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Lange, 72, mixes comedy and music with reverence

March 11, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Preacher, comedian and musician Burt Lange has been making audiences laugh for half a century.

"My brand of comedy doesn't go out of style," said Lange, 72. "There's a market for clean, decent comedy. It's not necessary to do anything off-color."

Lange keeps it clean, and he gets lots of laughs.

At the recent Valentine's Day banquet of the Crossroads Singles Network, the audience laughed uproariously at Lange's music and jokes.

"Not everyone responds as well as that group did," he said.

Cindy Shoemaker, a licensed professional counselor who is part of the Crossroads leadership team, said she was pleased with "the unusually exuberant response to Lange's humor from a Christian perspective. He appealed to both genders, and all ages and denominations."

Shoemaker, herself a pianist, said she especially enjoyed "the way he took a simple thing like 'Doggie in the Window' and appealed to the intellect of those of us who like classical music."

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Lange played "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?" in the style of composers who "are no longer composing; they're decomposing." He then rendered the piece in the styles of Beethoven and Bach.

In his act, Lange also "plays" phone numbers on the piano. Someone in the audience calls out their phone number, Lange picks it out on the piano with each digit corresponding to a musical note, then adds harmony and embellishments so that it sounds like a classical composition.

While Lange calls himself "the poor man's Victor Borge," he said he "can't hold a candle to Victor Borge, (but) I was influenced by him." Lange had 14 years of piano instruction, the last three in college.

While some of his material is original to Lange, most, he cheerfully admits, "is stolen from different sources - Victor Borge, and remarks that I pick up in various places. They stick to me like moss sticks to a stone.

"Laughter is therapeutic for some people," he added, quoting the Old Testament book of Proverbs, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine."

Lange said he uses humor when preaching, because he has found, along with Mary Poppins, that "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

A United Brethren in Christ pastor on and off for years, Lange came out of retirement in 2002 to serve the Cold Spring United Brethren in Christ Church in Fayetteville, Pa. He preaches every Sunday, using "a lot of reruns."

Music and ministry have been inseparable in Lange's life. He traveled with singer Tony Fontane as his accompanist from 1970 to 1973. A nightclub and television singer, Fontane had a nearly fatal auto accident in 1957. "He came to the Lord then, and had a ministry," Lange said.

In the summer of 1952, a tent evangelist helped Lange to sense a call to the ministry. "There have been times since when I didn't feel cut out to be a pastor," Lange said. "But the Lord has an uncanny way of moving things around and I'd be right back in the ministry. I concluded that was where I was supposed to be."

While he has a deep faith, the tall, lanky Lange doesn't take himself too seriously, he said. "People tell me I have the face of a saint; a St. Bernard," he quipped.

Formerly a broadcaster and disc jockey at radio stations in Virginia and Pennsylvania, Lange recalls, "people always told me I had a good face for radio."

Esther Lange, Burt's wife of 50 years, still smiles at her husband's jokes.

An educator and singer, she said she enjoys hearing her husband play the piano and occasionally attends his programs. The Langes have lived in Chambersburg for 17 years.

The couple met while attending Huntington College in Indiana. Lange also attended seminary there, and started giving his humorous programs during that period. He dealt with his doubts early on.

"More than 40 years ago, I was serving three country churches in northern Indiana, and there was a district gathering of pastors and their wives. They wanted me to do the entertainment," Lange said. "I wondered if this was unnecessary frivolity, if I was wasting my time and squandering my talents, but I did the program. Afterwards, an elderly minister came up to me and said, 'When I came in, I was burdened down with cares and anxieties. (Your comedy) released me and helped me to feel better.' I realized there was a ministry even in comedy, and I have never hesitated since."

To book an appearance by Lange, contact him at 717-267-0081.

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