Funny is not a four-letter word, at least not to the members of the Apostles of Comedy, a troupe of stand-up comedians determined to make people laugh without relying on profanity and crude humor.

The group is coming to the Twin Cities next week as part of a 25-city tour. It was put together by Jeff Allen, 52, a veteran comedian who has refocused his approach. Although not without effort. "Dropping the f-bomb every few words" was a lot easier than being creative, he said.

"When I cleaned up my act, I became a much better comic," he said. "I was forced to go to the thesaurus and explore this wonderful language God has given us. I was doing the same routine, but I was using different words."

To keep himself from unconsciously slipping back into old habits, he offered to pay one of his sons a quarter every time the youngster caught him cursing around the house. Some days that got expensive, but in the long run, he ended up with a wider opportunity to make a living.

"Why do a joke that works for 300 people in a club but only for 300 people in a club?" he said. "You need to broaden your market, not narrow it."

He recruited three like-minded friends for the comedy tour: Anthony Griffith, Ron Pearson and Brad Stine. They each do a solo routine and then wrap up the show with the four of them sitting on bar stools swapping one-liners. If that sounds a lot like the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, it's not a coincidence.

"That's where I got the idea," Allen said. "One of the guys asked me, 'Aren't we doing it the same way they do?' And I said, 'Well, yeah.' "

But not exactly the same way. While some of the performances are in theaters, most of this tour is taking place either in churches or in venues rented by churches.

"The words 'Christian' and 'comedy' don't normally go together," Allen said. "We're going to shatter that perception."

He's had some of his own perceptions shattered since the tour started two weeks ago. During his comedy club days, he played mostly to young adults, "but we're getting people of all ages to these shows," he said. "We've had kids as young as 9 in the audience, which is very strange for me because I've never played to kids before."

The show, sponsored by Life Print Church, is at 7 p.m. Thursday at Prior Lake High School, 7575 W. 150th St., Savage. Tickets are $12. You can order them at, something you might want to consider because seven of their first nine shows were sold out. While that's good news for the comics, it also could be a good omen for comedy as a whole, Allen said.

"Hollywood is amoral; they just follow the dollar," he said. "If a show like this generates enough interest, Hollywood will follow suit."

Ahead of her time

Twin Cities resident and groundbreaking liturgist Ruth Brin will be honored on her 88th birthday at a party Wednesday at the St. Paul JCC.

"Jewish Women in America: A Historical Encyclopedia" says of her: "In the 1950s, when most Jewish women still seemed content with their traditional subordinate role in public worship, Ruth Brin was already at work modernizing traditional Jewish prayers and texts and offering new interpretive readings and original poetry reflecting her own religious experience. Today it is difficult to find a Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist prayer book or anthology that does not include one or more of her writings."

The reception begins at 7 p.m. at the JCC, 1375 St. Paul Av., St. Paul. Admission is free.

Musical notes

There are several interesting musical offerings on the docket:

• Sheila Raye Charles, the daughter of legendary musician Ray Charles, will sing and speak at both services Sunday at Maple Plain Community Church, 1815 Budd Av. Services are at 8:30 and 10:45 a.m.

• Hockey fans may know Sara Renner from her singing of the national anthem at Minnesota Wild games. She performs two concerts next week to mark the release of her fourth solo CD, "All for Love." The shows are at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Westwood Church, 3121 Westwood Dr., Chanhassen, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at New Hope Church, 4225 Gettysburg Av. N., New Hope. Admission is $5.

• We want to give a shout-out -- or, perhaps more appropriately, a hee-haw -- to Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Franklin Av., Minneapolis, which offered a "bluegrass mass" last year to great success and is reprising it on Sunday. New this year is a 15-minute prelude by the band Monroe Crossing at 10:15 a.m. before the band, the church choir and the Rev. Jim Gertmenian engage in a theological hoedown at 10:30.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392