A couple weeks ago, Relevant Magazine (the most relevant of all magazines) published an essay on Christianity’s tenuous relationship with humor titled Why Christians Aren’t Funny. Christian and Jordan consider themselves moderately funny and definitely students of comedy, so they invited the article’s author, Larry Shallenberger, on to discuss the topic of Christians and their weak-ass senses of humor. Larry is a pastor and writer from Eerie, Pennsylvania, and long-time member Burnside Writers Collective. They discuss the cultural implications of not being funny, why Christians aren’t historically linked with comedy (it’s probably because of Northern European roots), and the value of humor in spirituality. Later, Christian and Jordan discuss the Oscar nominations and make a few picks. Then they discuss a local news story in which someone covered up the “ST” on a stop sign with “PO”, and talk to an artist in Boulder who sells poop signs online. Unfortunately, that interview wasn’t entirely recorded. Follow Christian and Jordan on Twitter *** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***
Thank you for this very good topic, I am really having fun reading your essay. This is one of the best I've read so far.
Your podcast got me thinking and prompted this response on my blog (www.tamedcynic.org):
Woody Allen has a famous joke from Annie Hall about how he'd 'never want to belong to any organization that would have him as a member.' I think it's originally a Groucho joke (wag of the cigar, wag of the eyebrows). A variant on that line of reasoning is my own struggles with being a pastor; namely, I don’t want to belong to any guild that would YOU as a member. Sounds harsh, I know, but what it comes down to in reality is just how incredibly, to-the-bone unfunny are most pastors.
I remember my first area clergy meeting when I pastored my first church part-time. All the pastors were making obvious churchy jokes, most of which had to do with church potlucks (do churches still do those?) and were no more sophisticated than knock-knock jokes. I mean, what I wouldn’t have done for just one fart joke.
I remember making a sarcastic remark about how the hell it took the Israelites so long to get to Canaan from Egypt and having everyone stare at me like I was an ape in the zoo.
And then I remember thinking to myself: ‘What am I doing here? I don’t belong here.’
By and large, pastors are hysterically unfunny. Genuine humor requires openness, surprise, authenticity and a lack of fear over your listener’s reaction- none of which are qualities encouraged by ministry. Instead pastors tend to gravitate toward the telegraphed, not-going-to-upset-anyone variety. In addition, most pastors are sinfully over-serious, advocating for social justice or eternal salvation.
Sadly, pastors are just extreme versions of most Christians. We’re NOT funny. Not funny as Christians (and you’re tempted now to cite Jeff Foxworthy or some lame ‘Christian comedian you should just stop reading). I know plenty of church people who are piss-your-pants funny outside of church but inside church they’re completely different people; or rather, they somehow believe we expect them to be different people.
I don’t say this just to be cheeky. It’s a profound theological problem. We’re in the midst of a sermon series this month called Razing Hell. We’re thinking through what the Church believes about Heaven and Hell and all the other Last Things.
Here’s the thing about those topics: We know the end of the Story, of history. No matter how things look now in the world or in our lives, God wins in the End. Things work out. There’s another version of reality other than the one given to us by the world.
If these facts of faith don’t lend themselves to irony, sarcasm, ridicule, satire and plain old joy I don’t know what does. Maybe our lack of funny corresponds to having lost sight of our core story. Maybe we’ve substituted good news for legalism- which, by definition, can never be funny. Maybe this is why Jews and gay people are almost always funnier- they know there’s more going on in the world than meets the eye.