Tom Shadyac loves to make people laugh—and even considers it a high calling.

Shadyac, director of such films as Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, was shorter than—and ignored by—many of his peers in elementary school, so he found another way to get their attention: Make 'em laugh.

The class clown grew up to be a joke writer for Bob Hope before moving into the world of making movies. And he hopes his latest, Evan Almighty, opening this Friday, brings a few more laughs to movie audiences as well.

But more than that, Shadyac, a Christian, also hopes that this sequel to 2003's Bruce Almighty delivers a message—that God not only loves us, but wants us to share that love with others and make a difference in the world.

That message comes across in Evan, in which Steve Carell plays a modern-day Noah—a U.S. Congressman who is asked by God (Morgan Freeman, reprising his role from Bruce) to build an ark. It is, like Bruce, both hilarious and thought provoking.

On a recent trip to LA, we sat down with Shadyac, 48, to talk about the new film, Hollywood's discovery of the "faith-based market," and the theology of laughter.

Why a sequel to Bruce Almighty?

Tom Shadyac: It's more like the next chapter in the God series than it is a sequel. We've thought about a trilogy for some time. We thought if Bruce worked out [it did, earning almost $500 million worldwide], that God could come and talk to someone else in other stories—just like he appears to Moses, to Abraham, to Paul. And to Noah.

Why not bring Jim Carrey back for this one? He was so good in Bruce.

Shadyac: Jim was hesitant because he felt he might be repeating himself playing the same character. And ultimately I think this was ...

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