Grady Nutt, the late Baptist humorist and television entertainer whose gentle teasing of Southern church culture earned him a wide audience in the 1970s and ’80s, was remembered at a recent celebration in Louisville, Ky.
The event, at Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, honored Nutt’s legacy and supported the work of Baptist News Global.
Nutt overcame long odds growing up in Texas, found acceptance and encouragement in small-town Kentucky, then made it big in the entertainment world, most famously on Hee-Haw, a popular network TV show. His niche was religious humor, and he regaled us with stories of baptisms gone awry, heavenly meringue at picnics on the grounds, and religious phoniness puffed up like a marshmallow connected to a gas station air pump. He died before his time in a 1982 plane crash near Cullman, Ala.
In the Baptist subculture of my youth, ideological wars raged, distrust stampeded, and bombast flew in every direction. Thankfully, none of that happens in present-day America, which is a tranquil Our Town writ large. But if we did happen to find ourselves in a swamp of cultural and religious dysfunction, it would be good to have Nutt with us again.
In my view, Nutt (with perhaps Herschel Hobbs) was the only person back in those days who had the ear and the respect of warring Baptist ideological factions. He pointed out the goofiness in all things churchy, including churchy conflict, and we all laughed, forgetting that his own goofiness slyly sweetened doses of truth he regularly dispensed. We were all emperors, and when he pointed out that even God laughed when God saw us with no clothes, we loved him for it.
One of Graham Greene’s characters observed, “When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was a failure of imagination.” Grady Nutt’s robust social imagination, his Graefenburg, Ky., version of “Negative Capability,” his ability to see how oddly lovable we all were, brought people together like a gaggle of kids looking at themselves in a carnival mirror.
Nutt loved his progressive Baptist church in Louisville, just as he loved the people who would become Trump’s America, and who didn’t seem to mind a lick when he mentioned his deacon was a woman from what would become Hillary’s America. His humor was wonderfully disarming. Swords melted into plowshares like churned butter on hot biscuits when Nutt spoke the truth in love.
My, do we need Grady Nutt back again.