Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
What a terrible generalization that would work so well on a bumper sticker. "Quakers. Not violent. Just passive aggressive." When I speak among Friends in Quaker venues or among folks who know little about the Religious Society of Friends, this joke (I'm a Quaker, I do not get violent--just passive aggressive) always gets a laugh.
With comic performances we comics most consistently employ two types of jokes.
1. The absurd "What if..." joke.
Example: What if men suddenly began to lactate uncontrollably?
I love where the "What if..." joke can lead. It can get totally silly, and it can also get profoundly insightful. Think about the justice work that can come out of such a ridiculous query--men lactating uncontrollably??? Think about the potential for laughs too.
2. The reality joke--"Have you ever noticed..."
Example: Have you ever noticed that when someone mentions that a loved one has lung cancer the first question someone else asks is, "Did she smoke?"
It's funny because it is true. It also serves up a commentary about pastoral care when speaking with someone grieving over lung cancer. It has an edge to it because many people hearing the joke (including the comic perhaps) is usually complicit to some degree in thoughtlessly asking the question or at least thinking about it. We get caught in the trap and that can open up our minds to ask, "What is an appropriate why to respond when faced with comforting someone about lung cancer?"
As a comic working in the USA I often bump into the requirement that my humor needs to mean something. It needs to have a deeper message. It cannot simply serve as a delivery system for pleasure and laughter. It has to SAY SOMETHING--a commentary on our times or important issues. This requirement is not too hard for me because as a performance activist (a title I coined for myself) I fuse art and public witness.
But sometimes a joke is just for laughs. Is that superfluous? I do not think so. I think about the talent shows I have attended and participated in that are sponsored by the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (the FLGBTQC or simply Flibbity Jibbitz) We let our hair down. We laugh. We build community through play. When we cross the line, (and that is always a risk and has happened) we address it as a community. Though painful, this work is essential. Sometimes it is in our play we reveal where we still have work to do. But that is never the purpose of these oft times zany events. We do it to relieve tension, to open up ourselves with laughter, to enjoy the pure pleasure of mirth with each other, to fall over laughing seeing Bonnie Tinker on her head while people stuff dollar bills in her jean's pockets. (And we feel so grateful for that memory when we think of Bonnie who we lost during FGC nearly two years ago.)
With all of the serious important topics we soak in as friends, like soaking in a hot steamy, smelly bath of challenging issues, we need a laugh every now and then. We need to lighten up so that we release pressure and dig still deeper into the harsh realities of privilege, oppression, economic injustice, environmental catastrophes, misogyny, and more. I know I need to laugh some of my own violence out of my system so that I do not live as a pent up, tightly sprung, peace-loving, passive aggressive progressive.
And in the midst of it all, I find great pleasure and comfort in being able to laugh at myself.