Don Miller was speechless.
Just before Blue Like Jazz opened, I interviewed Don. I knew he and director Steve Taylor wanted to make people laugh. I’d seen the film, and I thought they did a pretty good job.
“So Don, why aren’t Christians funny? Why isn’t the church known for being a place of laughter?” I asked.
“That is a great question…I don’t know,” Don said slowly. And so my quest began…
The Dark Side of Laughter
Mike Sacks has found a striking pattern in is 2009 book And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft. He interviewed comedy writers from just after World War II through SNL and The Onion to Arrested Development and David Sedaris.
These funny people confessed consistent struggle and dysfunction.
Paul Feig, creator of Freaks and Geeks, told Sacks, “(The reason) why a lot of these people go into humor in the first place (is) the only thing you have to hide behind is comedy. I did stand-up for a few years, and a good number of comics I met were extremely angry people. They were not pleasant…And I noticed one thing: comics love to be laughed with, but if people laugh at them, they fucking lose their shit…there’s a real insecurity that comes with being funny. You’re on a razor’s edge. Comedy is an attempt to control things, and it just so happens that you’re trying to control people through laughter. But laughter can go off the rails at any given point.”
So maybe Christians have moved beyond hiding behind their jokes. Perhaps Christians find a solace and security that draws them off that razor’s edge. Or maybe Christians aren’t that funny because we’re learning to let go of control in another way. It could be that we’re dealing just a smidge better with our own issues—we know we’re broken, and we know cracking jokes won’t protect or fix us.
Sacks quotes humor columnist Dave Barry who once wrote, “Humor is really closely related to fear and despair…We live in an extremely dangerous, scary world, run by all kinds of forces over which we have not control. And we’re all gonna get sick and die.”
Christians have some antidote to fear and despair. We deal with theology, thoughts of eternity, of heaven and hell. At our best we don’t need to escape this “extremely dangerous, scary world,” but face it with some answers. But maybe the weight of all this crushes our jokes, breaks our funny bones. We have important work to do with tremendous implications—there’s temporal and eternal suffering on our minds every day. That makes it hard to goof off.
The Lighter Side
When Marshall Brickman, the Oscar-winning writer of Annie Hall with Woody Allen, talked with Sacks, he said, “Tom Stoppard has said that laughter is the sound of comprehension. So when an audience laughs, it means they really understand, and, by implication, identify with the material…Woody used to say that comedy sits at the children’s table. But I don’t agree, and I don’t think Woody really believes that, either. I think humor is a way to an essential truth. If you get an audience to laugh together, it does a whole lot of great things. It solidifies them; it gives them a mystical experience of being in a crowd. It socializes people.
Here we start to see some of the upside of humor. And at least some preachers have taken this to heart and have reaped the advantages of humor bringing their congregations together. But let’s get real—a lot of the sermon jokes are lame. I wonder if that’s because Christians have found something that “solidifies” and “socializes people” and “offers a mystical experience” better (and even more truthfully) than comedy.
The Hard Questions
Here I have to pause. If Wilmore and Rosenthal have it right, humor arises from our real, lived-out lives. If Christians are not funny, I think it’s appropriate for Christians to ask ourselves a hard question.
Are we living enough?
Maybe Christians aren’t funny because we’re too wrapped up in eternity, potlucks, outreaches, liturgy, debates about spiritual gifts, and the crisis du jour.
And to return to Dave Barry, he told Sacks, “A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge…I don’t know that you can explain why we, as a species, laugh. Maybe it’s just that there’s a disconnect in our brains when we realize that obviously we’re going to die but we can laugh anyway. There has to be a release. For me, it’s either you laugh or you become religious.”
Why can’t we do both?
Four of my friends need my help. Two just became dads. One will become a dad in a couple months. And I think one is becoming a dad right now. (Go Matt…actually, go Sarah!)
Becoming a dad is no small thing. Just before Phoebe was born, I asked a friend if he was ready before his son was born. “No one is ever ready,” he said. In this picture of Phoebe and me, you can see I was trying to be like, “I’ve got this,” but I was actually like, “This is terrifying.”
But you can at least prepare. And it’s a lot easier to prepare before you’re running on four hours of fitful sleep and all kinds of anxiety about screwing up this brand new person.
