An Austin, TX comedy club can’t get rid of one pesky neighbor … which just happens to be a church! The club and church are located in the same office space/strip mall complex and they’ve been at odds over noise levels for some time. Now, despite a request from the landlord, the church is refusing to relocate.
It isn’t the first conflict of it’s kind; similar problems in San Diego, CA, Mesa, AZ and Ft. Lauderdale, FL have resulted in lawsuits, tougher noise ordinances and registered complaints — with mixed results.
Fresh Oil’s founder and leader Bishop Nathan Thomas is calling the request that the church move religious bigotry and racism. He recently organized several protests earlier this month using the slogan “Jokes vs. Jesus”.
The church “can’t walk away from its assignment,” Thomas told his mostly black congregation recently. “We’re changing lives.”
Across the country, religious congregations are entering nontraditional spaces at an increasing rate, religious experts say, as churches seek to lower their rent and attract worshipers with an informal atmosphere.
A bill Congress passed in 2000 that prohibits zoning authorities from discriminating against religious groups is also encouraging churches’ migration into former bowling alleys, old furniture stores and strip malls…
Fresh Oil, whose name is inspired by a Bible Psalm and is meant to signify a new beginning, started out in a living room in 1997. After several moves, its members now gather in an office space tucked between the comedy club and a temporary labor agency in a North Austin neighborhood also shared by car-parts stores, Drakula Romanian restaurant and the Foxy Salon.
Bishop Thomas, who wears his shoulder-length hair in braids and uses his blackberry as a cheat sheet when preaching, says he is trying to steer his flock away from the stiffness of traditional church services. Fresh Oil’s Bible study, held every Wednesday evening, is accompanied by booming drums, keyboards and microphone-enhanced singing — and this is proving a problem for the performers at the comedy club next door.
“Stand-up is a very constructed experience,” said Mr. French, who’s written for David Letterman and Dennis Miller. “If there’s any distraction at all it doesn’t work.”
At Cap City, which opened its doors more than 20 years ago, audience members are asked to silence their cellphones during shows and waiters move gently about the tables so nothing gets between punch lines and the audience.
The club’s business and Fresh Oil’s services next door “are not compatible,” said Rich Miller, one of the club’s owners.
George Shakiban, the landlord, said Bishop Thomas is confusing a legitimate request to vacate the premises with prejudice. Aside from playing loud music, Fresh Oil breached a long-term rental contract because its security deposit check bounced, he said.
“At the end of the day this is a business,” said Mr. Shakiban, who is based in California.
Bishop Thomas said the check was good and that Fresh Oil is being bullied out of the strip mall because it is a black church.
“I’m not going nowhere till a judge hears our case,” he said.
On a recent evening, he and a couple dozen of his followers gathered at the parking lot outside the comedy club armed with posters reading “Jesus is not a joke” and “We’re fighting for our future.”
Across from them, comedians scribbled their own lines on pieces of cardboard. Said one, “God is light, so lighten up.”
WOW…Jesus is no joke. Would we be wrong to ask WWJD?