Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Christian and the Comedian

As always, there is usually an eclipse of things that get me thinking about certain topics.  In this case, a week ago I was at the Bumpershoot art/music festival in Seattle. I went with one sole purpose and that was to see the band FUN. (sic) live.  So, I decided to get in line early, almost four hours before their performance and two hours before Tegan and Sarah (sort of their warm-up band) played.  To our mistake, because it was confusing, we got into the Comedy venue line.

Now, this doesn't have an happy ending.  I mean I wish I could say we had a wonderful time in the comedy club prior to the concert, but that didn't happen. The guy behind us threw us out of the comedy line because we had unintentionally cut in.  It is a long story but apparently they had numbed the line and cut it off at the point the seating capacity had been met.  Then we walked up and join the line in the middle.

But that's not the point.  I honestly didn't even know they had a comedy venue.  But I got a program for the "Comedy Pass" and read through it as we were sitting in the arena for four hours waiting on FUN..

I've been thinking about comedy since then.  The first thought that got me thinking was the fact that the comedy venue had warnings with about every performance that it was "adult in nature and not appropriate for those under 18."  I think that might be in accordance to the law that they have to give that disclaimer.

But the other thing I was thinking about was that the first part of my life was lived in comedy.  I was voted "The Wittiest" as a senior in my high school because I was the school clown.  In my college days and during grad school, I continued doing comedy with skits I created for our Christian organization and performed in them on a local and regional (conference for the entire Southeast) level.  I think I was pretty good at it.

But two things happened over time.  Like the picture depicts, I became sad.  Now, sad people can do great comedy.  Actually I've heard several great comedians self-report about their suffering intensely with depression. But the next thing that happened was that I was in constant conflict with Christian sub-culture over "inappropriate material."

I will give a simplistic examples.  Take the classic joke set up, "Two men walked into a bar . . . "  Immediately you see the disappointed faces of your Christian audience. "A bar?" they ask.  Is it appropriated to be talking of bars, when it has been the ruin of so many people?"  So that is the kind of straight jacket I see on real comedy by someone who is also a Christian.

I can remember these conflicts starting even in my under-graduate years.  In one skit, which I had written, I was playing a Wayne's World-type kid who was into reefers and rock (and to make the skit palatable, was going to be converted at the end by a somber, sharp Christian student). But when I appeared before the production and I was dressed in sloppy clothes and a "roach clip" on my pocket (for those who are too young for this concept, it was usually a hemostat stolen from a hospital that people used to hold their marijuana by the very tip so they could get each draw down to the end) the leaders of the Christian organization scolded me and told me that it would not be "edifying" and would be "promoting sin" if I appeared before the 200 students like that.  So I had to quickly change to give the appearances of a clean cut, nice, wacked-out on weed-student, which was not a believable character.

About 15 years ago I put together a men's retreat. The first night, Friday night, was a Monty Python marathon.  We laughed our heads off and all woke up singing the "Every Sperm is Sacred" song. I thought it was going great and was a blast. But then things got bizarre. None of the men came to my planned (Francis Schaeffer Video) lecture series but all skipped out.  So the rest of the retreat was a bust.  At the end of the day, and when the guys came back together (ignoring the schedule) they blamed me for "quenching the spirit" by showing degrading movies the night before.

Years later I attempted to do a couple of comedy routines at churches and each time had offended someone so I gave up on comedy at that level.

On a personal level, my wife has never found me funny . . .  crude, childish, but not funny.  I watched Airplanes, Trains and Automobiles and laughed until I peed in my pants (not literally) and she thought it was stupid. We simply have a very different taste when it comes to comedy. She laughs at a scene in a Hallmark movie where a beautiful (adjective intended) man and women,who you already know will get married at the end, are washing a car and he sprays her and they have a brief water fight. I think that is scripted and stupid. But my saving grace was that my four sons did . . . at least to some degree share my sense of humor, and my daughter her's.

About four years ago I was sitting in the most the most surreal of places. It was a 900 year old tea shop clinging to the side of a huge, misty mountain in remote Nepal. At my table were four other medical providers, none of them Christian. Two were a lesbian pair.  I like gay people, especially when it comes to letting your hair down and laughing.  We each at a quart of "Everest Beer."  We began to tell stories, one after the other after the other after the other.  I laughed harder than I had in 20 years.  I not only laughed until I cried, I laughed until I (literally) vomited out the open second story window beside my chair. . . which caused a roar of more laughter in the group.  But no one was drunk.  It reminded me of how we use to have laugh orgies when I was a Freshman in college, until our campus ministry leader scrolled me quoted the follow verses from Ephesians, in his King James Bible:

3But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; 4Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. 5For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

The next day, after the laughing session in Nepal, my throat hurt so bad and my neck hurt so bad that I could barely move.  Now can you imagine laughing until you vomited within a Christian setting?  People would immediately say something like "Gross" and be repulsed.

