What Makes Stuff Funny?
Say, just what IS Funniness, anyway?
Everybody knows what Funniness is, but hardly anybody can define it. And even if you do, it's like dissecting a frog; it dies in the process. Believe me, being theoretical and analytical about comedy is a sure-fire not-funny endeavor. You risk losing laugh cells doing that. But I am willing to sacrifice some perfectly good laughs to analyze it for you. Why?&…;You really want to know?&…;Because I love you silly gooses, that's why, okay?
"Whadya think, life is a big joke?," some say.
"Uh...no," I respond, "but have you been watching your personal sit-com lately?"
"Look, we're not here for laughs. We're here for the serious things of Almighty God! Heaven or Hell is no laughing matter!," they counter.
"True, but don't forget: Joy is the serious business of heaven. C. S. Lewis said that. A big-shot smart guy, he was. Go argue with his memory."
As a traveling ministerial mirthmeister, I realize there are those good folks who consider the whole idea of Christian comedy to be a contradiction in terms. ("Is what you do Christian? Or is it comedy?" Sort of like, "Are you a Christian? Or are you Jewish?") It is a bit of a paradox. You see, as believers, we're to live sober lives with reverence for the sacred, with balance & moderation, right? But a comedian's job description is to show up and be irreverent. Like nothing is sacred. And risk going too far. As Christians, we have "the spirit of...love and a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7), but to a comedian, "This guy is nuts" is a compliment!
First of all, just what is this phenomenon we call "a laugh"? Well, it's this noisy spasm that people seem to like a whole lot. They'll actually pay somebody cash money to make them do it. But let's go deeper, want to? Okay, this may take some concentration:
Laughter is a noisy spasm, caused by an inner tension-&-release mechanism, created by a series of events, verbalizations or point of view, normally culminating in a sudden, rapid change of viewpoint at the end, causing a momentary transcendence from normal social roles, creating an (excuse the expression) intoxicating exhilaration, expressed by a noisy spasm.
I dunno, that's what I think it is. What do you think it is? -- Now, some of you English majors may be thinking, "Hey, he used the same term twice" ('a noisy spasm...expressed by a noisy spasm' ) That's a no-no in the definition business." Ah, but that helps make the very point: we have a basic precept of comedy: a sense of completion by setting up a rule, then breaking it. (For an alleged higher purpose, of course).
Comedy provides a higher, detached place from which to look at the bondage of circumstance. The cost of having this higher, detached place is to have no vested interest in the things below that are observed from there. Sort of "in it, but not of it." You see, to laugh deeply requires surrender. You have to let go, give up control, so that you can be transported from the limited common-denominator illusion of seeming reality.
And yet, paradoxically, laughter happens better in a group; it puts us in elevated fellowship together. Elevated fellowship? Sounds like we're talking heaven here, doesn't it? But see, God's strategy is that apart from Him, that "place" is, of itself, a circumstance -- bounded within time. That disqualifies it as heaven right there. It turns out to be just another 'experience' with a beginning, a middle, and an end. (As in "and it came to pass.") Just another promising spark followed by disappointment that we can't live there happily ever after. (Why, that rascal comedian's attitude downright assured us that we could! At least, he could. Couldn't he?")
What also dies right about then is the laughable, idolatrous notion that some laugh-generating special-case lower-case comedian character contains the keys to the kingdom above. Until that painful realization dawns, though, folks will pay almost any price to keep the special-case on life support, an hour at a time. So comedy, of itself, like all simulations of momentary salvation, is a seductive fraud. You surrender to be lifted up, then... boom!, sorry, show's over! What?! Now what?
Then you are sorely tempted to go back to the abandoned, collapsed mine shaft of a life below, to sort through the refuse for something, anything, to give you another exhilarating quick fix of assurance that there exists somewhere, after all, a person, place, or thing that is above circumstance, that won't let you down. But, no, there is none, except in the ultimate surrender to the One higher than any mere experience, to the One who said, " I go to prepare a place for you... that where I am, you may be also" (John 14:2-3).
Some of you reading this may already know that. What you may not know is that since "in Him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28), we may partake of, and express, the very laughter of God.
Ahhhhh . . .