By Tracy Riggs
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
When the COVID-19 crisis struck, comedian and motivational speaker Dennis Swanberg faced several challenges.
In the past when he was home three days straight, his wife of almost 41 years, Lauree, would often ask, “Don’t you need to speak somewhere?” to which he would reply, “I sure hope so.”
‘What really counts’
Like other entertainers, Swanberg, aka “The Swan,” is not only adjusting to being home but also to the cancellation of more than 20 shows. The crisis could have caused major anxiety.
However, Swanberg, basing his life on Psalm 37:4 and Proverbs 3:6, declared to his family, “I don’t know what’s going on or what’s about to happen … [but] I’m good. I’m good if we all have to live in the same house together. I’m good if I have to get me a little rental house. … As long as I have my family, my relationships that are so important … that’s what really counts.”
Through the years, the popular speaker has touched thousands of lives, mixing “wisdom with wit and humor to get [his] foot in the door to share the message of Christ.”
Twenty-five years ago, Swanberg left the pastorate to speak full-time and received varied support.
Swanberg asked his wife if she thought he could do it. A simple, “I think you can do it,” sealed his decision.
But others, including his mother, had different ideas.
“You stay right there,” Swanberg recalled her saying. “You’re a preacher, and you know it.”
His father was more supportive — to a point. He said, “Well, I think you’re funny,” paused, and then said, “[But] I wouldn’t buy a ticket to hear you.”
After a commissioning service held by his church, First Baptist Church, West Monroe, Louisiana, Swanberg was ready to begin his journey. He had only one event booked at that point but knew God would provide.
And God did.
Calls never stopped
Without knowing Swanberg had resigned his pastorate the day before, James Dobson played a recording of Swanberg on his radio show. The calls started coming in and have never stopped.
The list of dignitaries who have hosted Swanberg is long.
He once ate dinner with Billy Graham and imitated the evangelist in front of those gathered. Swanberg said Graham said, “You could take over!”
Another time Swanberg shared the stage with President George Bush. Ahead of the event, Secret Service agents emphasized that Swanberg should not touch or approach the president.
“I was nervous because I’m a touchy, feely person,” Swanberg said.
The president came on stage, hugged Swanberg and said, “Man, Swan, I need some new jokes; give me some new material.” Swanberg said he looked at the nearby agent and said, “Buddy, I’m not touching him; he’s touching me!”
And the guy who makes others laugh gets plenty of material from his own experiences.
Once while in Atlanta, Swanberg had a cheeseburger delivered to his room. After watching the evening news, he put the tray in the hall for pickup. Suddenly the door closed behind him.
“I was locked outside my room … in my little skivvies,” he said. “I’m going, No, NO, NO!”
He waited in vain for someone to show up and no phone was available, so Swanberg was forced to take the elevator “in front of God and everybody, like Johnny Bench in a Sears catalog” to the lobby and ask for help.
“I boldly said to the lady behind the counter, ‘Ma’am, I locked myself out of my room.’”
Swanberg said he was both surprised and relieved when it didn’t faze her.
And when she asked for ID, in typical Swanberg style, he quipped, “Have you not seen enough?”
Cheer people up
Though engagements have paused for this season, Swanberg has plenty of light-hearted media options — books, DVDs and CDs — to cheer people up in difficult times.
His most popular video, “Bengy and the Zipper,” is available on YouTube and has almost a million views.
To find out more about Swanberg, book him or browse his online store, visit dennisswanberg.com.