Are you interested in the subject of Christianity and humor? Me, too! And that’s why at church last Sunday during the celebration of the Eucharist I busted out a can of Cheez Whiz.
Turns out people don’t think that’s as funny as you’d think they would. And I have the thurible-shaped bruise on the side of my head to prove it.
For four years now I’ve been blogging on the massive Christian website, Crosswalk.com. The other day, Crosswalk’s executive editor Steve McGarvey asked to do an e-interview with me for a magazine article he was writing on the relationship between Christianity and humor.
“You’re a funny guy,” said Steve. “And you’re a Christian, right?”
Oh, Steve thinks he is funny. (And, curse him, he really, really is.)
Anyway, here’s our interview went:
STEVE: How do you think the Christian worldview should inform the way we think about humor and comedy as they occur in popular culture?
ME: I’m afraid the sheer density of that question has crushed my brain — which has shrunken my bald spot. Cool! But lemme say this: If you insist on “informing” your response to comedy with your “Christian world view,” then it’s a pretty safe bet that nothing will ever seem funny to you. Constantly screening for religious acceptability goes together with funny like a needle goes together with a balloon. Nothing kills humor like the application to it of what amounts, in this context, to dogma. That’s why the Church Lady is so funny: she doesn’t think anything is funny. Which, in real life, isn’t a funny condition to have at all.
STEVE: It seems like humor is a difficult thing to define, especially for Christians. Is there any way we can cut through the subjectivity of what people find funny?
ME: The reason humor is difficult for Christians to define is because humor is virtually impossible for anyone to define. What happens with a person when they’re suddenly moved to genuine, loud laughter is as rich and magical a mystery as we have. It’s much easier to understand why we cry, even, than why we laugh. A true, spontaneous laugh is simply a freak occurrence that’s in no way subject to definition or understanding. As for “cutting through the subjectivity of what people find funny,” that, too, is impossible. Ultimately all humor must remain subjective. By definition, that means that the only real measure any of us have of what’s funny is whether or not we personally laugh at it. If we do, it’s funny! If we don’t, not so much with the yukkability. You can’t “cut through” that any more than you can chew through a car.
ME: Because most attempts by Christians to be professionally funny are usually so lame it’s like watching Dick Cheney try to break dance. It’s just painful. Humor has its own rules. You start trying to impose Religiously Inoffensive onto those rules, and you might as well start intoning from Leviticus.
STEVE: Most of the comedy that comes out of popular culture seems to Christians vulgar, mean-spirited, offensive, or in some way antithetical to the Christian worldview, be it, stand-up, sitcoms, movies, etc. What do you think our response to this should be from both our role as culture “consumers” and our role as culture “creators?”
ME: As cultural consumers, I think Christians should make a point of not laughing at any joke that begins with, “So Jesus walks into a bar.” We should also definitely not laugh at the Pope’s hat. And no producing a Krazy Straw when they start passing around the communion wine. Beyond that it’s an open call. Generally speaking, it’s my deep and personal conviction that under no circumstances should any Christian anywhere ever laugh at anything that actually and truly isn’t funny. And if something is funny, Christians should laugh—but modestly. If your body starts creating unexpected noises or excessive fluids of any sort, you’re laughing too hard. As for being culture “creators,” I think we Christians should leave the funny to comedians. And I think comedians, in turn, should leave the condemnation and frowning to us. That way everyone’s happy.
STEVE: As a whole Christians, at least evangelicals generally, seem to be a humorless lot. Would you agree? Why is that?
ME: I would guess that evangelicals, or Christians generally, are laughing and full of humor to the degree that they’re not thinking about untold millions of people roasting in hell. It’s hard to be really funny when you’re thinking about people screaming in mortal agony throughout all of eternity. Oh, sure, you can picture them simultaneously trying to roast marshmallows and/or complaining about the air conditioning, but how far down Chuckles Lane is that really going to take you? And when Christians think about why people don’t have to roast in hell, what’s the image that first pops into their head? Flayed Jesus dying on the cross. Again: way unfunny. And here I think we begin to appreciate why the founding fathers of the church determined that, in order to bestow upon the faithful at least a little comedy relief, they should design, in exactly the fashion they did, the Pope’s hat.
And … so on.