Comedian Stephen Colbert and New York’s Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan brought the house when they displayed the funny side of Catholicism at Fordham University.

The New York Times reports that the unlikely comedy duo wowed over 3,000 ‘cheering, stomping and chanting students’ on Friday night.

The paper branded their ‘gig’ as possibly ‘the most successful Roman Catholic youth evangelization event since Pope John Paul II last appeared at World Youth Day’.

Organizers had billed the show as ‘an opportunity to hear two Catholic celebrities discuss how joy and humor infuse their spiritual lives’.

The New York Times reports that both delivered with surprises and zingers that began the moment the two walked onstage when Colbert went to shake Cardinal Dolan’s hand but the cardinal took Mr. Colbert’s hand and kissed it in ‘a disarming role reversal for a big prelate with a big job and a big ring’.

Introduced as a potential future Pope, Cardinal Dolan remarked; “If I am elected Pope, which is probably the greatest gag all evening, I’ll be Stephen III.”

The report also says that Colbert shed his character for the evening and offered several sincere insights into how he manages to remain a faithful Catholic while making fun of his own religion and most others.

He asked: “Are there flaws in the church? Absolutely. But is there great beauty in the church? Absolutely.”

Colbert said he did not make jokes about the sacraments, or put a picture of the crucifixion on screen but he liked to poke fun at the use and misuse of religion, especially in politics.

The youngest of 11 children raised as Catholics, he added:  “Then I’m not talking about Christ. I’m talking about Christ as cudgel.”

Colbert spoke of his experiences as a 10-year-old when his father and two of his brothers died in a plane crash.

He told the students that after the funeral, in the limousine on the way home, one of his sisters made another sister laugh so hard that she fell on the floor.

He admitted: “At that moment, I resolved that I wanted to be able to make someone laugh that hard.”

A teacher at a Sunday school in New Jersey, Colbert is raising his own children at Catholics.

The comedian said: “The real reason I remain a Catholic is what the church gives me, which is love.”

When Cardinal Dolan introduced Colbert’s wife Evelyn and brought her up to the stage the cardinal put his arm around her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

The paper reports that when Colbert feigned offense, the cardinal brought down the house when he said: “I can kiss your wife. You can’t kiss mine.”

Stephen Colbert and Cardinal Timothy DolanWireImage/Getty Images