You might be an evangelical …

In addition to our unexpected hospital adventure this week we’ve also been puppy-sitting for my brother-in-law’s 6-month-old poodle (energetic, mischievous, adorable). Whenever there’s a quiet moment around here it seems that means someone is probably eating something that isn’t food.

My brother-and-law and his family are on vacation in Costa Rica. I was initially confused when told where they were going because, as an evangelical, I instinctively got fixated on the idea that this must be a mission trip, leading me to ask some awkward questions about what they would be building down there.

So let’s add that to the list of evangelical Jeff Foxworthy jokes: If your idea of a trip to the Caribbean involves building new outhouses for a missionary school, then you might be an evangelical.

Say whatever else you will about Foxworthy, but the man deserves credit for introducing an elegant joke structure that offers almost limitless possibilities. The guy has since made a fortune and I say he deserves it. I only wish that the anonymous genius who first uttered the immortal phrase, “Your momma is so ugly …” had also been able to cash in on that ground-breaking comedic innovation for the wealth and fame he or she also deserves.

Foxworthy’s “you might be a …” joke structure works for any cultural or subcultural group. You might be a tech geek … You might be a Mormon … You might be a tea partier … You might be a progressive … You might be a hipster … (For that last one: If Jeff Foxworthy jokes make you roll your eyes in condescension, then you might be a hipster.)

The jokes practically write themselves. Just articulate some observation about the group in question and toss away the standard kicker at the end. Start listing a few and it becomes hard to stop:

If you feel guilty for not keeping up with your quiet time, then you might be an evangelical.

If you have strong opinions about when, precisely, Amy Grant “sold out,” then you might be an evangelical.

If the first time you saw your uncle’s shot-glass collection, you wondered where he got all those fancy communion cups, then …

If you’ve never been skiing without rededicating your life to Christ at a bonfire afterwards, then …

If you’ve lost track of the number of “re-s” you need to add before “re-re-rededicate your life to Christ,” then …

If your favorite painters are Thomas Kinkade and Warner Sallman, then …

If you’ve ever forgotten to set your clock back at the end of Daylight Savings Time and your first thought at seeing the empty church parking lot was, “Oh no, I’ve missed the Rapture,” then …

If you never watched “Highway to Heaven,” not because it was too preachy, but because it aired on Wednesday nights, then …

If you knew that “Wednesday nights” in the previous joke was a reference to prayer meeting, then …

If you’ve ever tried to calculate the size of a tip in a restaurant based on how it would influence the waitress’s receptivity to the gospel tract you left with it, then …

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” If you just shouted, “Where?” then …

If you’ve ever seriously discussed whether using tabs constitutes cheating at Sword Drills, then …

If your answer to the question “What Would Jesus Do?” is “He would wear a T-shirt that says, ‘WWJD?'” then …

If you’ve ever been to a pot-luck dinner featuring more than three varieties of Jell-o salad with shaved carrots and mini-marshmallows, then …

If you’ve ever played the tambourine while wearing a tie, then …

If your gaydar is so bad that you think your choir director just needs to meet the right godly woman, then …

If you can’t look at Kente cloth without thinking what those colors stand for in The Wordless Book, then …

If you’ve ever informed someone you’ve just met that they deserve to suffer in Hell for eternity, and you said this without a trace of anger, then …

If the last rock concert you went to included an altar call, then …

If you own any clothing or accessories that you regard as “a witnessing tool,” then …

If you think the phrase “a witnessing tool” refers to something that’s good to have rather than someone it’s bad to be, then …

If praying in public makes you talk like a 17th-century Quaker, then …

If two acoustic guitars and a Yamaha DX7 keyboard are your idea of a “rock band,” then …

If the only High Church figure you don’t regard with suspicion is Bishop Ussher, then …

If you think that there’s nothing supernatural about the bread and wine during communion, but that there is something supernatural about a Ouija board made by Parker Brothers, then …

If your idea of communion wine is made by Welch’s, then …

If you know what burning vinyl smells like, then …

If your boss tells you you’re going to have to go on furlough and your first thought is that you’ll need to prepare a slideshow for the Sunday evening service, then …

If a sentence beginning “Lord, we just, Lord, want to thank you Lord, for just, Lord, just …” doesn’t strike you as either atrocious grammar or a speech impediment, then …

If you’ve ever thought of TMZ as kind of like a prayer list for Hollywood starlets, then …

If the words “submissive” and “head” make you think of gender, but not of sex, then …

If you think saying grace loudly is a good way to witness at The Olive Garden, then …

If you’ve ever discussed whether The Flintstones was set before or after Noah’s flood, then …

If your fantasy football team was selected based on the personal testimony of the players, then …

OK, I’ll stop there.

Plenty more where those came from, but that’s all the royalties I can afford to pay Foxworthy, Inc.

I realize that despite his popular success — and partly because of it — Jeff Foxworthy has never been highly regarded by critics and he’s never spoken of as “a comic’s comic.” The knock is that he pulls his punches and sands down the rough edges. You could put a disclaimer at the end of his act that says, “No rednecks were offended in the telling of these redneck jokes.” He can be a bit soft and safe, nerfing his punchlines and avoiding controversy.

So for those of us who like our comedy a bit darker and more transgressive, Foxworthy seems kind of tame. He seems like he might be able to do a gig in Tehran without rankling the authorities. Or maybe even a White House Correspondents Dinner.

But I don’t want to be a comedy snob. There’s plenty of room for Foxworthy’s gentle, genial approach even if it’s not my favorite flavor. Just because I take my coffee black doesn’t mean I think Starbuck’s should ban sugar. (Although it would be nice if those of us who are just trying to get a lousy cup of coffee didn’t have to wait in line behind 30 people ordering elaborate, syrupy milkshakes that take 20 minutes to frappé.) And just because I think Bill Hicks was a genius doesn’t mean I can’t think that Bill Cosby is one too.

Still, though, I think Foxworthy’s ingenius “you might be …” structure also remains an untapped mother lode for those who like sharper-edged material. Those jokes practically write themselves, too.

“If you’re seething with barely suppressed rage over the economic exploitation you’ve suffered every day of your life, yet you’ve been duped into redirecting that rage toward black people and Mexicans, then you might be a redneck.”

That sort of thing.

Or take the gently Foxworthy-esque, all-in-good-fun tone of Jon Acuff’s very funny “Stuff Christians Like” blog and dial up the honesty while dialing down the cautious tactfulness.

Stuff Christians Like No. 1070: Slut-Shaming.

Stuff Christians Like No. 1071: Anti-Semitism.

Seems like those jokes are just sitting there waiting to be told.

But since telling most of them would likely require both trigger-warnings and the sorts of NSFW language I try to avoid here, we’ll let those pass. For now.

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