Sometimes you get an “amen.” Sometimes you get an “lmao.” Prayer is enough of an institution that comedy writers can play with it a little, subverting expectation and, at their best, offering commentary on the way we pray. Sometimes, we’re laughing at someone who doesn’t know how to pray, but thinks they do. Sometimes, we’re laughing at someone who knows they don’t know how to pray, but is trying to. Most times, we’re laughing at ourselves.
There’s a mystery to prayer, even for the most sincere of us. How does it work? What are we supposed to say? For people of faith, these are questions of deep significance. But that doesn’t mean they don’t lead to moments of genuine comedy. And who knows? Maybe some of those moments can help us find some real answers too.
10. King of the Hill
The Hill family gets introduced to Bobby’s new unique style of praying before dinner, which doesn’t bother Hank or Peggy too much, though they’re not sure about the length.
9. Sister Act: Blessing the Food
This 1992 Whoopi Goldberg vehicle is better remembered for its show stopping musical numbers than its comedy, but it boasts some great moments as the story of a woman hiding from the mob in a convent. The one of the best is this gem, in which “Sister Mary Clarence” improvs a quick prayer to the stern consternation of the Mother Superior (was this Maggie Smith’s first turn as a grouchy but ultimately kind matronly figure?).
8. Let’s Say Grace
SNL has returned to the the prayer well a few times, but Regé-Jean Page really brought the heat on a recent episode in which a friendly lunch between two families takes a turn for the competitive when performance gets in the way of earnestness.
7. The Iron Giant
Brad Bird’s beautiful tribute to old school sci-fi is full of comedy gems, including one of the better attempts at mixing a coded message into prayer.
6. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Not the only prayerful riff on the Pledge of Allegiance on this list, but maybe the funniest since Aunt Bethany doesn’t seem to know anything’s amiss. Hey, kinda makes you wonder about this whole pledging allegiance thing and why it’s so easily confused for prayer, doesn’t it?
5. The Simpsons
The Simpsons has tons of great prayer gags, including the brutal moment when Lisa observes Bart kneeling and mutters “prayer, the last refuge of the scoundrel.” But Homer’s prayer here makes a solid point about how we interpret answers to prayer — and justify our own wants simply by praying for them first.
4. The Campaign
This movie didn’t quite deliver on the comedic potential of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis squaring off on the campaign trail, but it did feature a terrific scene in which the very obviously non-religious Ferrell had to briefly pretend to be familiar with the Lord’s Prayer to win over Republican votes, with a little help from Jason Sudeikis. (This isn’t the last time we’ll see Ferrell on this list).
3. The Fast and the Furious
Not all friends say grace before eating, but when you’re at the Toretto dinner table, you’re not friends; you’re family. And the Toretto family knows exactly what to be thankful for.
2. Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby
You’ve seen it before but it remains an absolute priceless three minutes of comedy. Between Cal’s grunts of affirmation, the family’s dispute over which Jesus is being prayed to and Ricky Bobby’s own contractually obligated shoutout to Powerade, there’s not a wasted line in the scene.
1. Meet the Parents
Is this Ben Stiller’s finest comedic moment? It’s not as melodramatic as Derek Zoolander or as unexpected as his Anchorman cameo, but the scene is so well-handled, Stiller’s discomfort so finely tuned and the rest of the table’s reactions so understated that it’s easy to see why this scene has become such a classic. What a smorgasbord of gifts.