The next thing in the eclipse that got me thinking about comedy was Facebook. I need to get off. I only joined to see my out of town kids and my grand sons.  But, because I don't know how to navigate FB, I have friends from my old college Christian organization (many are still at the same place in their thinking as I was then), my old evangelical friends from my old church, my siblings (some a little rough around the edges), professional acquaintances and others.  So it is a strange mixture of people. I just can't help myself but to make a joke about some of the things my friends post.  We have all seen the Walmart people with poopy spandex pants on.  I find that funny.  I usually make a witty remark about many things people say.

So, my old college friends and my old evangelical friends don't find this funny at all.  It has to be turned into something serious. You know the 400 LB man in spandex and poop stains in his pants is one of God's creatures and isn't funny that he goes shopping at Walmart wearing his wife's bra . . . there is nothing funny about that.  Really, are you kidding me?  So, now most of the evangelicals are blocking me of FB.

I think I sense the seriousness of life as much as anyone and probably more . . . even to a fault. I do see all people created in His image. But I see a world filled with absurdity and that absurdity is hilarious.  What about the Dante?  He was graphic, gross, not gentle at all, and was FUNNY -  divinely funny.

I do think that secular comedians cheapen comedy when it is purely sexual.  It is so easy to make people laugh (for some strange reason) when it is sex.  I could walk out onto a stage and say, "I saw a huge man . . . with a tiny penis . . . the other day" and then stare and they would laugh every time. But if I said, "I saw a huge man . . . with a tiny foot . . . the other day" and no one would laugh and think I was bizarre.

However, sexual things are funny at times because they are such a part of this life.  Men are paranoid about having small penises and that can be funny.  But good comedian can make you laugh without sexual comedy, but I don't think they should avoid it either because it is part of real life on this planet.

No one knows what eternity will be like, but we each have our own projections based on our wishes and longings.  For some Christian people, they imagine spending eternity in a Heaven were we all live in hideous mansions with plastic chandeliers, marble walls, huge polyethylene plants, streets of gold and where all your neighbors have big hair, constant smiles and all wear pure white polyester leisure suites and live forever where they pretend that everything is, and always has been, swell.  To me that sounds more like hell.

In my sense of eternity, we are living high in the new Himalayans, on the new earth, sipping beer in 900 year old tea shops, with carefully carved wooden panels, that cling to cliffs in a precarious fashion, and laughing with lesbians until I vomit.


Anonymous said...

I can SO relate to this. I have always enjoyed comedians, and I'm not highly offended by the occasional "swear word". On the other hand, I don't enjoy comedians whose every other word is the f-word -- to me, that's just lazy comedy. But I know many in the evangelical community would be scandalized by some of the comics I listen to. I think this is another manifestation of the phariseeism within the evangelical community -- let's make sure our outward behavior is "clean" but not address the fact that we are all deeply sinful and have thoughts that are much worse than what most comedians would ever say.

With regard to your wife, I think some of that is a male-female thing. I think Brian Regan is hilarious, but my wife just thinks he's silly and not that funny. Also I've always been a huge Dave Barry fan (I think Dave Barry's Guide to Guys is probably the funniest book I've ever read), but my wife usually doesn't even crack a smile reading him.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

So, my old college friends and my old evangelical friends don't find this funny at all. It has to be turned into something serious. You know the 400 LB man in spandex and poop stains in his pants is one of God's creatures and isn't funny that he goes shopping at Walmart wearing his wife's bra . . .

JMJ, you have just been Jesus Juked:

Anonymous said...

So why don't you just become an atheist? Christianity has obviously been a poison and a cancer on your life. I understand--I've had similarly nightmarish experiences with jesus types. You can be strong and build an honest life. What's keeping you?

Radiodad said...

If I can, I want to hang out in your concept of heaven.

j. Michael Jones said...

Why don't I become an atheist? I seriously considered it at one time. I eventually found that the philosophical spectrum was actually in a circle. Go on direction to the radical evangelical extreme . . . and the other direction to the hard-core atheist extreme and you will find both sitting on the exact same spot . . . the denial of reality for the sake of dogma.