My oldest brother, Stephen, has written the post for this week. He’s an accountant if that tells you anything of what to expect. He shares some insightful and encouraging words regarding the Christian take on humor—I hope you enjoy it.
“The art of comedy lies within communicating the unexpected regardless of its relatability.” – Me
Sure, we find humor in misfortune because it is relatable. But we can also laugh ourselves to tears when we see an alien with a feminine lisp. The direction you take your imagination to create an unexpected scenario has no bounds. I, for whatever reason, cannot look at the GIF below without breaking a smirk. Why? Because people do not usually make that expression. Could you imagine going into a job interview and holding that expression the entire time? Boom. I just wrote a pilot for a sitcom.
Like any good discussion regarding the philosophy of comedy, I am going to give you the secret to all the different genres out there—the core to comedy. Long ago the Three Stooges were assembled to create a team of incapable individuals and were labeled “slapstick.” Then on the silver screen Seinfeld had audiences rolling as they were in disbelief of how witty people could really be so shallow in a situational comedy. But at each of their cores both of these comedic displays shows how audiences find humor in individuals acting in ways that are not normal. Even something as basic as an impression is unexpected as an impressionist mimics the unique voice of someone familiar to us.
Comedians such as Dane Cook, Patton Oswalt, and Jay Larson have mastered the art of storytelling with their unusual take on life and use their charisma to approach a situation with enthusiasm that the everyday guy wouldn’t have. Jimmy Carr has become the modern day king of puns, word play, and the double entendre. And you have your classical observational stand up from folks like the slothful Jim Gaffigan and the more edgy Daniel Tosh. All these styles incorporate methods like parody/satire, sarcasm, and exaggeration.
But gather around kids. I want to tell you about the cheapest type of comedy that gets laughs from the spiritually ill-equipped. It gains popularity at frat boy drinking parties and can be traced back to the first time someone replied “your mom (insert vulgar insult here)!” It has cross-bred to make other varieties such as “That’s what she said” and if you need a modern day personification, I direct you to Jason Mantzoukas’s character “Rafi” from FX’s The League.
It is called shock. You may also know it by other names, like potty-humor. This attempt at humor tickles our senses because it gives you a sense of entertainment by sampling what is labeled as forbidden. Just like other sin, it masks itself as something that is enjoyable. It still uses the same joke structure as any normal joke, but it goes further by referencing the indecent. It’s the sort of thing that is specifically cited as “coarse joking” in Ephesians 5:4.
“But Stephen, what about the time Elijah asked the prophets of Baal where their god was and then said, ‘Maybe he is relieving himself’?” – You
People relieve themselves—that is a way of life and it hardly qualifies as vulgar, you overly-finicky reader. Elijah was not having a meeting with his doctor discussing his bowel movements. So is the reference to relieve himself still inappropriate? The nature of Elijah’s joke is correcting what others had mistakenly declared sovereign. In no way does Elijah poke fun at God, holy living, or belittle the commands given to his people. So then, did Elijah essentially slander Baal? Sure, he definitely belittled the fictitious creation of the idol worshipers. We have Jesus doing similar things as he mocked the flawed logic of the hypocrite teachers of the law.
The bible is filled with comedy because of all its stories that are not normal. (At least they wouldn’t be if they were happening to us.) But the bible also garners humor from the universal truth that we are an imperfect people and that we are able to find humor in some of the misfortunes of others. Our salvation story lasts the test of time because we can relate to the problems that we see from God’s people who came before us. How easy is it to laugh at how the Israelites struggled with following the Sabbath. You literally have to do NOTHING! But our sin is on the same level. We often repeat the same sins over and over.
Paul tells the Corinthian church “I praise God for all the grace he has given you.” To me, that sort of backhanded compliment is hilarious. Grace is given to those that sin, so they must be sinning a lot. Or how about Samson and Delilah—how creative is Samson with those random ways he makes up to take away his strength? He probably could have strung Delilah on a lot longer if he had the will power. But Samson, as strong as he was, had no will power. And if the Israelites were fans of political satire and irony, a cartoon of Samson’s hair braided into a loom was sure to make the front page.
Humor is a crucial part of the biblical narrative and the life it describes. And though we know there are times to be serious, we can still see humor in the unfortunate circumstances that we all go through. And as Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us, there is “a time to laugh.”