The essence of comedy is tragedy plus timing. And boy, what tragedy and timing we have these days. I grew up with the nation’s court jester on television of Jon Stewart, and I’m sure you grew up with someone who filled this role for you too. The person who showed you things you would have never thought about unless you heard it in a joke. Who made politics palatable and something worth paying attention to, if only for a laugh.
Humor de-escalates and gets us more comfortable with uncomfortable truths. I’ll never forget the time my spouse and I, in therapy together, were told by our therapist that in the heat of an argument one of us should stop and tell a joke. This defied my expectations. Here we are, I thought, having serious disagreements about the nature of love and war in our household and she wants us to stop it all to tell a joke? Rather than find the truth? Or solve the problem? Or make sure that I got my way?
But it worked. So in the middle of disagreements we would take a break, take one of the kids’ knock-knock joke books, and read a joke each. “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Little old lady.” “Little old lady who?” “I didn’t know you could yodel.” After the joke, we forgot about ourselves and our problems for a minute. We could still laugh together.
Before I was the minister here I worked at Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, an organization that stopped racism in the school system. The issues are serious. We were planning to go to the legislature to try and get our representatives to pass legislation that would work towards ending the school to prison pipeline. We researched and practiced for hours and felt pretty stressed about the whole thing. The night before we were to go to the legislature, when volunteers and staff were practicing one more time, our director walked in and told a joke. “I used to not like facial hair, but then it grew on me.” We were somewhat stunned, and somewhat amused. Then he said “You need to make sure that you’re having a good time when you’re changing the world. Otherwise, it probably isn’t worth doing.” Then he said “I’d like to give a big shout-out to sidewalks for keeping me off the streets.”
Not everything will be enjoyable, and not everything will be funny. But, it never hurts to stop for a minute to listen to the jesters and then maybe, crack a joke of your own.