Pizza with the Dalai Lama

Every once in a while, we come across something that is just too funny to keep to ourselves. Today we are laughing about a TV news anchor’s joke with the Dalai Lama that just fell seriously flat.

Australian Today show host Karl Stefanovic tries the line “So the Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop…” but falling flat because of the culture barrier. After some blank stares, the Dalai Lama eventually laughed after Stefanovic said, “I knew that wouldn’t work.” You can just feel the awkwardness. Go ahead, watch the video. I’ll wait.

I admit, I LOLed, but then grumbled a bit. It’s a hilarious but horrifying example of how reporters don’t treat religion seriously. Perhaps the trend is even worse in broadcast media?

I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that a news anchor is trying to joke with the Dalai Lama. Sure, the Dalai Lama comes across as a warm and fuzzy guy, but boy, is that how you spend your time with him?

The story reminds me of the story from Bruce Nolan about how the New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson recently showed Pope Benedict XVI his Super Bowl ring.

A Vatican picture captures the moment, with the leader of 2 billion Catholics bending slightly to examine the proffered Super Bowl ring. A couple of cardinals are close by.

“I told him what it was, you know? It’s a Super Bowl ring. And he understood that, right, darling?” Benson said to Gayle in an interview at Saints training camp.

Meantime — and here Benson is chuckling at the memory — “There’s this cardinal laughing too. He couldn’t believe I would do that.

“So it was a nice conversation. And he was very sincere about this whole thing.”

Both instances generate feelings mommies must feel when little boys display their mud creations in the back yard. Help me out: Do I sound like a party pooper?

Instead of dwelling on this clip, let’s take a look at some new reporting from Jaweed Kaleem of the Huffington Post on the future of Buddhism in America. The piece hooks on a recent retreat that did attract some criticism.

Brad Warner, a Soto Zen priest and author who writes on Buddhism and punk rock, also blogged to criticize what he called was “an accepted group of tastemakers and trendsetters within American Buddhism” who he saw as wanting to “reify their positions and to expand their influence.”

Warner, who did not attend the conference, continued: “It’s not that these people can enact any sort of legislation that is in any way binding. But they do have the power of their magazines and their institutes to push their version of the American Buddhist status quo.”

Kornfield admitted disappointment that the gathering had no representatives of Asian Buddhist temples, which are some of the oldest and largest in the U.S. and largely serve immigrant communities.

“There is still a pretty big divide between temples and teachers whose communities are of immigrants and those who are called convert Buddhists. I don’t know how to address this,” he said.

Again, I don’t want to be a party pooper about the TV anchor clip and enjoy a good laugh as much as the next reporter, but it’s good to see someone taking religion seriously.

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  • Dan Crawford

    Has anyone in the media done a serious examination of the relationship between American-Asian Buddhists and Hollywood/media Buddhists? I once lived in a community which had a Japanese Buddhist temple whose members were somewhat less than impressed by celebrity Buddhists and less than eager to embrace them as co-religionists.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Religion-and-journalism issues aside — after all, this is broadcast media — the anchor’s attempted joke, which I’m sure his (now-fired?) writer gave him, reminded me of that Bud Light commercial that my college roommates and I used to always repeat. The one with the guy trying to tell a yer mama joke at a bar, and the friend looks at him and says, “YOU’RE NOT FUNNY.”

  • E

    Why is it so important to take religion seriously?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Two points–When did the Catholic world population almost double in size??? I thought the number was a little over a Billion. Oh well, a billion here a billion there.
    And E has a good point. St. Francis of Assisi was noted for his constant joyfulness. St. Teresa of Avila once said :”Deliver me from sour-faced saints!” And St. Philip Neri was famous for his pranks and jokes.

  • Julia

    I thought the joke was kind of funny and not offensive.

    “One with everything”: Being one with the universe and all that.

    If the Dalai Lama knew more about how to order a pizza, he probably would have enjoyed it as an attempt to connect. He’s not a dour type.

  • Julia

    Then there’s the famous photos of John Paul II with a hockey stick gift from some kids in St Louis and another of him wearing sunglasses from Bono.

    What the hey.

  • Dan

    1. Ignorant because he thinks Buddhists have some idea it would be good to become one with everything (they don’t).
    2. Ignorant because he thinks H.H. the Dalai Lama doesn’t know what pizza is (he does).
    Doubly ignorant. How do these guys get hired, anyway? By triply ignorant people?

  • carl

    E says:

    “Why is it so important to take religion seriously?”

    A professional journalist should already know the answer to that question. Even so, the answer is simple. There are millions of us out there who take religion seriously enough to order our lives according to it. And we are forward enough to bring that influence right into the public square. The answer to your question is that religion has enormous impact on the lives we all live. You may think this unfortunate and irrational. We don’t care. It’s not the business of a journalist to tell us what our worldview should be. Journalists aren’t supposed to be Secular Priests of the Order of the Naked Dead Universe.


