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Pierce: Mormons remain peculiar in the TV industry

Published February 2, 2012 4:18 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A funny thing happened during a Television Critics Association news conference designed to promote Fox's "Napoleon Dynamite" animated series — the subject of religion came up. The subject of Mormonism, specifically.

And, to be clear, there are no Mormon references in the show, of which Fox ordered six episodes, with the debut airing on Jan. 15. Just Mormons who make the show.

The question asked of executive producers Jared and Jerusha Hess wasn't in any way offensive: "You've always really tried to keep it very clean, I think, out of your beliefs. And I'm wondering — is it harder to be funny and clean, or does the dirty joke not even occur to you?"

Ah, trying to get inside the minds of those indecipherable Mormons.

It wasn't a nonspecific line of questioning. "You know who I'm talking about. I believe you're all Mormon, correct?"

Well, not everyone involved in the show is Mormon. The Hesses are, as is Jon Heder, who voices Napoleon.

And that's still looked upon as an oddity, at least to the people who write about TV.

I can't recall a time in the past 22 years when the subject of a producer's, director's or star's religion was raised during a press tour unless it was linked to the project. Like a documentary about the pope or a series about Muslims in America.

I can't recall anyone being asked about being Catholic, Protestant, Jew or anything else while talking about their cartoon. So for the Hesses to be asked about their religion is a clear indication that being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is seen as something outside the norm.

"I think, for whatever reason, it's entertaining," Jared Hess said. "There aren't many Mormons that are working in show business. It probably seems to a lot of people like a paradox. Like, 'How can you be in that business with your faith?' It doesn't add up to a lot of people. It seems like a good story to a lot of people."

The line of questioning continued in follow-up questions after the news conference. One reporter seemed completely taken with the angle that — gasp! — Mormons can be funny. Can even be a bit irreverent at times.

"I think that Mormons have to take themselves way less seriously," Jerusha Hess said. "Because it is a little weird. Our background is weird. What we believe is a little weird. It's all very weird. So if we could be just more light and just have a sense of humor."

Oh, by the way, Jerusha Hess' response to the original question — "Is it harder to be funny and clean? — was:

"Did you notice how many farts are in our shows? It's just a different kind of comedy."

Scott D. Pierce's column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Mix. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce; read his blog at sltrib.com/blogs/tv. —

Animate this, Napoleon

Fox's "Napoleon Dynamite" airs at 7:30 p.m. Sundays on Channel 13.