KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jeff Allen is doing what he’s always dreamed of doing: making people laugh.

But his life has been anything but comedy.

It was a long, painful journey to where he is now, a comic with the four-man Apostles of Comedy, which appeared May 23 at the Assembly of God in Grandview, Mo. The group is part of an increasingly popular genre of Christian comedians.

At one time, Christian comedy was looked at as an oxymoron.

“In the ’70s and early ’80s, some churches thought it was inappropriate and even sacrilegious,” said Dan Rupple, past president of the Christian Comedy Association, whose membership is about 350. “the 1990s, the church pretty much embraced it. Only very conservative denominations still may be hesitant.”

He said the quality of Christian comedy is beginning to be on par with secular comedy, and more doors are opening in mainstream entertainment.

“The ‘Passion of the Christ’ (movie) created even more awareness that there’s a huge Christian audience looking for entertainment that would not offend them,” Rupple said.

Allen, 53, of Fairview, Tenn., has been a comedian for 32 years, mostly performing in nightclubs. His dream started when he got up his courage to perform at a comedy club’s open mic when he was 20. He wasn’t a hit, and the club owner told him he would never make a living doing comedy.

At the time, he was a heavy drinker and doing drugs. He quit his job and slept on friends’ floors. He worked at comedy clubs for four or five years before giving it up and joining the Air Force.

The day before taking the physical, he got a call about a job in Cincinnati. Off he went. Then more offers followed. So did marriage in 1986.

A year later, he went into therapy, and he and his wife tried to resolve their marriage problems through counseling.

“We were having major arguments,” Allen said. “I had a lot of rage in me and didn’t understand it. But I stopped drinking and stopped drugs. I couldn’t stay married and keep doing what I was doing.”

Therapy helped, and he went to AA meetings for eight or nine years. But he never understood “the higher power.”

Then he met someone who also was doing comedy and was the first person to talk to him about the Bible. Allen said he had looked at Bibles in hotels but didn’t understand the King James translation.

His new friend sent him an easier-to-read New International Version and Bible-based sermon tapes from his church.

“I opened the first envelope, and it was Ecclesiastes,” he said. “That one 45-minute sermon summed up my life. It was all meaningless. Life without God would have no meaning, and without meaning there is no purpose.”

He ripped open the other envelopes, listened to the tapes, some several times. He started reading the Bible and making notes. “It was an awakening,” he said. “One day, I realized there is a God. It hit me full force. I had blasphemed this God.”

About a month later, Allen went to Texas and attended his friend’s church, Denton Bible. He met the pastor, Tommy Nelson, and gave his life to Christ.

But Allen had a challenge. As he studied the Bible and became more involved as a Christian, he knew he would have to clean up his act. “Then I realized we have a wonderful language,” he said. “And there was not one routine I used to do in nightclubs that I couldn’t clean up.”

Since then, he does clean acts in clubs and performs in churches with the Apostles of Comedy.

“For years, the church never looked at comedy as a viable ministry tool,” Allen said. “But look at what comedy does for the soul. Pastors are trusting it more. It really knocks the walls down. It’s great that you can bring people to church and they can hear laughter.”