I am an authority on becoming a dad. I’ve done it twice. But only the first one counts. Any subsequent births are kind of like sequels—never quite as noteworthy as the original. (And don’t get me started about prequels.) (I love you, Zeke.)
Seriously, people comment all the time, “You kids are so quiet/cute/obedient/smart/fun/well-behaved/polite/kind/awesome!” Rarely do people add, “just like you.” But I know that’s what they’re thinking.
Obviously, I didn’t screw up my kids too bad to have strangers in libraries need to be hushed as they raved about their excellent character and perfect posture. My friends should heed this advice, or their children will likely grow up to be Lindsey Lohan or telemarketers (Lord, have mercy). And you must share this with your friends, or you will be held responsible for how many terrible tabloids and inconvenient no-call lists we have in 2040.
Here’s what my friends, your friends, and new dads everywhere need to hear:
- Marry an amazing woman. This makes being a great dad much easier.
- Sleep with your running shoes on. I did this for the first few weeks of Zeke’s life. He would start to wake up, and at the first precious little, “Oink,” I’d spring up, grab him, re-swaddle him, and head outside. We would walk for an hour in the 2am quiet, with him staring at the streetlights in wonder, and me staring at him in wonder. (And trying not to trip.)
- Use cloth diapers. This will enable you to endure long stretches of caring for your child, cleaning the house, and giving your wife back massages, as you won’t have to leave to use the bathroom.
- Put cloth diapers on your kid, too. Feel free to use disposables at first, as newborns poop an average of 75 times/day. But once that’s down to under 30 times/day, you should use cloth, because over the next three years, you’ll save a few thousand dollars. If you invest in that immediately, by the time you retire, it’ll be worth a few thousand and fifteen dollars. (The economy isn’t what it used to be.) Alternatively, if your kid ends up needing diapers for more than three years (let’s say…30), you could come out way ahead. So buy them big.
- Get used to crying. The first year of parenting is full of tears. You just have to figure out what’s needed. Food? Sleep? A little snuggling with Mama? Find those needs and meet them. And you’re not the only one who will be crying—your kid will want some of the same things. But at the end of the day, if the your baby is clean, not too warm or cold, fed, and not dangling off of the balcony of a hotel in a large city, I’m sure they’re fine. For what it’s worth, we used a philosophy (a book?) called Baby-wise. Chrissy read it. You should get it for your wife. You teach your kid to sleep, and you don’t have to care if they’re crying. Win!
- Encourage breastfeeding. While it may seem a bit awkward, it’s apparently something that happens in nature all the time. All kinds of mammals breastfeed: cows, pigs, squirrels, iguanas, ducks, Subarus, rhinos (wait, are rhinos mammals?). Check out the new BBC documentary, Breasts and Udders of the World if you don’t believe me. It’s good for your kid, and your wife needs encouragement to try but grace if it just doesn’t work.
- Take as much time off as you can. Talk to your boss about how much you admire Europeans. Get her to agree that she loves Europeans, too. Then explain that you’ll be taking six-months paid leave after your kid arrives.
- Learn to do new stuff like cook. Garlic scapes sautéed with almond butter you milled yourself? Grape leaves around lamb bruschetta? Ladyfingers soaked in scotch, lit on fire, and drizzled with organic wasp honey? Your wife will love you. It might also be appropriate to clean, shop, and change diapers.
- Cut out as many activities as you can. You have one activity now: surviving. That’s why you need all this time off of work. You can get out of anything when you have a newborn. “I’d love to come over and re-caulk your deck, Brian, but you know, with the baby and all…”
- Choose one thing for each of you that will keep you sane. It could be paintball, cross-stitch, a daily coffee, or huffing glue. Just pick one and help each other stick to it.
- FREE BONUS TIP! AVAILABLE ONLY TO PEOPLE WHO MADE IT ALL THE WAY TO THE END OF THE POST! Don’t ever give your child a pacifier. The last thing we need in this country is more passive kids. Last week, we celebrated our nation’s independence. But we are falling behind. We need to do something. Give your baby an “aggravator” or something. Maybe set them up in front of World of Warcraft. We need our babies to rise up together!
What advice would you give to new dads?
(And that’s saying a lot.) Free Krispy Kreme donuts in exchange for an ugly tie!