Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened …



 
 

Within 24 hours of the Pope announcing his resignation, people were joking that he would now be called Ex-Benedict!  Now that’s funny.  Well, I thought it was funny, but would some Catholics find it disrespectful?  I also smiled when reading Adrian Plass’s parody of the Toronto Blessing in which a congregation had to decide whether the Taiwanese Tickle was a move of God.  Hilarious!  Well, I thought it was, but would some Charismatics be insulted?  At least I’m being balanced by offending two religious groups at once!

Much of our Australian humour is based on sarcasm, satire, and poking fun at people, but what are the ground rules for the Christian humorist?  I’m assuming most Christians would not endorse humour that is vulgar, cruel, or steeped in Benny-Hill-style sexual innuendo.  But where is the line between harmlessly making fun of someone and hurting them?  When is satire a helpful way to confront people and when is it just plain mean?  By now you’ve probably realised that this post is going to ask more questions than it answers, but I have an ulterior motive.  I’m trying to work this out so that I do the right thing when I write humorous pieces.  So here is my initial attempt at some guidelines.

·         Avoid stereotyping groups of people (e.g., different ethnic or religious groups, mothers-in-law, blondes).  Though if Rebel Wilson tells you the blonde was staring at the orange juice because it said “concentrate”, that’s okay.
 
·         Use the “do unto others” test and ask yourself whether you would like it if someone told a similar joke about you or your loved ones.
 
·         Consider the purpose of your humour.  Is it purely to entertain and make people laugh?  Are you satirising something to confront people about an important issue?  Are you using humour to lighten a serious topic?  All are valid, but understanding your motives may help you to decide whether certain jokes or anecdotes are appropriate in a given situation.  Humour should never be used to “get back” at another person.  Some topics may also be off limits depending on the audience.  It was never going to be a good idea for The Chaser team to make fun of a charity that helps kids with cancer or for this year’s Academy Awards host to joke about dating violence. 
 
·         Be willing to make fun of your own foibles and struggles rather than just poking fun at others.  Christian writers like Barbara Johnson and Karen Scalf Linamen do that so well.  We identify with their quirks and problems and are more likely to listen to their underlying serious message.  Before passing away from cancer in 2007, Barbara Johnson was known for bringing humour into the darkest of places, including the deaths of two of her sons and her own battle with cancer.  Karen Scalf Linamen uses humour to teach valuable lessons for practical Christian living (most of which involve healthy doses of chocolate).
 
·         Don’t be too precious.  No matter how careful we are, there’ll always be someone who’s ready to take offense.  Adrian Plass would call them the “Spot it and stop it” people.  If we pander to them, we’ll be left with the bland “Christmas Cracker” type jokes that cause groans rather than smiles and I think God has a better sense of humour than that.

These thoughts are very much a work in progress.  Do you agree with these guidelines?  Would you add others?  Where is the line?  Meanwhile, back to my latest project.  A blonde, Irish nun walks into a bar …

 
Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 80 short pieces published in various magazines, journals, and anthologies (including true stories, devotions, poetry and short fiction). She has a passion for writing about what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same. (Some call it "nagging", but she calls it "encouragement").


22 comments:

  1. Hi Nola

    I enjoyed pondering the questions you posed. I think your guidelines make a lot of sense. Stereotyping and crudity at both cheap and lazy in my opinion. And I'm glad you stood up for blondes (even though I'm a natural brunette myself - with a few grey threads). Any humour that consistently demeans a group is in poor taste. And I agree that humour can sometimes be a mask for subtle revenge (not good). I think the aim should be to laugh at human foibles in ourselves and others without putting others down in a sarcastic, superior or snide way.

    Of course it did occur to me that in aiming for balance in your first paragraph you probably offended all the charismatic Catholics out there (just kidding) - true balance might have been achieved by targeting the Presbyterians (though maybe they were predestined to be spared?)(oops, just kidding). Let's be truly ecumenical in our humour.

    Thanks for the post.

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    1. Hi Jenny

      Thanks for that. I agree with your ponderings. It's hard to strike that balance sometimes, but I find it helps to at least be aware of some of the pitfalls. I know I get it wrong sometimes, so it's a learning curve. And I'm happy to take your advice. Next time I'll be sure to offend all religious groups equally ;)

      God Bless

      Nola

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  2. Hi Noela. Great post. Humour can be tricky sometimes when using people for fodder, but these days I only banter about with people I know can take it. If they can't, I keep it light. Definitely balance is important.

