On the Importance of Laughing at Yourself

From http://littleblogofjewishhumor.com/, filled with humor by Jews laughing at themselves

When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him. ~ Thomas Szasz

The following is an absolutely true story. One of my sons was in a high school class with friends male and female. Most of the girls were feminists of one stripe or another. He told this joke in a mixed group:

Questioner: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Feminist: That’s not funny!

The girls listening immediately said (wait for it): “THAT’S NOT FUNNY!”

They wondered why the boys nearly hurt themselves laughing so hard.

Now, I count myself a feminist in the 1960’s sense of the term. And yet I can laugh at the joke (and the joke within the joke). You see, I think Szasz is exactly right: if you can’t laugh at yourself, I shouldn’t take you seriously. After all, you already take yourself seriously enough for both of us.

A refusal to laugh at oneself — whether it’s about religion, politics, or how short and fat you are — is a sign of insecurity. Think about it. The jokes at your expense you don’t find funny are the ones about the things you are uncomfortable with.

Of course, there are jokes that truly are cruel and mean, and we shouldn’t participate in or condone them. But there’s also a healthy kind of joke — especially those where we laugh at our own foibles.

And, speaking as a long-time Sunday school teacher, there’s no better way to make a point than through humor — and people love teachers who can do it. I know a man who is kindly and wise — and just incredibly funny. He has a remarkable wit that people just adore. And we get constant requests to have him teach. But whenever he teaches the Bible, he’s deadly serious — and boring. Really, really boring. You see, he considers the Bible too serious for humor, and this destroys his effectiveness as a teacher.

My own view is that the Bible is best taught through humor. Jesus is the perfect example. He was fond of hyperbole —

(Mat 7:3)  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

This passage —

(Mat 6:34)  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

— reads more truly if you imagine Jesus’ saying it with a twinkle in his eye — and maybe a wink. He’s not saying every day is filled with trouble. He’s making a joke! And if we fail ot see the humor in the message, we get a depressing, irresponsible message. Not every day is filled with trouble. And tomorrow won’t really worry about itself. Even Jesus made plans. But those are great lines that make very serious points through sardonic humor. (Additional examples may be found here.)

Here’s one from the Old Testament —

(2 Ki 9:17-20)  When the lookout standing on the tower in Jezreel saw Jehu’s troops approaching, he called out, “I see some troops coming.”

“Get a horseman,” Joram ordered. “Send him to meet them and ask, ‘Do you come in peace?'”

18 The horseman rode off to meet Jehu and said, “This is what the king says: ‘Do you come in peace?'”

“What do you have to do with peace?” Jehu replied. “Fall in behind me.”

The lookout reported, “The messenger has reached them, but he isn’t coming back.”

19 So the king sent out a second horseman. When he came to them he said, “This is what the king says: ‘Do you come in peace?'”

Jehu replied, “What do you have to do with peace? Fall in behind me.”

20 The lookout reported, “He has reached them, but he isn’t coming back either. The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi–he drives like a madman.”

It’s great story telling — and hilarious.

Finally, the best humor is found in truth. That’s why when someone tells a really funny joke, the listeners will often look at each other and nod. They’ll say, “It’s so true!” because the truth is what makes it funny.

And this makes humor done right a powerful form of argument. Many feminists really do lack the ability to laugh at themselves. Many who judge really do have a 2″ x 4″ in their eye (metaphorically speaking). Some days do indeed have more than enough trouble for one day. Some guys do drive like madmen.

Humor can be abused, and humor can be cruel and hateful, and we should neither participate in that. But I hope people laugh at my funeral, because I hope I’m remembered in that way. And I sure hope people laugh during my classes — because that’s how I teach. Many a Sunday, if the jokes don’t work, I don’t have any other way to present the material.


4 Responses

  1. Jay, I’m sorry I missed the contest … I would have submitted the following:

    Why Churches Don’t Survey Their Members

    “Thanks for being willing to distribute this survey about our church and what’s happening in it. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve attached a sheet to answer the last question, because three blank lines on the bottom of the back page just weren’t enough to for me to answer ‘What changes would you want to see made?’

    “First of all, I really don’t like changes. When I’m in worship, it helps me concentrate if there aren’t a bunch of distracting new things. If I’m in worship, I want to worship. There’s time for fellowship out in the foyer later, if I really wanted that sort of thing or thought that’s why we’re commanded to gather on Sunday. It is called ‘worship,’ you know; not ‘fellowship hour.’

    “Secondly, I’m not alone in this. The church is people; that’s what it’s about. If you don’t want a whole bunch of unhappy people trying to worship and being distracted by everything from having to stand up and greet people to singing while we’re trying to chew communion bread to watching some sort of TV show, then don’t be making any changes we don’t need.

    “Thirdly, we don’t need to change the preaching. We just need to know that what we’re doing is right and why, and what others are doing is wrong and why that makes us different and saved and why we ought to stay away from them and not get contaminated by their kind of sin. That’s the gospel, you know, that we’re doing the right things in the right way and we’re the church that’s going to heaven. Why else would we go church? And we don’t need a wad of sermons on giving. We know what we’re supposed to do. Or about Jesus. I think we all know who he is by now.

    “Fourthly, we don’t need any new songs. They’re distracting. Who can worship while they’re trying to learn new words and music all at the same time? Especially those jingly-jangly new songs. Just stick to good old Stamps-Baxter and don’t put us to sleep with Beethoven and Bach and Martin Luther, because none of them were saved anyway.

    “Fifthly, we’re already doing everything we’re authorized to do in worship, so adding or changing anything would be just plain wrong, and sin, too. We need to repent of making changes, and just stay saved.

    “Sixthly, God doesn’t change, so why should we? Jesus doesn’t either. It says that in Hebrews, I think, someplace.

    “I know we don’t have to sign this, but I don’t mind. Your brother,

    “Tung N. Cheek.”

  2. Thanks, Keith. You made my Saturday.

    (I think I’ve met Mr. Cheek. Does he come to early service and sit on the third row?)

  3. The guy has kinfolk everywhere!

  4. Jay – I have for many years thought that the passage where Jesus and His mother are at the wedding contains a humorus element when one considers what is called the “typical Jewish Mother”. Mary tells Him that they have no wine, Jesus responds “What does that have to do with me?”. Mary apparently does not even respond to Jesus, rather she tells the servants “Do what He says”. Not only does she more or less force Jesus to start His public ministry but she is apparently giving orders to the King of the Universe. I just can’t think about it without smiling. (and she knew who He really was!)

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