a language that only a select few speak.

"For the truly dedicated and informed Catholics in the audience," says Brian Wilson, morning deejay on 104.3-FM, The Colt, "I'm going to change the show's name to 'The Anthropomorphological Brian Wilson Morning Show,' where transubtantiation is not just a divine mystery, it's a way of life."

OK, so maybe a reference to transubstantiation -- the miracle by which bread and water is changed into the body and blood of Christ -- is too esoteric for most people. Still, anything Catholic, anything related to the pope, is proving fair game.

On radio, Stevie and the Satellites on WQSR have pitched in with "Let Me In Pope" (to the tune of John Fogerty's "Centerfield," the refrain goes, "Let me in pope, I'm ready to pray . . . today"), while the morning crew at 98 Rock has offered up a song to the tune of "Pinball Wizard" ("Even at my favorite altar/He sure is the best/His disciples lead him in . . ./Cardinal Keeler and the rest").

Wednesday night, Conan O'Brien interviewed a cantankerous "pope" bent out of shape because he was just interviewed by the effervescent Kathie Lee Gifford ("That woman is a nightmare."). Thursday, both Mr. Letterman and Jay Leno joked about the popemobile being outfitted with The Club, suggesting that the font of papal humor may be running a bit dry.

Is there an ultimate pope joke? Steve Rouse, spiritual leader of WQSR's Rouse & Company morning show, offers this one, around almost as long as the Vatican:

The pope lands at BWI and his chauffeur comes by to pick him up. "You know," says the pope, "I never get to drive anymore. How about if I do the driving today."

The chauffeur says OK -- what else is he going to say? -- and so the pope takes off. He's racing down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, going way over the speed limit, when he's pulled over by a cop. The cop walks up to the car, looks inside and radios headquarters. "I think I'm going to have some problem with this speeding ticket," he tells his commander. "There's somebody really important in this car."

The commander rolls his eyes and says, "OK, who is it this time? The mayor, the governor, the president?"

"Well, I'm not really sure who it is," the cop says, "But he must be important. He's got the pope driving him."

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