He Puts Bill Maher on TV, and Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy on Stage

Mr. Carter replied, “Aren’t we all.”

A polite, thoughtful, intense man, Mr. Carter does not necessarily possess the obvious résumé of a playwright who would produce a Sartre-style meditation on history and theology. He has made his living as a TV writer and producer of comedy and variety shows for more than 30 years, and is a longtime executive producer of “Real Time With Bill Maher,” the HBO late-night series.

But Mr. Carter has an omnivorous curiosity and he keeps an open mind as he pursues his own path to spiritual enlightenment.

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From left, Michael Laurence, Duane Boutté and Thom Sesma, rehearsing “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord,” with the playwright, Scott Carter, seated.

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Over a breakfast interview, he compared himself to “people who have moved from New York to L.A., and now they have to get a car, but they don’t know anything about cars.

“That was me,” he continued. “I had to get a car.”

Raised in a Protestant family, Mr. Carter said he had a life-changing, “Saul on the road to Damascus” epiphany in 1987. In New York, where he lived and worked as a stand-up comic, he had a near-fatal asthma attack and was treated for a week at Bellevue Hospital Center.

Walking home after his release, Mr. Carter said, he “went into this bliss state, like at the end of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ or Scrooge on Christmas morning.”

He explained, “I went from being either hostile or indifferent to anything having to do with religion, to having this overwhelming sensation that there’s got to be a God. And I saw everything in the world as beautiful.”

Those heightened feelings passed after a few days, but Mr. Carter said he maintained “an agreement with the universe” to be receptive to religious insight wherever it might come from, whether pamphleteers, Jehovah’s Witnesses or street-corner preachers.

In an earlier stage work, Mr. Carter created a one-man show for himself, “Heavy Breathing,” about his asthma attack and his time working as a copywriter for pornographic magazines.

When he found out that Jefferson had created his own bible by cutting and pasting parts of the Gospels into a single text, Mr. Carter began to imagine a stage production where it would be read by four actors,…

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