  • Jerry

    I’m surprised no one else has said this yet but I’d love to have pizza with the Dalai Lama.

  • Matt

    Does the Dalai Lama speak English? My sense of the video is that the joke didn’t work because it hinges on an English-language pun that the DL did not understand.

    I really don’t see much that is objectionable. If this was the only thing the guy had to say to the DL, then yes, he’s not taking seriously a serious topic/person. But if it came at the end of a more substantial interview, then I see no problem with a small addition of levity.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    To be clear, I wasn’t offended by the joke itself or anything. I just wonder whether time with the Dalai Lama should be spent telling a “hilarious” joke. I did find this clip from CNN where the reporter emphasizes that he doesn’t want to be disrespectful:

    But yes, I’m curious about the full interview.

  • Chris

    If this shows anything, it illustrates that Australia has even less religious commentary in the public sphere than the US. (I’m guessing a little.) There is some, but not much with understanding.

    But this show is not meant to be too deep either. Levity is always on the cards. I don’t think it was disrespectful, but I’m not a Tibetan Buddhist!

  • Dan

    Dear Matt,

    H.H. knows and uses English quite a bit (like most people in India do), but he didn’t understand right away the idiomatic use of the word ‘shop.’ Mostly cooked food is served in restaurants, isn’t it? Anyway, he didn’t ask his translator to explain the word pizza, which he knows as much about as any of us, but rather the word shop.

    And yes, the Tibetan translation of “Make me one with everything” H.H.’s translator quickly supplied didn’t do anything to help understand the punning in the English. You can’t express this in a straight word-to-word translation in Tibetan, but they did their best. And a fine job, I’d say. If they had gone on to explain why the English is punning here, it still wouldn’t have seemed especially funny. I’ve heard the joke before and didn’t find it especially funny.

    I agree with Jerry!


  • E

    “You may think this unfortunate and irrational. We don’t care. It’s not the business of a journalist to tell us what our worldview should be. Journalists aren’t supposed to be Secular Priests of the Order of the Naked Dead Universe.”

    Sounds like you’re not taking atheists and secularists very “seriously.” Why then, do you expect different treatment for the religious ?

    As I said, mocking should be avoided, but just because somebody decides there’s an invisible man in the sky who dictates the universe, doesn’t mean everybody had to take them seriously. I am sure you do not take everybody’s myths seriously right? Respect and kindness for someone’s feelings is what we should all strive for…but no one has to take anyone’s beliefs “seriously.”

  • http://Faith&Reason Cathy Grossman

    Every religion journalist I know would kill puppies (metaphorically speaking) for a one-one-one interview with the DL. To spend that moment on a pathetic pun is horrifying to watch. The clip is bearable only for the Dalai Lama’s gracious laughter.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Thanks, Cathy. I hoped I wasn’t the only one to think it was precious time wasted.

  • carl

    E wrote:

    Sounds like you’re not taking atheists and secularists very “seriously.”

    Actually, I do take atheism seriously. I treat it seriously by understanding it, and giving the respect of a serious response. One doesn’t have to agree with ideas to take them seriously. I certainly am no socialist, but I have read a fair number of books on socialism in order to understand it. How many other people can you name who purchased a copy of Lenin’s “What is to be Done?” Serious treatment is not found in agreement but in response.

    To take religion seriously is to take the time to understand it properly, represent it fairly, and give it due credit (or blame) for its place in the world. I am not looking for journalists to evangelize for me. I simply don’t want them acting as surrogates for another world view by saying or implying “Oh, by the way, this is all nonsense and idiocy.” That last statement seems to me to be the very definition of how you want journalists to demonstrate that they are ‘not taking religion seriously.’

    Correct me if I am wrong, but you seem to be expressing the attitude that religion deserves to be dismissed out of hand. The attitude is “No serious rational person can believe this nonsense, and it is not even worthy of a response.” Except there are boatloads of sane, rational people who do believe it, and aren’t much impressed with the purported inevitability your materialist first principles.

    A journalist isn’t supposed to let his presuppositions dictate his coverage. He isn’t supposed to a culture warrior for his world view. Of course journalists typically do let their presuppositions dictate their coverage, and they typically are partisans in the culture war. Yet if journalists ever were to take seriously the idea of objective journalism, they would set their presuppositions aside for the sake of the story.


  • Heather

    Can I make a motion to nominate carl’s post @ #8 for comment of the year?
    Second, anyone?

  • E

    So by Carl’s silence and Heather’s response, I assume there’s no retort to my second comment?

  • carl


    So by Carl’s silence and Heather’s response, I assume there’s no retort to my second comment?

    I have had a response in moderation limbo since June 15th at 9:11 PM. I don’t have any idea why it was moderated, nor why it hasn’t been approved.