One day during my teenage years I visited the theological section of my favorite message board where someone had started a thread entitled, Does God Care About Humor? Having wondered the question myself, I was excited to read people’s thoughts. I opened the thread to find the first reply of something along the lines of: “Who cares? I’m tired of stupid conversations like this.”
Well then, I thought to myself. Somebody hit a very strange sore spot.
Does joy, laughter and humor matter to God? That’s the question that Jim Gaffigan explores in an episode of, The Jim Gaffigan Show. In this episode, Gaffigan gets roped into playing a game of soccer with his priest and learns that the priest is really, really good. Gaffigan discovers that his priest used to be a famous soccer player—and not only that, but a famous model as well. But when this man came in contact with God’s calling to ministry, he left those jobs behind and followed the path God set before him to go into the priesthood.
This leaves Jim wondering if he had somehow missed God’s calling on his own life. After all, he’s a comedian and that’s not a calling, right? He spends the whole episode trying to figure this dilemma out. Did God call him to ministry and he missed it?
Later, Jerry Seinfeld appears to Jim in a dream and tells him to do comedy. Jim incorrectly interprets this dream as a call to turn his comedy act into something seemingly more meaningful and talk about things that matter.
This creates an awkward moment at his next live show when Jim breaks from his usual bits about food and family in attempts to get a little preachy about how we all have some kind of “cosmic purpose.” The audience stares at him silently and Jim has no idea what to say next. Suddenly, a vision of Jerry Seinfeld appears in a stage light and catches his attention. “Food! You idiot, talk about food!”
Jim pauses for a moment and then says, “You ever eat so much pastrami you hallucinate?” The audience immediately erupts into laughter.
Jim and his wife Jeannie (both Catholic) write the show and you can see in this episode what appears to be the real honest question that was asked on my message board so long ago: does God care about humor? Does laughter and happiness and joy make any difference in this thing we call Christianity? I say yes—absolutely.
Late night host Stephen Colbert (another Catholic comedian), seems to have caught onto this as well. It’s evidenced in the story that he kept a sticky note on his computer of the quote: “Joy is the most infallible sign of the existence of God.” He is yet another Catholic comedian recognizing the importance of his job to society.
And then there’s Charles Schulz, the Christian cartoonist known especially well for his Peanuts strips. In reflecting on the church and humor he said:
Religion without humor is a worthless religion. Humor is part of man and man never would have survived without humor. It’s the only thing that makes life palatable—if that’s the word. And to say the there’s no room for humor in religion is like saying there’s no room for humor in life. The scriptures themselves have quite a few incidents of humor—probably more than we realize…. If we are all members of the priesthood, why cannot a cartoonist preach in the same manner as a minister, or anyone else? And from some of the preaching I hear on the radio, I think cartoonists should do more of it and the radio preachers should do less of it.
Touché, Charles Schulz. Touché.
The church in many places is found to be as dry, boring and serious as expected. Let’s face it: our inability to laugh has to be a big part of the reason there aren’t many well-known Christian comedians out there. If they want to fit into the church they’re expected to keep their jokes cheesy and never push the line—even though their humor could take on a satirical prophetic edge if we allowed it.
After Aslan grants the animals of Narnia the gift of speech he tells them, “Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.”
Jokes as well as justice. You don’t always have to be serious. It’s time for the church to take that lesson to heart.
This is an adapted excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus.
“The Calling.” The Jim Gaffigan Show, written by Peter Tolan and Jim Gaffigan, directed by Peter Lauer, CBS Television Network, 2016. Se 2, Ep 1.
Lovell, Joel, and Sebastian Kim. “Stephen Colbert on Making The Late Show His Own.” GQ, 9 Mar. 2017, http://www.gq.com/story/stephen-colbert-gq-cover-story. Accessed 8 May 2017. Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is traditionally credited for this quote.
Schulz, Charles. “Happiness is to Dance with Snoopy and Talk with his Creator,” pp. 9-10. Quoted in Stephen J. Lind’s book, A Charlie Brown Religion, p. 122.
Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew. New York, NY, HarperTrophy, 2000, p. 129.
Picture from Matheus Ferrero