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    1. Thanks for that Amanda. That's a good point. Probably if we're not sure how someone will take a certain joke or ribbing, it's best to not go there. I find that I'm doing that more and more even on Facebook. There are some friends I stir all the time because I know them really well and I'm confident they will take it all in good fun - they do the same to me. But there have been other times when I've been about to make a funny comment on someone's post, and I stop myself because I don't know them all that well and I'm not sure how they'll take it. Good advice.

      God Bless

      Nola

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  3. Really enjoyed your post, Nola - AND the photo! I think what you wrote is very wise, sensitive and humorous all in one go, which is a pretty amazing feat!

    Not sure I can add any further to your guidelines, but I particularly endorse the 'do unto others' test you mentioned and also being prepared to laugh at yourself. Just last Sunday at our church, a video clip was used in the sermon that sent up the style of contemporary worship used in some churches, including ours at times. Our minister was using it to get us to think about some serious points, but somehow the clip made me feel very uncomfortable. I felt we were laughing at other parts of the Body of Christ more than at ourselves--and I think that is crossing the line. We mightn't agree with how things are done in other places but we still honour and respect these people. But maybe I'm being too 'precious'??!!

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    1. Thanks Jo. I'm thinking of making that photo my official portrait. What do you think?

      You've made a really good point about the church service and I don't think you're being "precious". If you were feeling uncomfortable, you were probably sensing a check in your Spirit. There have been times when I've written something that I thought was funny and I've shown it to a couple of others who've also thought it was funny. But then on reflection, there may have been a part of it that I felt uncomfortable about. Sometimes I don't even know why it's a problem, but if I have that check, I take out that passage or pray about how I can get across a similar point in a different way. Not always easy and I'm sure I still get it wrong sometimes, but it's good to be aware of that still small voice.

      God Bless

      Nola

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  4. Thanks for your thoughts Nola.

    One type of humour that always makes me feel uncomfortable is jokes based on going to heaven eg. St. Peter standing at the pearly gates etc. I think it is because I am concerned about making light of something so serious.

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  5. Hi Susan

    Thanks for your thoughts. I think humour can sometimes be used effectively to lighten a difficult topic so that people will then be more receptive to the serious message, but it's not always easy to get that balance. Depending on the context and the audience, it can be inappropriate to make light of a serious topic. You've given me food for thought. Thanks

    God Bless

    Nola

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  6. Hi Nola,
    These sound like very wise guidelines. I've unintentionally offended people through humour at times. Even when we try to be careful, I'm often surprised that people draw the line at different places. I guess when we want to be funny, causing some to be offended is a risk we have to take. And on the flip side, we may do well to treat those who have made a dodgy joke with a bit of grace too. I think we probably all know, deep down, when the line has been crossed. I have no time for the wit of comics who make crude fun of the Crucifixion, for example.

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    1. Thanks Paula. It certainly is interesting trying to work out where that line is. I'm not sure there's any totally failsafe way of being funny unless we go back to the "Why did the chicken cross the road" jokes. But then would animal rights activists be concerned about the chicken being on the road in the first place? I'm trying to develop the "When in doubt, leave it out" strategy, but it's still tricky sometimes. If only everyone had my sense of humour, there obviously wouldn't be a problem! So I guess sensitivity is a key. By the way Paula, I like your sense of humour. Always get a smile from your Facebook posts.

      God Bless

      Nola

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  7. An amazing piece of sanctifigumption writing, Nola.

    Humour in sermons can really help get a point across as long as it has a valid point in its application.

    I also agree with Amanda, I don't joke with people I really don't know. My own son has a weird sense of humour. He says things with a straight face and half the time I'm not sure if he's serious or not.

    Anyway, keep up the nagging!

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    1. Wow Rita, I didn't know I'd stumbled onto a new genre - sanctifigumption! Love it.

      I do like humour in sermons. When it's well done, it can really bring home a point and help people relax. Though there are probably times when it needs to be serious.

      And I think my writing group appreciates my nagging ... maybe ... sometimes ... well that's what I tell them anyway ;)

      God Bless

      Nola

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  8. Good post, Nola, and some good guidelines. I agree that our humour will not always appeal to someone else - culture changes perspective. As Iola Goulton of Christian Editing services pointed out recently in her post about a simple difference in the meaning of words:
    Chippie (or chippy). In British English, it's the fish and chip shop. In Australia and New Zealand, it's a slang term for a carpenter. In the US? A chippie is a tramp or prostitute.

