JIM CARREY EARNED HIS FIRST raves at Yuk Yuk's Komedy Kabaret in Toronto. Rosie O'Donnell was launched on Star Search. For Mark Lowry, though, the Big Break came at the 1988 Christian Artists Music Seminar in Estes Park, Colo. A strange place to be discovered? Not really. Lowry, 38, is a stand-up comic whose shtick skewers TV evangelists, pompous pastors and gospel hits. Think of him as the Weird Al Yankovic of the Bible Belt—or, as he is widely known, "the Christian comic."

Don't laugh—it's a good gig. Lowry's five albums have been strong sellers. And his latest video, Remotely Controlled, which features cameos by Christian singers and Today show weatherman Willard Scott, has hit Billboard's Top 10. Lowry splits his free time between his Nashville home and his girlfriend in Texas, but this year he will spend 30 weeks on the road telling folksy stories (a psychologist on TV says, "Don't ever spank your children, it'll squelch their personality. I'm here to tell y'all Mama squelched my personality all over the house") and performing gentle parodies of Christian pop. Lowry turns Amy Grant's "Every Heartbeat" into "Every Teacher." ("I brought prayer back to the class/ 'Cause all my teachers prayed I would pass.")

Prayer has always been important to the Houston-born Lowry, the son of an attorney and his homemaker wife. Raised in the "Bible-bangin', foot-stompin', soul-winnin'...Baptist church," Lowry first sang in church at age 4 and later envisioned a career in music. But he began telling stories to congregations in 1980 when "I had to do something while the man in the back of the church changed the soundtracks. The more I talked, the more the audience listened."

Some gospel-music fans think Lowry takes his faith too lightly. But the comic says he has no plans to change. His philosophy of life—and religion—is, "Lighten up," he says. "If it drives a point home, make a face."