Tom Leopold is a very funny guy. He's also a Catholic. He has been funny longer than he has been a Catholic. But his road to the Church was anything but funny, Leopold says in an interview from New York.
Leopold has spent the better part of his adult life writing sitcoms, including episodes of Cheers, Seinfeld and Will and Grace. He recently came back from England, where he did what he called some "punching up" of a batch of scripts for new episodes of The Muppet Show. He has written for such diverse comic talents as Bob Hope and Chevy Chase, and written with some of the most inventive minds in comedy, including Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer.
But Leopold joined the Catholic church only last year. It took a family crisis to set him on a path toward Catholicism. "My daughter had this very serious, life-threatening eating disorder," Leopold said. She was in treatment in Arizona, where the hospital would not release her until Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, he recalled that he and his wife went to bed.
"We're trying not to let the other one know how sad we were," he said. But for Leopold, "that's the first time I prayed." However, since he had, by his own count, "one day of religious training" in his life, he said he prayed "like they prayed on (the old TV western) 'Wagon Train': 'Lord, I'm not a prayin' man, but if you'll just see us through Comanche territory.' "
Early Christmas morning outside his hotel, Leopold said he encountered "this 75-year-old ex-Marine (who) pulls up on this homemade motorcycle with deer antlers for handlebars. He tells me his name is Shepherd. He introduces his wife to me and tells me that she brought him to Jesus at 33 -- and Jesus died at 33. And the sun's rising behind his head like a halo. And I haven't said a word.
"I thought it was the Ambien kicking in."