    Goodness, what a difference culture can make to a word! - what could it do to a well-meaning joke? But then I don't think we should let that stop us from adding a little humour to the world.

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    1. Hi Catherine

      That's a good point. Cultural differences add a whole new dimension. Another example is "barrack" as in "I'll be barracking for you". In some cultures it means cheer and in other cultures jeer. Quite a difference! Probably also explains why Kath and Kim didn't translate well on American TV.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      Nola

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  9. Great post Nola and great subject too. Yep - what's humour to one man is poison to another. And yep - culture does play a big part in understanding it. I was so upset once when a friend misunderstood a FB joke I shared with all - and I couldn't figure out how she took offence at it either.

    Thanks for your thoughts which are most helpful.
    Keep sharing your humour and keep nagging... oops I meant encouraging us! You are a trooper! And a very good writer!
    Anusha

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  10. Thanks for that Anusha. You're very encouraging as always, and I like your sense of humour. You keep us all smiling.

    God Bless

    Nola

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  11. I love the word, 'precious.'

    Remember Precious Pup and Hot Rod Granny from the old cartoon series? So innocent and morally upright on the outside, but quite sneaky on the inside. Which describes exactly the human condition. :)

    The word 'precious' has become quite a favourite of my family, and one we tend to use a lot to keep a check on our emotions. Trying to help a 12 year old boy understand emotions is never easy! Especially when he's trying to comprehend how easy it is for a joke to be hurtful.

    Personally I think there's far too much 'preciousness' around lately and people, including Christians, seem to take offense at the slightest things, even when they should know better. I think it happens more when we're feeling righteous and want people to think we're better than we really are. At least that's what I observe.

    After all the Bible does mention that love doesn't take offense. But it's oh-so-hard to keep that in mind when dealing with others.

    Great pic, very cool. The sunnies could give the more expensive brands a run for their money! :)

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  12. Thanks Lee. I like your take on "preciousness". Would be great if we all just gave each other a bit more grace. While we might not intentionally cause offense, we're not perfect and there'll always be someone we can't please. Have you read any of Adrian Plass's books? I love his characters the Flushpools who were part of the "Spot it and Stop It" crowd until they moved to Africa and loosened up. And good luck understanding your son's emotions :) Lots of writing fodder there?

    And re the pic, I actually went out looking for the Groucho Marx style glasses with the big nose and false moustache, but these ones work. Made my hubby take about 12 pics til I got one that seemed just right :)

    Thanks for your encouragement.

    Nola


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  13. I admit I often don't respond well to humour precisely because it usually attacks or puts down some one else , their appearance or beliefs etc. And while humour can be useful in a sermon I have seen it hapen when it has not come off and then people have taken offence. A very fine line to tread at times.Having said that when I forget something I don't call it a senior moment. My excuse is always ' But then,I used to be a blonde.'

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  14. Thanks Dale. It is a fine line sometimes. I think there are obviously some black and white issues regarding humour, but it can sometimes be tricky to navigate that grey area. Thanks for your thoughts.

    God Bless

    Nola

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  15. Humour is a gift from God, after all, the Bible says, 'A merry heart doeth good like medicine.' Nola, I think what you said to Jo, hits the spot: " If you were feeling uncomfortable, you were probably sensing a check in your Spirit." That can be a real safety net for everything.

    There is some great Christian humour around...
    Q: When was the first tennis match in the Bible?
    A: When Joseph served in the courts of Pharaoh.
    Q: Who was the smallest man in the Bible?
    A: Knee-High-Miah was until Bill Dad the Shoe Height came along.
    Q: When was the first cricket match held in the Bible?
    A: When Peter stood up with the eleven and was bowled.
    Q: Which Biblical character had no parents?
    A: Joshua - he was the son of Nun.

    There are heaps more, but unfortunately, I can't remember them at the moment.

    Hey! Hey! I heard that Paula. I heard you cheering ;-)

    blessings to all,
    Lyn

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  16. Hi Lyn

    Thanks for that. Sorry I missed seeing your post earlier. I must remember some of those jokes. I agree that humour definitely is a gift of God.

    Blessings

    Nola

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